Sabrina Friel is a yoga instructor who was kind enough to do this interview to give people an insight to what yoga is, how she first became interested in it and of course, what physical and mental benefits it can have for someone who practice it!

When did you start practicing yoga?

The first time I tried yoga was at university in Liverpool in 2003.  It was a very slow stretching class with some guided meditation. I remember feeling cold and bored and thinking this isn’t for me. Then in 2007 a friend of mine introduced me to Bikram Yoga Harold’s Cross, Dublin.  I was reluctant to join as my experience in Liverpool made me think yoga wasn’t for me. But my friend persuaded me to come along and give Bikram yoga a try. 

She had to explain to me what Bikram yoga was, as I’d never heard of it before.  Here is a brief description of what Bikram yoga is just in case you haven’t heard of it either. Bikram yoga is a specific type of hot yoga that consists of 26 set poses and 2 breathing exercises.  During a Bikram yoga class, these specific poses and breathing exercises are performed in the same order for every single class, and every class is always exactly 90 minutes long.  A Bikram class is taught in a room heated to exactly 40°C with 40% humidity.  Anyway, I agreed to go, and we went one evening after work. My first class was an experience I will never forget. I was amazed by how everyone in the room was moving their bodies. There were male, female, young and old and all different body shapes in the room.  The room was so hot, and everyone was sweating profusely. Although, I was very conscious about being a beginner and not knowing what I was doing, no one in the room was looking at anyone. Everyone was so focused on themselves in the mirror and concentrating on their own practice.   The first class was physically and mentally tough and I told myself I would not be back.  However, after 90mins the class ended and we lay on the floor in Savasana (dead body /relaxing pose) which I discovered was my favourite pose!  We were advised to lie there for 2-7minutes in total relaxation. I took the full 7minutes and it felt great!!  I left the studio with a hot, sweaty happy face and I felt accomplished, fit and glowing. Although I struggled physically and mentally through the class I couldn’t wait to get back on my mat. So, I went for 10 consecutive days and that was the start of my yoga journey.   

Where did you train to become a yoga instructor?

My first yoga teacher training was in 2012 in LA, USA.  After practicing Bikram yoga for five years I decided I wanted to do the teacher training so that I could hopefully open my own yoga studio in Donegal someday. The training was intense and ran for 9weeks, training 6 days a week with only one day off. It was also physically and mentally challenging. But I survived it and qualified as a Bikram yoga teacher in November 2012. 

Then, I moved from Dublin back home to Donegal in 2014. I taught around Inishowen, Derry and Letterkenny and then in June 2016 I opened the Yoga Loft Buncrana. 

After teaching for two years at home and taking different yoga workshops my practice started to change. The studio also required different styles of yoga for my students. So I went to Spain on two separate occasions to complete a Vinyasa Flow yoga course and Yin and Meditation course. I also completed a pregnancy yoga course in Dublin. With these different courses I got to experience different styles of yoga and now have more of a variety to offer my students and myself for my self-practice 🙂 

What do you like most about yoga?

What I love most about yoga, is that for at least one hour a day I get to switch off from life and just focus on my practice. I love that mind body connection that the practice brings. Yoga gives me a sense of union. My body, spirit and mind are united by the practice. Regardless, if my self-practice is an intense ashtanga or a gentle yin yoga practice, I always get that calming effect afterwards. This is what makes me happy and ready for my day! 

Do you feel different when you do yoga now compared to when you first started practicing?  If yes, what are those differences?

Yes, I feel very different now when practicing yoga compared to when I first started 13years ago.  I remember striving to perform every pose to what I thought looked like the “perfect pose.”  I was also holding my breath and making all kinds of funny faces to get there! 🙂  Even though my body may not have been ready, I was pushing it. Now, my main focus is my breath. 

Regardless of whatever style of yoga I am practicing, I use my breath to ease myself into the postures, especially the more challenging ones. My mantra is “find the pose where you can breathe more easily.” 

So, the very first class I tried back in 2003 was Yin and Meditation. I didn’t know what it was back then, and I didn’t like it. But now I love that style of yoga too. I use it weekly as a maintenance for my more physical practice and couldn’t do without it! 

What are the main physical health benefits yoga has for a person?

Yoga has many benefits but like any other exercise or sport, you must have a consistent regular practice to experience these benefits. 

With practicing slow conscious deep breathing throughout your yoga practice, you can utilise more of your lung space, improve your respiration and circulatory health. This can also improve your energy and vitality.  

With the deep stretching postures this will increase your flexibility. Which in turn can help you to protect your body from injury. 

The standing and balancing postures can improve your muscle strength and tone. Which is also good for enhancing your athletic performance?  

The more physical forms of yoga, such as Hot, Hatha and Ashtanga yoga can enhance cardio fitness and promote weight loss. 

What are the main mental health benefits that yoga has for a person?

Personally, the mental benefits for me are what keeps me on my mat. 

After a yoga practice you can feel less stressed, a lot calmer and ready to take on whatever the day brings. The quality of your sleep can improve and with the increase circulation you can reduce inflammation in the body. 

Its been reported that yoga has helped reduce anxiety, depression and chronic pain. 

Do you have to be naturally strong or flexible to practice yoga?

This is one of the most common questions I get as a yoga teacher.  My answer is No, you do not have to be naturally strong or flexible to start a yoga practice.  There is a Yoga class for everyone and everybody. We all have things to work on and improve on and with practice Yoga will help improve your strength and flexibility. 

What would your advice be for someone who wants to start yoga but they think they aren’t good enough, or are self-conscious?

For anyone looking to start yoga, do not worry about your physical fitness, flexibility, strength or body shape.  There is a yoga class out there for everyone.  With the many different styles of yoga, I would advise joining a class that is suitable for complete beginners. This could be a Yin and Meditation class which is a very slow-paced class or maybe try a more physical beginners Hatha yoga class. 

Remember, everyone was a beginner once so don’t worry about being new to the practice. As yoga brings the focus inward, most students around you will be focusing on their own practice, so they won’t be looking or judging you.

As mentioned earlier, yoga has so many physical and mental benefits. So when you find the style of yoga that suits you, with practice you will start to reap these benefits too. 

If you’d like to give your mind and body the love it deserves, why not give Yoga a go?  Sabrina owns The Yoga Loft in Buncranna and you can visit her Facebook page www.facebook.com/yogaloftbuncrana for more information on how to sign up for classes. 

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