As I walk into the studio at Fitness First, I’m relieved by how spacious it is, with a light wooden floor and red neon strip along the base of a huge wall to wall mirror. I meet Celia, who welcomes us all into the studio as she turns down the lighting and puts on some ambient music. I roll out my mat and hope for the best! I used to practice yoga and Pilates regularly but haven’t been to a class in more than six months.

We begin with a few simple breathing exercises before we move into postures or asanas. I take slow deep breaths and relax into them. After a few preparatory poses such as the ‘cat’ and ‘lunge' stretches, Celia takes us into the vinyasa movements of the 'sun salutation' consisting of ten postures that flow seamlessly into each other. Our breaths and movements need to continually work in unison.

I can feel the stress melting away as I lift myself into the ‘upward’ then into the ‘downward facing dog.’ I am able to lower my heels and achieve a greater stretch by using my breath to push down into the asana. We then move into the standing forward bend until I end on the ‘volcano’ pose with my arms and gaze up in the air.

I’m feeling pleased with myself but we are only just getting started and within seconds Celia takes us back to the beginning and flows into the first asana of the sun salutation again. Each step is not that difficult in itself, but capturing the fluidity of the sequence is a challenge.

The stretches are intense, and I realise that if you want to execute an asana correctly it’s not about trying to compete with fellow classmates. It’s better to stretch in the right places and adopt the correct posture even if you can’t reach as far, rather than clumsily doing yourself an injury and missing the point of it.

After sustaining the circular flow of several sun salutation sequences, we explore other asanas like the tree pose (one of my favourites), the chair pose, the eagle pose, and the triangle pose, which leads into the pyramid pose. The fish pose is tricky and feels strange. It’s hugely beneficial as it opens up the chest and shoulders, encourages correct posture and alleviates backache.

I struggle with the boat pose. Apparently, it’s great for developing stamina. I need to sit and keep my spine long, straighten my legs in mid-air, point my toes and draw my abdominal muscles in. On top of all that, I need to stay balanced! I manage to do so, but not for long. My legs start to tremble, then give way. Celia reminds us, “Checking in with the vinyasa breath”. I want to tell her “Yes I am checking in! I’m breathing for dear life to sustain this posture!” It doesn’t take me long to realise that I’m not Celia’s star pupil! But at least I’ve made it here and am trying.

There are countless benefits to regularly practising yoga. With every stretch, posture and twist we can increase our oxygen and blood supply, balance the respiratory, circulatory and other systems in the body and strengthen our core. Yoga brings solid results, working with the body instead of against it, improving flexibility, muscular strength and sleep patterns. I enjoy the graceful movements.

The Yoga Sutras is the single most influential text on yoga based on Patanjali’s philosophy from the third or fourth century CE. There are eight components to attaining self-realisation or ‘enlightenment’ through the practice of yoga. In the west we have sort of divorced the physical aspects of yoga from the spiritual. These asanas were originally practised in preparation for meditation, which would explain why one feels so relaxed after a yoga class.

Yoga rejuvenates, stretches us beyond our limits, but it is not easy. It is specific, precise and demanding, and unless you get something out of your yoga practice, there’s no point in it.

Apparently, our seven major chakras are stimulated by the asanas – (postures) and pranayama – (deep rhythmic breathing techniques), great for controlling physical and emotional states and silencing our chattering minds.

We end with a few headstands (which I can’t manage) before culminating with the relaxation. I continue to breathe in a long slow rhythm until I enter a deeply relaxed state of mind and adopt the ‘corpse’ pose. This final state of relaxation should be used to enter into deep meditation but in our hurried western way in a few moments the lights will come on and we’ll be off again.

I chat with Celia after the class and learn from her knowledge, expertise and experience. Having been a yoga teacher for over a decade, her teaching is sensitive and during her class, I felt that she was fully engaged with us all the way. Celia emphasizes ‘being mindful of the breath” and “having the discipline to persevere”.

There is something for everybody when it comes to exercise. I like the idea of a personal trainer being fully engaged with your fitness goals. Chris, the manager at DW Fitness First, says “and they become part of your journey. Personal goals change, so every six weeks they reassess where you are.”

I explain how the gym can get a little tiresome and Chris suggests ‘reincentivising yourself,’

He says “You can mix it up a bit” by following a programme using a wide variety of gym equipment as well as attending a class such as body-flow - a mixture of tai chi and yoga, street dance and spin.

I realise the critical importance of encouraging fitness from an early age. I’m not surprised that I never became a ‘sporty’ person. PE at school could have been so much more varied and fun if I’d been offered classes like Boxercise, or encouraged to join a lively Zumba class. Instead, it consisted of being forced by to jump in at the deep end of a swimming pool when I could barely swim! Or having to stand tall on a pommel horse then leap into the air in a gym class and land with a thump on a mat. “Wow! That was useful,” I remember my 12-year-old self thinking.

I’ve always enjoyed yoga and pilates and although they are low impact, all of that bending, stretching, twisting are great ways to keep relatively fit and not as demanding as say, jogging or going to the gym. I find it fascinating how controlled breathing can be so restorative, melt away tension and lead into meditation, a turning inward of the senses which enables downtime for the nervous system. As yoga is such an ancient practice, unlike a lot of exercises, you don’t get worse with age, you can develop a personal yoga practice over the years and mature with it in mind, body and soul.

  • Marisa Laycock moved to St Albans in 2000. She enjoys sharing her experiences of living in the city. These columns are also available as podcasts from 92.6 FM Radio Verulam at