When I first tried yoga it was strictly for aesthetic purposes. After years of slogging away on the treadmill, the images of celebrities emerging from studios, looking toned, tanned and sated looked like a lot more fun. I could already envision the compliments my new bikini body would get on the beach. People would stare in awe, while I sipped nonchalantly on a cocktail saying 'gym, what gym, all I do is yoga.'
In my ignorance I had reduced this 3,000 year old practice into a simple exercise class. I wasn't in it for the 'hippy dippy' chanting and veganism, I was in it for the abs. Irrespective of the whole 'cool' new revival you wouldn't catch me chanting cross legged, or wearing a red bracelet. I liked meat, wine and enjoying life. I liked having fun.
In truth the real benefit of yoga goes far beyond the physical, or indeed the spiritual. The capacity it has to enable you to reassess your thought process; can help to combat anxiety, stress and even low self-esteem. Regular physical activity induces endorphins, the bodies 'feel-good factor', but yoga has a deeper connection to the mind, body and spirit than any other form of exercise.
And if you don't believe me, just look at the evidence.
Scandinavian Doctor Erik Hoffman PhD conducted a study on people two hours before and after taking a yoga class. He found that the gentle moves and poses, significantly increased the production of Alpha Waves or relaxation and Theta Waves our unconscious memory, dreams and emotions. Moreover it created a surge of Alpha Waves in the right temporal region of the brain, the side most used by people who are naturally more optimistic and extroverted. In lamens terms- yoga makes you feel good. It aids the blood flow away from the emotional activity centre, allowing you to become more receptive to positive thoughts.
Yogasphere's founder and yoga teacher Mandy Jhamat believes that this is why it is "best practiced from the inside out."
"I often tell my students instead of focussing on the position of the limbs and where to place your foot, start to sense and feel the movements from the inside out, creating an inner 'drishti' - which is your focus point. We spend most of each day with our attention outside of ourselves on our responsibilities, so yoga practice is a great way to simply check in again. Just like docking your iPhone at the end of the day to recharge, ready for the next."
It is this exact idea of self-awareness that they extend to their well-being retreats. Now I know what you're all thinking, and no, I haven't suddenly upped sticks, given up my worldly possessions and headed off to live in some secluded ashram. The age of days spent practicing yoga with strange bearded men, peace pipes and juice fasts, are firmly confined to hippy nostalgia and vintage episodes of Absolutely Fabulous.
Many yoga retreats are held in some of the world's most beautiful locations, including Yogasphere's resort in a Maharajas palace in the Himalaya's, favoured by celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Uma Thurman and Brad Pitt. Awarded the coveted 'Best Spa in the World' title by Conde Nast's Traveller magazine, what better location is there to receive modern day life-coaching sessions and give your body a much needed MOT. This August Bank Holiday all roads lead to Marrakech and a beautiful riad nestled in the Atlas Mountains. The 5* Eco friendly resort, features a range of bespoke rooms, spa facilities and a private pool. And this retreat is not just good for you but also the environment. The energy generated by the hotel, powers the homes in the Berber village that lies slightly further down the mountain.
Our need for smart phones and tablets, may have increased our work efficiency but also our inability to disengage. The focus yoga places on meditation can help to disconnect from the digital world and actually reflect on being present in the physical, something even Google's big wigs seem to agree on. They even run their own in-house program, designed to increase employee mindfulness at work.
At its core, yoga is about strengthening more than just your muscle tone. As Mandy says, it's about practicing from the inside out and rediscovering what is really important.
So the next time you see a picture of someone famous strolling out of a yoga class and smiling, maybe just maybe it's because they are genuinely feeling happy.