Melanie Mackay tells us how yoga has helped her go from “everything heading south to seismic shifts in mind, body and spirit” and explains why getting on your mat 6 times a week is, in fact, so much easier than just practising once a week.

So there I was; pushing 40, definitely pear shaped, everything heading south with lots of back and shoulder pain going on caused by years of very poor posture sitting at a desk for most of my working life. Not great.

The only way is up, right?

I’d been wondering about yoga for some time and not doing anything about it when I was suddenly inspired to have a look online to see if there were any classes I could try. The next thing I know, I’m on the phone to Sarah Kekus, aka The Health Architect, booking myself a place at her Strong Flow Yoga class. Which is based on Ashtanga yoga. Which I knew absolutely nothing about.

That was July 2013.

Fast forward to today, two and a half years (ish) later and I’m practicing six days a week, attending weekly Ashtanga yoga classes with The Health Architect and during that time have experienced a seismic shift in my mind, body and spirit. I love it!

Here are three of the many, many things I’ve learnt from and about yoga during the very short time I’ve been practicing:

1.  Ashtanga yoga is very, very, very, very physically demanding

Apparently this isn’t news but, like probably everyone I talk to who hasn’t done yoga before, I thought it was just a case of turning up, maybe lying down for a bit and doing a few lovely stretches then going home feeling all mellow.

Oh no it isn’t!

At the end of the first class I was such a sweaty, shaky mess that I left without paying!! (Don’t worry, I signed up for the term and settled my debt at the next class)

I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth did I want to go back?

Well, that’s another story for another time. However, suffice to say that even though I have made visible and significant progress with my practice, my opinion about how challenging Ashtanga yoga is has changed not one jot. And that’s part of what I love about it.

2.  If you are even slightly relaxed in any of the asanas, you are not in the full expression of the posture

 As well her brilliant yoga classes, Sarah also holds workshops on topics like standing poses, twisting and arm balances, so that attendees can understand and refine their alignment in the postures.

It was during one of these workshops where I learnt that Downward Facing Dog is not, in fact, a very relaxing pose where you can just hang out in between other very challenging postures.

Quite the opposite in fact.

Every part of your body is actively engaged and in communion with your breath and your gaze. Indeed the same goes for every pose within the Ashtanga yoga method. What a revelation and how very helpful that seemingly insignificant piece of information has been in helping me develop my practice.

3.  Getting on your mat six days a week is much easier than getting on it once a week

As I’ve got older I’ve realised that what you do everyday matters far more than what you do once in a while. Can you imagine only brushing your teeth once a week!?

With yoga, having long gaps between practicing makes it harder for my body to move each time I do practice. This can be demotivating and lead to feeling frustrated which is just daft when its something that positive enhances my life as much as yoga does.

Getting my mat out every day, particularly when I feel a bit tired or just lazy, always leaves me feeling better. I give myself permission to have a gentle practice if that’s what feels right for me on that day, but I always practice.

It’s said that to truly achieve what the Ashtanga yoga method demands can take several lifetimes. I love this idea. It provides space to develop a practice without attachment to reaching a particular goal in the knowledge that there is so much to go at. There is so much to experience when you begin to explore yoga. I’m a long way from even scratching the surface and I’m more than all right with that.