Yoga classes these days scarcely resemble the somewhat hippy vibe I encountered in my first class 22 years ago in New Zealand. What was once considered an esoteric practice from India has exploded in popularity from New York to New Delhi, and the practice is more accessible and mainstream than ever. Switzerland is no exception, and yoga studios can be found in all the major centres and many small towns in between.
Even if you have not given yoga a try, I truly feel that the practice offers expats living in Switzerland a wonderful bridge into their local community and the ability to connect with locals and other expats. Moreover, yoga is a wonderful way to keep yourself well, relaxed and healthy as you adjust to a new culture, traditions, language and your own routine in Switzerland. There is no perfect time to start a yoga practice (except now), but as we cast our sights to the spring we are naturally called to move and try new things.
Calling all men
While women may be the most devoted of practitioners, men also stand to gain great benefits from a standalone yoga practice. Some of the benefits include stress relief, increased flexibility, improved digestion, brain function and mind-body awareness, strengthening and lengthening of muscles, and boosted immunity.
Plus, a yoga practice can improve your performance in other sports. For proof just look at the New York Giants or the 2015 Rugby World Cup champions, the New Zealand All-Blacks.
Not to mention men that do yoga are just plain sexy.
Finding the right practice
It is easy to get confused about the various yoga traditions, however I recommend finding a teacher, studio and style that you enjoy. Then just show up to your practice. Remember that yoga isn't about putting your nose to your knees — it's about coming home to yourself, having fun and learning along the way.
During my four years in Switzerland I have been fortunate to teach yoga in both Zurich and Basel, and connect with many wonderful teachers across the country who are expats, teach only in English or a mix of English and the local dialect.
To support you in your practice I am sharing a selection of small and large studios in Switzerland in the hopes that you find great health, inspiration and a community with these teachers and studios.
A home practice
If you are new to yoga, I recommend taking classes with an experienced teacher as you learn. In time, your home practice and other learning tools are wonderful supplements to your studio classes. In light of yoga's ability to bridge and balance your life as an expat, the following breath practice and posture are simple, safe and nourishing.
Alternate Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Viloma) to quiet and calm the entire nervous system, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve self-awareness.
Sit in a seated position with your eyes closed. Focus on the space between your eyebrows. Resting the left hand palm up on your knee, connect the tip of the thumb and index finger of your left hand to make a circle (gyan mudra) and extend the other three fingers. The first two fingers of the right hand are bent to the palm and the thumb is used to close the right nostril as you inhale through the left nostril for a count of five. Close the left nostril with the joined ring and little finger so both nostrils are momentarily sealed. Then release the right thumb and exhale out the right nostril for a count of five. Repeat by inhaling through the same (right) nostril for five, and out the left nostril for five. This is one full set. Continue breathing in a steady and relaxed manner for another 8-10 sets. Finish by relaxing the right hand on the knee and breathing naturally with awareness of the flow through the nostrils and the quietness in your mind.
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
Lying on your back, bend your knees placing your feet close to your buttocks and hip width apart. Keep your feet firm on the ground, knees parallel and arms alongside the body with palms flat on the floor. Inhale as you lengthen through the tailbone as the hips and vertebra slowly rise. With the hips up, you may be able to walk the shoulders under the body and clasp the hands together as they rest on the floor. Feel the activation as the upper chest lifts and draw towards your chin. Keeping the hips up, continue to breathe for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Then release the clasped hands and roll the spine slowly back down to the mat.
Repeat and enjoy the opening of the chest and breath.
Tips: Push the feet down evenly with an emphasis on the inner edge of the feet to prevent knees from splaying out, and to feel more activation and lift. Do not turn the head to the side while up in the bridge position.
Photos: © Danielle Satya Parla