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Yoga with Alpa

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published July 17th 2013
Balance the Body and the Mind
yoga, alpa, mitcham community centre
Alpa, our yoga instructor.

A few months ago, my mum decided to take up pilates classes in order to get fit and in hope of relieving some of the effects of her arthritis. I must say that the results have been quite dramatic; she is far more flexible than I thought was possible, and the pain in her joints has eased. So when my mum announced that a yoga class was starting at the South Mitcham Community Centre, I thought I would join her and give it a go.
South Mitcham Community Centre

Classes are on a weekly basis, every Wednesday from 5pm-6pm. At only 4, it is very affordable, and requires no pre-booking. Just show upon the day and at the office after the lesson. Don't worry if you don't have a yoga mat, as they have an ample supply.

Main Hall

We were greeted by our instructor, Alpa, who led us into the main hall. As it was the first lesson, there were only a few of us (about seven), but there is space for plenty more, and you don't have to worry about knocking into one another while stretching.

To begin the session, Alpa introduced us to pranyama, which translates to 'breath extension'. There were three techniques that she showed us the first was alternating nostril breathing (it had a more eloquent name than that, but my memory fails me). To do this, you press your thumb against your right nostril and inhale positive energy through your left nostril; then you hold your left nostril and breathe out negative energy through your right.

The second technique is meant reduce blood pressure and ease insomnia; it also heats the body, so is a good exercise to do in the winter. This being a scorching hot summer day, the class were none to thrilled by this one. It involved a kind of rapid snorting, in which you breath out continuously at a fast pace. To remember the method, Alpa described it as trying to get rid of boogers. Its not exactly something you relate to the peaceful nature of yoga, but is probably the likely result if you have a cold.

south Mitcham Community Centre, yoga classes, main hall
Breathing that cools you down.

To my relief, the third technique was a cooling exercise in which you suck air through your teeth, then let it out through your nose. Alpa said that breathing was the most important aspect of yoga (I would consider it the most important aspect of life), and that if we don't have time to do the physical exercises, then we should at least do the breathing every day.

south Mitcham Community Centre, yoga classes, main hall

After breathing and meditation, we move on to asana, which is the physical aspect of yoga. I found this the more interesting (and humorous) part of the session, as we all tried to keep our balance, and remember our left from our right.

south Mitcham Community Centre, yoga classes, main hall, tree pose

Although I have never taken a yoga class before, I recognised some of the poses as I have had practice with them on the Nintendo WiiFit. This was more challenging, however, because instead of just doing individual poses, we also had to perform seamless transitions (or at least that is the aim). One such exercise started with the Sun Salutation, which is meant to be performed at dawn an dusk (but for the purpose of the class was done at approximately half-past five). You place your hands by the heart chakra, then stretch your arms up, and back over your head. You then stretch down to your toes (without bending your knees), lie flat with your chin on the ground, and push yourself up into the Cobra position. The Cobra the transforms into a Downward Facing Dog, before returning back to the Sun Salute.

south Mitcham Community Centre, yoga classes, main hall, tree pose
Tree Pose

My favourite exercise was the Tree Pose, which I can proudly say, I was the only one able to do without standing next to a wall. The one I found most difficult was The Lotus Flower, which had me toppling over a few times.

south Mitcham Community Centre, yoga classes, main hall, tree pose

We finished the session with relaxing meditation, while Alpa demonstrated some of the more complex and difficult positions that we might be trying in the coming weeks.
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Why? Get flexible
When: Wednesdays, 5pm-6pm
Phone: 020 8648 3740
Where: South Mitcham Community Centre
Cost: 4
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