Yoga’s beginnings may be in the mists of time, but it has rapidly become one of the more tangible and popular health and exercise trends today – and perhaps what makes it so successful is that it can equally be enjoyed whether you’re young or old, fit or a bit out of condition, male or female, at home or in a studio class.
A quick search on the Internet reveals that Glen Innes has been rather light on yoga classes, so the addition of Yoga Shack, a new yoga studio in the shopping centre, is well timed.
A bright red door on Mayfair Place, Glen Innes, welcomes students into a warm and newly decorated yoga studio. With piles of colourful cushions, calming music and yoga mats neatly rolled up, leafy green plants and candles along the walls, Yoga Shack is ready to say “Namaste” to its next class.
For 32-year-old Asrita Singh, it's a dream come true.
“I have always loved yoga and my dream has been to bring it into the community, and make it available to everyone."
Asrita’s new Yoga Shack offers morning, evening and weekend classes, with a few at lunchtime, but as more students come along, she plans to extend the timetable. She also runs introductory courses for beginners, and weekend workshops.
To create a community feel to her new studio, there’s a ‘cosy corner’ where students can chill, relax, meet others and chat before, between and after classes. “The idea is that people don’t rush in and out, but take time to relax and be part of the community vibe,” she says.
“On our opening weekend – I offered free yoga for two days – the response was amazing; several people who were new to yoga turned up to try classes and, of these, about 30 people joined up. Most of them loved it so much they decided to do the introductory courses or took up memberships.”
The idea behind the workshops is that anyone can come along for two hours and have a go; it’s a chance to go a bit deeper and learn more about particular styles of yoga practice, she says.
“I want people to come along and try the various types of yoga I am offering, until they find the class that’s right for them. Or they can try different classes depending on how they feel at the time.”
Asrita herself has been practicing yoga for as long as she can – or can’t – remember. “Maybe I was five or six when I first started practicing. I grew up around yoga; my dad practised regularly so I was drawn to it without fully understanding it. He might do a head stand in the lounge, and I thought it was interesting; sometimes the whole family would all be doing yoga at the same time.”
Growing up in Fiji there were few, if any, yoga studios around, so Asrita learned from her father and through trying poses on her own. The family moved to Auckland when she was 12 and it was about then that Asrita began regular yoga practice - she has been enjoying the benefits ever since.
“Yoga gives a massive mental release. It gives me the space to connect with myself and helps me to slow down and ground myself. An hour of yoga is an opportunity to focus on breathing and being present,” she says.
And finding a calm space is important for Asrita, who has a very busy life, working full time for Community Alcohol and Drug Services (CADS), as an alcohol and drug clinician running drug and alcohol education programmes as well as getting her new yoga studio in Glen Innes off the ground. As if that’s not enough, she’s also teaching between two and eight classes a week.
It’s been a bit of a journey since Asrita graduated from AUT with a Bachelor of Health Science in Psychology and Applied Mental Health. As she didn’t feel ready to commit to full-time work in her specialty, she studied for a Diploma in Yoga at Wellpark College of Natural Therapies in Auckland. Next stop was a job working at Youthline supporting people in suicide prevention and intervention. At the same time, she also worked as a volunteer setting up yoga programmes to help people deal with trauma in their lives.
“I feel as if I found my niche, and what I wanted to do with yoga, bringing it into communities and to people who will benefit from it. Yoga complements my work, and I was curious as to how it would fit in with what I was doing.”
From this background, the idea of the Yoga Shack emerged. “It was a matter of finding the right place for it and creating what I envisioned.
"I found a space that I really liked – the right size, with a rustic, natural look, lots of light and timber, and a good vibe."
Asrita took over the lease before Christmas and spent her holidays renovating the space, using “the DIY method – with friends and family chipping in to help. And, for my birthday, everyone came to the studio and helped with the painting, so we mostly got it done over the weekend, which was amazing.”
The studio on the second floor of the building is exactly what she wanted to create.
“Students come up to the red door and say ‘Wow, it’s not what I expected to find here’, then they come in and are completely blown away. They say it feels like they have been transported to a New York studio.”
Now it’s all finished, thanks to the hard work of family and friends, and classes started in February. “I want my studio to be a place where there’s no need to fit a stereotype – students don't have to own the right gear, mats etc. I want it to be accessible and to offer a variety of classes, so that people can try different styles out and find what suits them,” she says.
In the future, Asrita sees her studio becoming available as a community space during the day, with professionals such as personal trainers, massage therapists and dance teachers leasing it. She is also interested in the idea of corporate yoga – where businesses come as a group and do team building, either regularly or on a one-off basis.
Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is a mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation. It improves flexibility, muscle strength and tone, encouraging you to listen to your body and work within your limits. It helps to improve your breathing and energy levels.
Practising yoga helps to slow you down and keep you in the present, allowing you to become more in tune with how you are feeling both in your mind and body. Part of yoga practice is learning to let your thoughts go, and the techniques you learn can help you to cope better with stress and anxiety.
Yoga includes many different styles and poses, which benefit every part of the body and the mind. Balancing poses are important because they call for a combination of strength – core and gluteal (buttock) muscles – and mental energy.
Asrita says one of the benefits of yoga that she particularly likes to teach is self-compassion – being kind to yourself and not competing with others. “You can bring this into your daily life, and it also helps you learn to treat others better.”
What style of yoga is best for me?
This yoga practice is good for beginners and people with injuries; it uses props such as bolsters, blankets and ropes to help get into and out of poses. It is a slow, meditative style of yoga that’s good for people with busy lives, as it helps them to relax.
A more active style of yoga for anyone wanting to practise at a relaxed, yet medium pace and learn the basic yoga postures. It focuses on postural alignment and a balance between strength, steadiness and flexibility.
Yin Yang Flow
Combines Yin and Yang styles, beginning with Yin floor poses, moving on to a gentle but more dynamic Yang flow to build heat in the body, and then finishing with calming Yin poses. Good for beginners.
Slow Flow Vinyasa
A dynamic class that emphasises moving mindfully with the breath, body and mind together. It uses sequenced movement, music and breathing, creating a sense of moving meditation and an awareness of the exercises.
Faster-paced yoga, directed at students wanting more strengthening poses to challenge both mind and body.
This is the strongest and most challenging of the yogic practices. It is dynamic, synchronising movement and breath, with the objective of creating a strong, flexible body and focused mind. Sessions finish with deep relaxation. This practice, done regularly, improves cardiovascular ability, strength, flexibility, balance and breath control.
This is a form of meditation that teaches sense withdrawal, relaxation of the body, breath awareness and visualisation.
Exercises are designed to develop strength, endurance and suppleness – physically, mentally and emotionally. It improves cardiovascular fitness, the circulatory, nervous and endocrine systems.
This practice works with the different chakras (energy centres in the body), and uses movement, chanting, breathing and meditation to relax and heal the mind and body.
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With piles of colourful cushions, calming music and yoga mats neatly rolled up, Yoga Shack is ready to say “Namaste” to its next class.