Meditation, chants and breathing exercises were what I expected. What I got was a gruelling workout where I was made to do handstands, asked to defy my body’s limit to stretch and given a pose that felt suspiciously like a push-up. All this in a 75-minute yoga class with instructor Jacqueline Quesnel at Akasha Studio, Long Circular Road, Maraval. My yoga education prior to the class was decidedly limited, I’d only tried the activity once before, in a yoga for beginners class, which didn’t prepare me for the intensity of Jacqueline’s workout. What I did know was that yoga was the type of exercise that focused not just on the body, but on the mind as well. Jacqueline practices an Anusara-based yoga, a type of yoga she said was known for hand stands and promised we would make an attempt before the class was over.
I wasn’t overly excited. I had never attempted or even wanted to attempt a hand stand before. “The very first principal is to open to grace,” said Jacqueline, before letting me know she would begin with a Sanskrit chant. I interrupted before she could begin, wanting to know the religious connotations here. In my research I had learnt of yoga’s connection with Hindu philosophy and that it was practiced by Hindus and Buddhists. “You don’t have to be a Hindu to practice yoga,” she answered. “I encourage my students to chant with me after I translate for them but I also give them the option of saying a prayer or even being silent before the class starts.” The purpose of the prayer, she explained was to give thanks and prepare yourself both spiritually and mentally for the class. She admitted, there was a spiritual aspect to Yoga but added that it wasn’t religious. “I am Catholic and I have never strayed from being a Catholic. I use Hindu stories as guide sometimes in my class but I don’t practice Hinduism or teach it,” she said.
While she did a chant, I closed my eyes respectfully and said a quick prayer, thanking God for life. What, I should have done, was asked him for strength, energy and endurance as we stepped onto our yoga mats. The mats, Jacqueline revealed could cost upwards of $300, depending on the material. Eco-friendly materials cost more. Jacqueline’s first instruction was for me to hug my muscles to my body. I took this to mean I needed to make my muscles tense and proceeded to do so. With Jacqueline’s assistance I managed to align my body in a proper standing posture, a marked difference from my usual slouch.
She instructed me in my first pose, the table pose, which felt very much like the pose one starts a pushup with, but instead of actually pushing up I had to hold my body in place, all the while with tensed muscles. “Yoga is a combination of fitness and stress management and is something you take at your own pace.” While speaking, Jacqueline directed me to lift one hand towards the sky and turn my body sideways so that only one of my hands was supporting my body. As my arm wobbled and I felt myself sweat, I realised that this was a lot harder than Jacqueline’s soft voice and vibrant smiles, as well as several online pictures of pretty poses had led me to believe. We tried the cobra pose. Jacqueline said I did a great job on most of the poses but looking at her fluid moments and the ever-present joyful smile compared to my aching muscles and frowns of concentration I wasn’t so sure.
Several poses later, I fell to the floor, my muscles and brain screaming at me for not being prepared. With a smile, Jacqueline suggested that we take a respite and drink some water. Five minutes later I was bent over on the floor attempting a hand stand. “Most people think they can’t do a hand stand but what stops them is the fear,” said Jacqueline. “Just trust that I’ll hold you and kick your legs upward.” I made two half-hearted attempts, before she again told me I needn’t be fearful. I decided one genuine attempt would be enough and if I failed, well at least I had tried. I didn’t fail and although I couldn’t hold my weight for very long, it helped when she reminded me to tighten my muscles. Yoga is definitely one of the prettier forms of exercise, but don’t let the graceful poses fool you, yoga with Jacqueline was hard work, hours later my muscles still had not forgiven me. The yoga class turned out to be more than I expected and maybe a little more than I could handle but I’ll admit, I enjoyed every moment of it. There was no shouting gym instructor or judgemental eyes noting my fitness failures. Despite being a bit tough on my unfit body it was actually a pleasant experience. Jacqueline’s classes cost between $55 to $65 and she suggests two classes per week