X-treme: A flexible friend

I've tried barefoot waterskiing, mountain bikes, rock climbing, karate and wakeboarding. I've scuba dived, flown a plane and even thrown myself off various contraptions - all in pursuit of the perfect adrenalin rush.

The worst effects have been sore limbs, minor lacerations and an occasionally dented ego, but these aches and pains pale into insignificance compared to the morning after my first yoga class. Previously unknown muscles complained loudly as if a giant had been twisting my limbs into various unnatural positions while I slept.

To most people, yoga conjures up images of meditation and relaxation. While these certainly feature strongly, in my experience "relaxation" only arrives after considerable puffing and blowing. Yoga is an ancient discipline concerned with developing a holistic, healthy and harmonious lifestyle. The word "yoga" is generally translated as "union", and its practice provides a balance between body, mind and spirit.

The most widely practised form of yoga in the West is Hatha, which helps muscles relax while releasing built-in tension. Classes usually concentrate on four areas: suppleness, strength, stamina and concentration. Some are low impact, others very demanding, so there's a level for every ability.

I didn't know what to expect when I arrived for my first yoga session at London's New Body's Gym, but I reasoned that increased suppleness might help prevent various niggling injuries in the future.

Some 90 per cent of the class was female (women outnumber men three-to- one in the UK), but my instructor was male and very welcoming.

"Is this your first yoga class?" he asked.

"Yes", I replied. "My girlfriend dragged me along."

He smiled sympathetically before beginning the class. I wasn't worried; for someone who prides themself on being fit, an hour of yoga shouldn't be too taxing, right?

We begin with a "Salute to the Sun": legs together, arms stretched upwards, palms touching. "Inhale," says the instructor. "Now exhale," he continues, stretching down to touch his toes. I can't quite reach mine, but the exercise isn't too strenuous.

The next position begins in a standing position, with legs approximately a metre apart. The right foot turns outwards by 90 while the knee bends. Next you rest the right arm on the right leg before reaching with your left arm over your head and diagonally upwards. This makes a straight diagonal down the side of the body and along the outstretched left leg. Much of the upper-body weight is resting on the right knee, but a much deeper stretch can be felt along the back and left arm.

The instructor goes around the class correcting postures: "Straighten your arms and really reach across with your hand." As we hold the position, various parts of my body begin to tremble from the effort, and my brow perspires a little more until we are allowed to relax.

Supple people may have an initial advantage, but stamina and strength are also required to execute and hold positions.

One of my later attempts at a more advanced position started off as a miserable failure. Regardless of my considerable efforts, my limbs literally refused to bend to my will. The instructor came across to offer some advice. He slowly helped me into the stretch, and suggested that I regulate my breathing. "Take deeper, slower breaths instead of puffing and blowing," he suggested.

I can't quite explain why, but his advice worked. When I closed my eyes and measured my breathing, I found that I could stretch a little bit further, then a little further...

Many of yoga's more advanced postures are named after various animals, like the "frog'' or "turtle". After watching a demonstration, I can say that they did not resemble any animal that I've ever seen, but were, nevertheless, very impressive.

Most people will never reach the levels of dexterity exhibited by numerous Indian gurus, but practising yoga certainly focuses your mind and body. And a flexible, healthy body is less likely to break down while playing other sports - since my first class, I have met several extreme-sports addicts who swear by the discipline.

After the aches stopped, my body felt more relaxed than ever. A few lessons on, I was reaching parts other sports couldn't touch.

For more information, contact the UK's recognised governing body, the British Wheel of Yoga (01529 306851, wheelyoga@aol. com.uk). They stock a range of excellent information leaflets and can provide a list of affiliated teachers in your region

Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
books
Arts and Entertainment
The man with the golden run: Daniel Craig as James Bond in 'Skyfall'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Waving Seal' by Luke Wilkinson was Highly Commended in the Portraits category

photography
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering