Did you think yoga was just a set of boring asanas? Not so, says yoga practitioner and teacher Samanta Duggal. Here's what she has to say...

Of late the general profile of yoga teachers seems to be undergoing a metamorphosis. From venerable, elderly folk you have hip youngsters who stretch and bend like the professionals they are. Samanta Duggal belongs to this latter breed.

Samanta began as a dancer and instructor in Shiamak Davar's Dance Company but her shift to yoga was serendipitous. She was in Canada when she saw an advertisement for a Yoga course by the Shivanand School of Yoga. In 2003, she opted for the teacher training course and then completed the advanced course as well. Her explorations into healing techniques continued as she delved into Hatha Yoga, Vinyasa Yoga, pranayama, meditation and yogic techniques, Vedic chanting, foot reflexology, panchakarma, Thai massage …

In Chennai recently to conduct a workshop on Flow Yoga for 136.1 Yoga Studio, Samanta took time off to talk about why she thinks yoga is possibly the best thing to happen for anybody.

What is flow yoga?

Flow Yoga is also called Vinyasa Yoga. It's nothing very difficult. Vinyasa simply links two or more poses together with the breath. All it means is that you flow from one pose to another as you inhale and exhale. So you're not moving from one static pose to another; instead there is a dynamic flow.

How does one choose between the different types of yoga?

Eventually they all lead to the same goal; so it doesn't really matter. Yoga is a holistic practice meant for both mind and body. It's not a purely physical workout – though that element is certainly there. Now how to choose the kind of yoga: for the hardcore physical workout type, you can choose power yoga or ashtanga yoga. For someone who prefers a gentler style, there are other options. I believe the teacher has to devise a practice depending on the student's age, physique and mental temperament. It may begin as a tool to gain physical strength but the emotional benefits are there. Slowly one starts to bring mind, body and soul into alignment.

What, according to you, is the best age to start yoga?

Seven or eight, I would say. This is when they start being aware of the self and the other. Also the practice of surya namaskar and asanas can delay the onset of puberty for a couple of years and make the challenging transition to adolescence easier to deal with.

Of course you have to use a different approach when teaching children. You have to engage them with storytelling and songs and slowly introduce yoga. Also power yoga works for very active children. It burns off the excess energy leaving them much calmer and more able to focus.

Yoga is not accessible to all as yet. In such a situation, what would you suggest as an alternative fitness programme?

(laughs) Well I would normally advocate yoga as an all round fitness programme but yes if you don't have access to it, look at walking, cycling, jogging… something outdoors. Also eat well. I don't mean eat whatever you want but a balanced diet. Include lots of vegetables even if you are non-vegetarian. Do not leave out any one food type. You need them all in moderation. Try to look at the positive side of things.

Would there be situations where a person cannot practise yoga?

No I don't think so. Yogic practice can be modified to suit a person's needs. A person with, say, a back problem may not be able to do one particular asana but that does not mean that yoga is not for that person. There will be other asanas or techniques that can bring them some measure of relief.

Often I hear that pregnant women cannot do yoga, but this is not true. Yoga helps not just the mother but is also beneficial for the foetus. And there are specific techniques which will harm neither the mother nor the baby. The trouble is that in India, there is this belief that pregnant women must just put their feet up and eat. But staying active right through pregnancy actually helps. And yoga helps the mother cope with both the physical changes in her body and also the mental ones.

If you had to describe what yoga means to you…

(thoughtfully) See, Yoga is not just about asanas and pranayama and meditation; it is much, much more. It means balance to me in every way; yin with the yang, masculine with feminine, dynamic with passive, the gross with the spiritual.

Samanta's tips

Practise yoga regularly. Find which one works for you.

If you can't practise yoga, workout regularly, Cycle, jog, walk... but do something.

Eat well but in moderation. Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Stay positive. Look at the bright side of things.

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