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The beginner's journey: Q&A with Heidi Gardner

Kate Foster

Every yogi - even those super-graceful bendy bodies you aspire to - was a beginner once. And every beginner's journey is as different and as unique as we are. That's why we're grateful to our brilliant Badd Karma Baddassador Heidi for sharing her story about her journey into yoga...

Heidi, when did you start practicing yoga? What prompted you to start?
I started at the beginning of 2015 - a close friend had started Bikram yoga early in 2014 and for ages, she was telling me how great it was. I was into weight training at that time so I figured yoga would complement that really well… plus, I wanted a new challenge. I signed up to my first hot yoga class in January of 2015 and have been yogi-ing ever since! I'm still very much a beginner, but this year I've been really trying to practice more at home in between the structured classes I attend. 

How did you find the right class for you?
Since my friend had convinced me that Bikram was going to change my life, I was on the hunt for a class near me! I found Hot Yoga Aberdeen on Facebook  and had a good look through the comments and photographs to try and get a feel for the group and what the classes would be like. I thought I'd give it a shot and if I didn't like it, I just wouldn't go again. As it turned out, I went to one beginner's class and then booked a block of 6, because I was hooked. I got lucky with finding the right class the first time! I think it's just about taking the plunge and trying it. After all, what's the worst that can happen? 

What were you hoping for, in that first class - and did it deliver?
Before getting on the mat I knew I was crap at relaxing, and I knew I was seriously lacking in flexibility. I wanted something to challenge me and something that would push me out of my comfort zone. My first class definitely did that. Holy cow, downward dog is not easy when you're not used to being in that position - I had never realised my hamstrings were so tight before! Hip openers were the real challenge though. I thought I was doing the movements wrong because my body just would not do what my teacher's was doing. It was cool though - I made a little tower out of yoga blocks, use a belt every now and again, and got used to feeling OK with progress rather than straight achievement.

The relaxation bit surprised me the most though - my teacher explained that we were going into savasana, and I thought 'get in! finally time to lay down, YAS!' but it was a real challenge. I mean, I’m really good at being horizontal watching episodes of RuPaul's Drag Race, but I found it difficult to relax and empty my mind. It took me a good few weeks of classes to actually keep my eyes closed and not think about work or the pile of laundry waiting for me at home. 

What were you worried about when you started yoga?
I was soooo worried about my lack of flexibility. I could deadlift 80kg, but I struggled to touch my toes, and I thought that I'd end up looking like an idiot when I stumbled through a class filled with graceful yogi-types. Thankfully my fear was totally unnecessary - everyone in the class was more focussed on their own practice than looking at what weird and wonderful shapes I was making on my mat!

Tell us about your class – what do you love about the people you practice with?
One of the main things I love about the people I practice with is their diversity. The class always has a really good mix of people; genders, ages, backgrounds, and reasons for being there. I remember when I first started practicing there was a guy in my class who'd show up each week in an Aberdeen United football shirt, his aim was to touch his toes. Every week he'd try, sometimes he'd manage it and others he wouldn't, but he came back each week and tried again.

Last week there was a whole family in the class; Mum, Dad, Grandma and 2 kids; they just fancied trying out something different. There are always more women than men, but I think that's usually the case with yoga unfortunately. That said, it's a brilliantly welcoming group and I haven't felt out of place at all. I love seeing new people start the classes from scratch. The thing we all have in common is that we show up, we say hello and ask how the past week has been, we chat and have a laugh, and then we go about our lives until the next class.  

And what about your teacher? What are they like and what do you especially appreciate about them?
My teacher is probably the biggest reason why I love the classes so much! I've been with Emma Ross since the beginning of my yoga journey. When I first joined her she was running classes in a community hall, then we moved up to renting a studio in a hotel in central Aberdeen, and now she's got her own yoga and wellness studio (Urban Wellness Hub Aberdeen). She's a born and bred Aberdonian who understands her audience well - there's no woo-woo stuff; it's all about getting to know your body, enjoying the journey, and having a laugh in the process.

There were a few months that I didn't attend classes because I had some family stuff going on, and she messaged me on Facebook to check in with me, welcoming me back with a nice lazy practice when I eventually headed back to class. She's also really body positive, and I love the fact that she actively welcomes people of all shapes and sizes to her studio, it makes for a wonderful atmosphere. 

What are your yoga aspirations? What haven’t you tried/achieved yet that you’d like to?
As I said earlier, I could hardly touch my toes when I started - now one of my favourite poses is gorilla pose! I'm always trying to open my hips more, so pigeon and lizard are two I've been really working on recently. Over the next year I'd like to up my yogi game and start working on arm balances like crow and handstands. I was never very good at handstands when I was a kid so I have a feeling they'll take some time to get used to!

What are your top tips for people who’d like to try a yoga class? 
Just do it! Stop putting it off, find a class and give it a shot. Focus on yourself and what's going on on your mat - it's your practice and acting like there's no one else around you can sometimes make things feel a lot less daunting. 

And give yourself a break. People think that yoga looks easy - it's not, it's a physical and mental challenge, and you're not going to find yourself bossing everything first time. Experiment with variations and get excited about seeing your progress as your body gets used to yoga.



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