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Building a connection between like-minded individuals is something we’re passionate about at our yoga studio.“Kula” means community in the ancient and sacred language of Sanskrit. Our studio is a space where people can connect, share and grow. Our students come from all around the Hawthorn and Camberwell area to sweat, play, learn and reach their health and fitness goals. Every day at Kula we come across individuals who have inspired us and continue to help shape our community; we wanted to share their stories with you. Read below as Alexander shares his journey with yoga.

Yoga has long been on my to-do list. 

As a 25-year-old male whose priority in life constantly requires me to be pushing myself both physically and mentally, you’d think I would’ve started yoga sooner than six months ago. I figure the stigma I had associated with yoga meant I only saw it as a tool that would be nice to have, rather than a need to have. 

I’m a 400m runner who has represented Australia several times, most recently at the World University Games in Korea in July 2015. Prior to my selection in that team, not coincidentally a week prior to my first yoga class, I was at the end of a frustrating two years in the sport. I’d suffered a string of soft tissue injuries after returning from the AIS to Melbourne in 2013, which had not been helped by my own desires to balance full-time training with university and part-time work.

Although I had always worked hard in training, other factors were creeping in and affecting my performance. A lack of sleep/recovery, anxiety before races, general fatigue levels from other commitments and travel for races were taking their toll. I knew a better understanding and control of my mental health could pay dividends.

My sister, Rachel, has long been a “yogi” (as I call it) and after she and some other family members made me aware of the relaxation and recovery benefits, as well as the meditative parts to a yoga class, the penny finally dropped. I realised that this “extra session” to add to my own ever-growing list of training demands was actually not going to take away from anything, but improve them!

It was finally time for me to find out for myself what this yoga business was all about…

From day dot, I feel as though I’ve been made welcomed and although yoga is obviously such an individual practice, I certainly feel a bit like an ambassador of Kula and proud to advocate it to others. Reading other blogs on the website, it’s clear there is a sense of community at Kula and beginners are immediately introduced in to that.

From my first class, I’ve relished the opportunity to become more aware of my body in movements that I didn’t realise were so relevant to running. I’ve really enjoyed learning the basics and I’m still fascinated by the control, balance and strength shown by some yogis.

I’ve always marvelled at arm balances and the like, and it has been really enjoyable to practice those movements and to always feel like I have things I can improve upon. Sun Salutations are now a part of my everyday routine when warming up at the track and although I copped a few funny looks performing Crow Pose in Korea, it’s what makes me feel comfortable and prepared.

Preparation in my sport is so particular and being able to develop my own routine, creating an ability to gauge how my body is moving and prepare it in different ways that seem to constantly grow has been a revelation for me. My coach and physiotherapist are strongly pushing me to include more yoga practice in my weekly regime as they have seen the benefits it has provided me, both physically and mentally.

I’m extremely fortunate to have never suffered from any mental health issues; however, I’ve never focused on or contributed to my mental health either and that’s what initially drew me to yoga.

The first class I ever did was Power and I feel very fortunate to have started there with such a capable and understanding teacher. I’m very particular and probably more judgemental than I should be when it comes to the movement of my body. I needn’t be concerned though as it became strikingly clear to me that I had struck gold with this class only minutes into that first day.

From that very first class, I was made to feel very welcome and accepted, even as a rookie in yoga practice. The classes seemed to have such varied levels of experience; however, there was no ego involved and everyone is just there to be ‘within the four corners of their mat’ and that resonated with me and I’m slowly learning to avoid distractions.

My time at Kula has really contributed to a new way for me to focus on my main goal in 2016, which is the Olympics. I am hoping to qualify for the Games in 2016 and practicing yoga has allowed me to approach that goal in several new ways.

Today, I am not just a bull at the gates, punishing my body to achieve that goal. I feel like I actually train a lot smarter, I only concentrate on what I am doing and getting the most out of my body in that moment alone – these are all mantras I have picked up from practicing at Kula. My mental health has gotten a lot stronger and I believe in that tool a lot more than I had previously. 

Further, I have a lot more confidence in my body and an awareness of its movements. Training so specifically for something for so many years, I lacked stimulus. Now, with these new movements, stretches and balances I am able to look even more intricately at my own strengths and weaknesses and use that information to benefit the rest of my training.

Going forward, I’d definitely like to start engaging in more Yin classes, later in the week as my training winds down, as well as preparing me for the week ahead. I will continue to keep the Power class in my routine, as it has quickly become one of my favourite forms of training. Long-term, when I move away from the track, I can see myself practicing yoga everyday and I’m really eager to try a 30 Day Challenge soon.

Kula Yoga has really opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. I really enjoy the fact that I am always learning something new and there is always another movement to try and develop. I’m not sure you can ever really master yoga, but the journey in trying is still incredibly rewarding.