From Useless to Yogi: Moksha Yoga

I took up yoga in St Andrews one cold Thursday in February, wandering along to the town hall with no mat, no companion and no idea what I was letting myself in for. The long winter months sat in oppressive library carrels had got the better of me; it was time to escape hours poured over books and listening to monotonous lectures on Greek poetry.

I walked in to find the smell of incense mixed with the dusty wooden scent of community halls. The murmur of quiet chatter filled the room, as people collected yoga mats and made their way to sit on the floor in neat rows. We sat cross-legged on the floor in silence as the instructor told us to shut out eyes and focus on our breathing. I felt calmer already.

My only previous attempt at yoga began with a Geri Halliwell Yoga DVD and resulted in fits of giggles and snorts mixed with cries of disbelief. It was just too “zen” for me, how could anyone stay quiet for so long? But on that cold February evening, for the first time in my life, I needed that time to myself to just sit and be silent for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Two years later and I’m wandering into Moksha Yoga in Halifax, Nova Scotia, enticed by what was advertised as a hot yoga class. In my still-amateur state, I knew that “hot” often translates as “difficult”, even in Canada.

Inside the modern glass-fronted building sat a smiling blonde girl behind a wooden desk. It was cool, clean and filled with women dressed in the latest Lulu Lemon gear (the surprisingly flattering Canadian sportswear brand currently sweeping across North America). She gets us to fill in a registration form and charges us the pricey student charge of $15 for an hour session. After reading the testimonials on their website, claiming that Moksha Yoga was “a life-changing experience”, I was hoping my fifteen bucks was money well spent.

It was the little touches, such as the shoe racks, pots of cotton pads and hair ties in the immaculate changing room that really made such a difference. A lot of thought had clearly gone into the whole experience of coming to this particular class.

As you can probably already tell, the hot yoga session takes place in a dimly lit studio, heated to about 30°c with a mirrored wall at one end and spare towels at the other. Five minutes later, and you are drenched in sweat, even though the class hasn’t even started yet.

Emphasis is placed on both calming the mind and forgetting the daily grind, as well as an intense fitness workout in hot yoga. The practice starts standing up with the sequence of ceiling to floor postures that pull every muscle in your body into shapes it never knew existed. The communal breathing in this class is noticeably louder than other classes I’ve attended; I blame what sounds like hyperventilation on the heat. The instructor talks in slow, soothing tones, helping people who are struggling with quiet pointers rather than embarrassing loud criticisms.

Whilst the sequence of poses are not hugely different to my normal yoga class (there is still the usual Upward-Facing Dog, Warrior I, Trikonasana, etc.), but the heat definitely has an effect on the mind as well as the body. Whilst making you sweat like a marathon runner, it creates a kind of warm numbing effect on the brain that seems to block all those thoughts that you are meant to banish in your yoga practice, like dinner plans and whether you remembered to feed the dog. Or perhaps I’m concentrating too much on balancing to even begin thinking about anything apart from not falling on my face.

By the end of the class, I’m half wishing I didn’t eat that cheese toastie before I came, and I’m literally sweating like I’ve never sweated before. I can now see the benefit of bringing a towel. However, when I step back outside into the cool air, I genuinely feel revived and proud of myself. I took a really difficult class, despite my lack of fitness, and survived. I actually think I want to go again.

Speaking to one girl after, she explained to me that she’d already done her yoga practice for the day, but had come back for a second class, “just so I can get my daily fix”. So maybe Moksha Yoga is as addictive as people claim it to be. And the “life-altering transformation”? Well, it might take more than one class to achieve a Buddhist sense of enlightenment. It’s just a shame that Moksha Yoga hasn’t made its way over to England…yet.

Find out more about Moksha Yoga on their website.

Yoga classes in St Andrews:

Vinyasa Yoga. Holy Trinity Church Hall, Greenside Place. (Tuesdays, 5.30-6.45pm) and Victory Memorial Hall, Market Street (Thursdays, 5.30-6.45pm). Drop-in students welcome.

Matsy Yoga. All Saints Hall, North Castle Street. (Wednesday, 6-7pm). Drop-in students welcome.

Town & Gown Yoga. St Andrews Town Hall, Queen's Gardens. (Tuesdays, 6pm & 8.15pm and Thursdays, 11.15am) Email to book classes in advance.

Photo courtesy of Mademoiselle Chrissie.