THE yoga that we see practised in classes and gyms throughout the West today is far removed from its roots in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. But there is no doubting its increasing popularity as an exercise which brings psychological and physical benefits.

Plenty of scientific studies have found that yoga comes with a flurry of health benefits: it reduces high blood pressure, depression, chronic pain, and anxiety. It also improves cardiac function, muscle strength, and circulation.

Celebrities such as David Beckham and Beyonce are fans of the ancient practice and it has drawn support from world leaders such as Barack Obama, who stated: "Yoga has become a universal language of spiritual exercise… crossing many lines of religion and cultures.” On December 1, 2016, yoga was even listed by UNESCO as an Intangible cultural heritage.

Loading article content

So as the new year gets into gear, why don’t you follow suit? All you need is some loose clothing, a yoga mat and a class to get you going. Here, two of the region’s yoga teachers explain how the ancient practice can improve our 21st Century lives.

After finding inspiration from her own yoga teacher two years ago, 35-year-old Millie Lepic, from Richmond, has been hooked by Vinyasa yoga ever since. She qualified as a fitness yoga instructor during her second year at university and took classes alongside her studies. At the same time, she also attended Vinyasa yoga classes, which is where she developed a keener interest in the traditional aspects of yoga. After graduation, she visited India to study “Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and fell deeper in love with the philosophy and spiritual practice.

I find the freedom and fluidity of Vinyasa to be energising and relaxing at the same time,” says Millie. “It’s a beautiful way to move. The breath leads the postures and calms the mind and body.”

It also brings physical benefits, she adds. The postures focus the mind and create a sense of personal awareness whilst the body benefits from improved lymphatic drainage and increased muscle mass.

Millie is running classes at The Old Forge Barn, Middleton Lodge, Middleton Tyas, and stresses that all are welcome. “There is a popular misconception about yoga only being for the flexible, but actually it’s for everyone regardless of shape, size, age, gender or ability,” she says. “The Asanas (postures) are performed within the individual’s comfort zone and there are adaptations, modifications and progressions to suit every level, from first time attendee to lifelong devotee. The common thread is that everyone enjoy physical, emotional and psychological benefits and n overall sense of wellness.”

n Millie’s weekly yoga sessions are being held at The Old Forge Barn from Friday, January 12, at 7am and cost £30 for six-week block. To book a place, please call 01325-377977 or email info@middletonlodge.co.uk

Sylvia Glover, from Teesdale, came to yoga late in life. Now 53, she started practising regularly just a few years ago.

“I did it for fun at first, but soon realised it was helping a lot with my back pain, all over fitness level and general well-being,” she says. “There were so many physical and mental benefits, I decided to get serious about it.”

After an intense 200-hour training course in Thailand, Sylvia qualified as a teacher last April and has been teaching since October. “I do an eclectic mix of yoga, as I always gauge the fitness level and mood of each class, but you will always find some Hatha, Vinyasa Flow and Yin in there,” she says. “I also do a bit of guided meditation, visualisation and self-development in each class and add some fairy lights, essential oils and music to make it as enjoyable an experience as possible.”

Sylvia believes yoga is for everyone, no matter your age or fitness level, and is just starting a new season of classes at Startforth Primary School, in Barnard Castle. Monday classes are for those who have done yoga at least three or four times before and are able to get up and down from the floor easily. “It is also for intermediate level.Variations of postures will be given so you can find your own happy place,” says Sylvia. The Thursday evening class is for absolute beginners, people who are new to fitness, those who feel they are overweight or getting on a bit and people with limitations that they have to work around, such as lower back pain or pregnancy.

"You only have to google the scientifically proven facts of the benefits of yoga for a very long list of both physical and psychological benefits to appear, such as increased energy, lower blood pressure, improvement in neck and backache, better sleep patterns, reduced anxiety and depression," says Sylvia. "There are always give a few variations for each posture so you can decide for yourself how easy or challenging you want to make it."

n Startforth Primary School, Barnard Castle, DL12 9AQ. Monday: 6pm-7.30pm, starting January 8; Thursday: 7pm-8.15pm, starting January 11. Classes £7 or £36 for a block of six. W: barnardcastleyoga.co.uk; E: sylvia429@btinternet.com