Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it’s pretty clear that Christmas is well on its way. There are presents to buy, cards to send, food to stock up on and nativity costumes to make for the children.
It can be a pretty stressful time of year. With dark nights and lots to organise, December passes in a blur for many people. So sometimes it’s easy to forget that your own body needs a bit of looking after too.
Exercise classes can seem a bit daunting, but more than 300,000 people in the UK swear by the benefits of yoga.
Fareham-based Rachael Montgomery has been practising yoga for half her life, and for the past 18 months has been teaching a range of classes.
Watching a video that publicised yoga postures when she was a teenager was the start of it for Rachael.
‘I remember putting it on and really enjoying it. It was something I didn’t do every day or every week, but I kept coming back to it,’ she explains.
‘It was great when I needed time for myself, or when I was feeling really stressed out about something.’
After having a variety of jobs, in 2006 she decided to start taking her love of yoga seriously.
The 30-year-old says: ‘I was a holistic therapist, so I was running my own business doing things like massages. Then in 2008 I did my teacher training in hatha yoga, which is a particular kind.
‘I wanted to know why we did the postures we did in class, and the ideas behind it, like why it’s linked with breathing.’
She adds: ‘I used to have a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders, and I would walk away from a class feeling like I’d had a massage or a work-out.’
So, just 18 months ago, Rachael started her own classes, teaching yoga to the public, as well as pre and post-natal.
‘I just felt so relaxed and my mind was clear,’ she explains.
‘I wanted to keep going back, to learn about it and why we experienced those benefits. And I wanted to share those with other people.’
As a teacher, Rachael is part of a franchise called Yoga Bellies, which focuses on the mother and child side of yoga. Her business, Yoga With Rach, is something she’s proud of.
She says: ‘I offer relaxation exercises that build that strength and balance. You’re also getting the meditation at the end and beginning of the class, which is just as important as the rest of it.
‘Everyone is so busy over Christmas and we all need to treat ourselves, so it’s more important than ever to keep it up.’
Rachael adds: ‘Everyone is working hard, but we aren’t necessarily listening to our bodies. We push past that and I think yoga always makes you listen to your body.’
The gym and exercise classes are daunting words for many, but yoga isn’t so much about jumping around and burning calories, but about control. ‘Say if someone twisted their ankle, a lot of exercise classes they wouldn’t be able to do, but they can still do some of the yoga postures. You can still practice on the mat without any problems.’
Teaching at the Portchester Community Centre and Cams Hill School in Fareham, Rachael also offers retreats for her students, which are proving popular with those.
Rachael says: ‘The retreats are like a boot camp, but in a relaxing spa. You go away to get pampered and you have two classes a day, then the rest of the time is yours.
‘It’s an idea that I think is happening in a lot of places. The food is prepared for you there, you can book in massages and it’s a healthy and relaxing mini holiday really. It just offers people that break from day-to-day living.’
And anyone can get involved in the yoga she teaches. Someone who no experience whatsoever could still walk into a yoga class and give it a go.
Even though it’s a system that originated in India 5,000 years ago, everyone can practice yoga, regardless of age, sex or ability.
‘Yoga has proved popular over the years, and I think it all started in America and spread over to the UK,’ says Rachael.
‘It’s massive in London and Brighton and I would like that to be the same here. It just makes you relax and you can really see the improvement in your body.
‘I teach a class at HMS Collingwood and you’ve got these big blokes that come in. You wouldn’t expect that, but it helps if you are an athlete or someone who practises running.’
According to The British Wheel of Yoga, health benefits include improved efficiency of lungs, posture, flexibility, strength and concentration. Those who practise yoga have reported a better quality of sleep and a reduction in anxiety and depression.
Rachael explains: ‘It’s about making the postures and breathing correctly, which helps detoxify the body. That’s why over Christmas people eat and drink as much as they like, and then in January go join an exercise class.
‘Obviously I think yoga is the one to go to!
‘Being more relaxed and less stressed can improve your health in all sorts of ways, including your sleep and mood.’
And her plans for the future of yoga on the south coast?
She adds: ‘I’d love to take people on more retreats. And when I’ve spoken to other teachers I’ve also realised how one day I hope to have my own studio.
‘It would be nice to have that hub and a sense of community.
‘There aren’t many teachers in the Portsmouth area, so I’d like to see more people teaching it across the area and in the city.’
· For more information, go to yogawithrach.co.uk.
Meaning ‘salute to the sun’, this is a common set of sequences in Hatha yoga.
Rachael explains: ‘It’s originally from India and the men would get up as the sun rose and complete a similar set of postures.’
MOUNTAIN POSE – ‘This is about standing tall. A lot of us don’t have very good posture, so this focuses on your stance. It’s about making yourself feel big and strong, and having your feet firmly planted on the ground.’
FORWARD FOLD – ‘Here you have to lean forward as if you’re going to touch your toes, which I appreciate a lot of people can’t do. It’s about making that stretch, and it really helps lengthen the spin.’
PLANK – ‘This is about going down into the top of a push up. It’s really about building up the strength in your arms and your lower back.’
COBRA – ‘Keeping your hands on the mat, you have to lower yourself down and then lift your chest and head up. This strengthens the lower back. A lot of people want to strengthen their core but both muscles work together.’
DOWNWARD FACING DOG – ‘Here you have to push your tailbone into the air, making yourself into a triangle shape from the side. Feet and hands have to be firmly on the mat, and it’s great for your circulation because your heart is higher than your head.’
‘And then finish by going back up to standing position, and remember breathing correctly is important. Breathe in for one position, and then out for the next.’
HOW DID IT ALL START?
Hatha yoga is a kind of yoga focusing on physical and mental strength, building exercises and postures, and is based in Hinduism.
Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, this particular form of exercise has become extremely popular.
The hatha yoga, predominantly practiced in the West, consists mainly of breathing and physical exercises, but it’s also recognized as a stress-reducing practice.
The hatha represents opposing energies, such as hot and cold, male and female and positive and negative. The practise is designed to balance the mind and body.
Yoga’s combined focus on mindfulness, breathing and physical movements brings health benefits according to various sources, with people practising it reporting better sleep, increased energy levels and muscle tone, relief from muscle pain, improved circulation and a better general health.