“Carefully lift your left leg and grasp your foot with your left hand,” the instructor calmly coached, her voice smooth and soothing. The dimmed lighting and gentle music cast a relaxed, undemanding ambiance over the group assembled in the large room. 

Slowly, ever so slowly, I began to raise my left leg, and then quickly put it down again to prevent myself from toppling over. Feeling slightly foolish about my balance challenges I quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching, but no one was. No one seemed to care. And even more so, others were having the same issue I was.

Our teacher seamlessly continued on, and after nailing such poses as the Triangle, the Downward Dog, and the Bridge, I flunked out again when we got to the Tree, a move that required bringing my right foot to the inside of my left thigh… with my arms extended above my head, I might add.

This was my first experience with Yoga. It was a last-minute decision to try a class, so I called Goodlife Fitness upon where I was informed that I didn’t need to book in advance; I could just show up and participate. I inquired about what I should bring with me and was told that I didn’t need anything, except perhaps a bottle of water. The centre provided mats that were better gripped in bare feet; meaning athletic shoes were not even necessary.

I must admit that the atmosphere at the fitness centre didn’t gel with my preconceived notions of what Yoga represented – stillness, inner peace, quiet strength – however my faith was restored the moment our instructor Wendy, began the program. She had started learning Yoga at the age of 18, and now at 51 she appeared very fit and healthy. She embodied all of those characteristics I had presumed Yoga was about, and she guided us through a lesson in achieving them for ourselves, regardless of the noise on the other side of the walls.

Yoga’s origins are somewhat ambiguous, but it is believed the practice grew out of the Middle East an estimated 4000 years ago. The Yoga we know in North America today however, is different from India’s ancient traditions, which were, in their entirety, religion-focused.

Wendy alluded to this when I asked her what I could expect from the class. “It’s called BodyFlow,” she explained, “So it’s a combination of Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates. We’ll warm up into Tai Chi – it’s got a little martial arts feel. And then we’ll go into a real Yoga series of movements – you use your whole body. All your bigger muscles are incorporated into it. It’s kind of a meditation piece too, where you breathe as you work.

There’s different kinds of Yoga,” she added. “There’s Eastern Yoga, and there’s Western Yoga. We’re going to be doing Western Yoga, which was brought into our culture. When I meet people from India, it’s totally different.”

Within our Western style of Yoga, there are many different variations as well.

“There’s a therapeutic side to Yoga, and then there is a physical, mental, emotional side to it also,” explains Kym, the owner of Mindful Movements, a Pilates/Yoga Studio in Belleville. “I think for people starting to practice Yoga, it’s very physical in the beginning. But then it grows – and you grow – and you develop into this full realm of how the body and the mind are really connected. That’s how I started, and where I am with it in my studio.

And I see it with my clients too,” she continues. “When I have them come into my studio for the first time they usually start by saying, ‘I have tight hamstrings and hips’. And so they do their first Yoga class and they say, ‘Oh, that feels good, things are starting to loosen up’. And then they start to realize: Wow, I’m really feeling like I’m getting more from the practice! It’s not just a workout or a stretch anymore. It’s all about the breathing – how my mind and my body are working together – self-awareness, development. It grows. And I think it grows for people at different times, depending on what’s going on in their life too.”

Kym comes from a background in athletics, with an emphasis on gymnastics. As a result of a love of movement in general, she attended University for fitness and personal training, and there she gained a basic knowledge of Yoga. It wasn’t until she began to experience physical issues from the years of performing gymnastics that she started practicing Yoga, and found, as she recounts it, that a whole other amazing adventure commenced.

For a newbie to Yoga, who has no specific injuries, Kym would introduce them to a Hatha class. “Basically, Hatha stands for ‘Sun and Moon’,” she explains. “That means that there are postures and movements that are heating, like the sun, and also cooling, like the moon. It gives them a good balance between how heating the body feels and how cooling the body feels. And that would be your basic class intro.”

There are several other types of Yoga that Mindful Movements has available. One particular kind is called Hot, which is simply performing Yoga movements in an area that is heated to higher temperatures than what is average, and Kym’s studio is the only one in the Belleville area that offers it. Her Hot Yoga classes are held in a separate room; one that operates completely on its own heat and air circulation. It is separately heat and humidity controlled so that the exact, optimum levels of each can be attained.

“When you go into the room you just feel like you’re in a nice cocoon of heat and warmth. Your body naturally starts to relax, especially in the colder months,” describes Kym. “There’s a detoxification benefit as well. I would say that it’s definitely our most popular program here.”

Whether your preference is a fitness club, or a private studio, the practice of Yoga carries an abundance of health benefits. My introductory experience with it was just enough to give me a flavor, but it left a good taste in my mouth.