With the coronavirus pandemic keeping us stuck at home and everything else happening in the world right now, the need to maintain movement and mental wellness has become increasingly important. With its ability to help you achieve inner balance while getting in an at-home workout, yoga is the perfect exercise to start at home during quarantine. Yoga helps us quiet the mind and develop mindfulness. And the practice of yoga at home can help you stay focused and energized when the days seems to blur together in quarantine.
Yoga may seem like an intimidating practice to begin at home, alone. We chatted with yoga instructors Heart Maher and Shareia Oliver who gave us some tips and inspirations from their own experiences to make starting the practice as simple as possible.
Heart Maher is a yoga instructor based in Colorado, where she specializes in vinyasa-style classes. Recently, Maher has been teaching online yoga classes over Zoom for people stuck at home during the pandemic. You can check out her classes at heartmaher.com and follow her on Instagram @heartmaher.
Shareia Oliver is a health and wellness leader who turned a career in bodybuilding and yoga teaching into a love for all things wellness. Oliver offers private yoga sessions through her website shareiaoliver.com and tips on yoga and wellness on her Instagram @shareiaoliveryoga.
Could you describe your yoga journey? How did you get into yoga?
HM: I’m a Thai native but I’ve lived in American since 2003. I started yoga at the age of 37 in January 2014. I took a couple of classes, maybe one or two before, but I started to commit right at the beginning of January 2014. Then I really loved it. I want to share my experiences and how yoga transformed my body with everyone. I did my 200 hour yoga teacher training in the spring of 2016 and I started teaching right after I graduated.
It took me a while to audition because of my English. I got rejected at first then I spent 4 months working with a speech coach and went back to audition again. It’s been challenging physically and mentally, but really fun. Right now I focus more on online teaching. I’m down to teaching a few group classes on my own on Zoom and 3-4 private clients on FaceTime weekly.
SO: I have been practicing yoga for about five to six years. The first time I ever practiced yoga was at a hot yoga studio at a local studio in Virginia and I really loved it, but from there I started doing other types of fitness activities such as bodybuilding competitions or running. But then after I got past all of that I came back to yoga.
So, from there I started the home practice, and then I did Instagram challenges. And I think that’s where my love actually took off for yoga and I got a membership at a studio that I really loved the teacher’s teaching style. And I did that for about two years consistently. And then that’s when I looked to yoga teaching. The program that I went through is the hatha and vinyasa program. And right now I’m establishing my own online business called Shareia Oliver Yoga.
Do you have any goals or accomplishments that you’re working towards with yoga?
HM: I could say my goal is to feel better as I get older. Feel better with my body and feel better with my mind too. So far I’ve achieved that goal. Like I never think about doing forearm stands. One day in the flow, the body just feels so right and it just happens. It feels amazing. I just keep practicing and be aware of my body as I practice. I never thought I could do a split when I first started yoga. I used to think that I would practice in this lifetime so I can do it next when I’m reborn. I’m glad I was wrong.
SO: For me, it’s healing. One thousand percent healing and that’s already started. And it has trickled into my family. I have three young daughters, 18, 16, and 14. And so I’ve been sharing the things that I’ve been discovering through my process. I invite them to meditate with me and on a regular basis, we journal. We add in movement and I think all of that is a part of having healthy mental health. And that’s what yoga has been for me.
What made you want to teach yoga and share your practice online?
HM: My students [told] me that they want to still practice during the lockdown and then I started to figure out that I can make it possible and maybe reach out to more people. So I launched my website heartmaher.com just to make it easy for my students to find information about what I offer. I have made so many good friends via Instagram too. It’s so nice to be able to connect with people who have the same interests from all over the world.
SO: I love teaching people anything I’ve learned to be helpful. So, when I was competing, I learned how to eat properly, what types of workouts to do, how to execute them, and what it does to your body. And so I would share that and that’s actually how I ended up on Instagram through sharing my bodybuilding journey. And then I did the same thing with yoga. People saw how it shifted me and they asked questions and I was able to offer them advice.
Do you have any advice for beginners or people interested in starting yoga?
HM: I always tell my students to stay present with their own feelings and their own body. Do what you can and not push over your own limits. It’s not easy for beginners to practice in all-level classes because people look around and try things they shouldn’t. I recommend them to take a beginner yoga class if possible. Be safe. That’s more important than anything. Never force the body to get into any poses. When the body is ready, the poses will come.
SO: My advice would be not to compare yourself to people that you see on Instagram. It can be your motivation or people you follow for interest but don’t try to start your practice where they start their practice because it’s a journey. It’s not just getting into a handstand or getting into a complicated pose, it’s actually a lot more than that. I know people tend to get frustrated and I’m going to say that I am people. When I started this journey, I’m very competitive, so I saw these different poses and I was like, ‘I’m going to be able to do that, I want to do that’ and when my body wasn’t responding as quickly as I wanted it to, I got frustrated. And then I had to step back and say, ‘you know what they’ve been doing this for five years, I’ve been doing this for five months.’ I needed to shift my expectations.
What kind of equipment do you use and what would you recommend for people doing yoga at home?
HM: Having a good mat is really important. Liforme is the only mat I use and recommend. But for beginners, the mat doesn’t matter much for the first few classes. They only need a good mat when they start to commit. I love the quality of Bhoga blocks. Four-inch high is good for beginners, three-inch is good after they practice for a while. For some people, they will need a pad under their knees too, especially elderly who have sensitive knees. Even a towel works to put under the knee. A yoga strap is also important for beginners.
SO: A nice mat that has a good grip. I had to learn that the hard way. I didn’t understand that you needed to have a grip, so my mat was very slippery and when I was in class doing the poses, my figures would slide and I had so much pain in my wrists and it was because I didn’t have the proper mat. Make sure the mat you have has a nice grip. A yoga block to bring the floor up to you and make sure your body is on a proper alignment. Those are your friends until your body becomes more open to different poses that you’re doing.
What kind of diet and activities, besides yoga, do you integrate into your life to keep physically and mentally fit?
HM: I always like going for a walk, hiking, and being outside. I meditate daily because I grew up practicing Buddhism. I like to start my morning with water, meditation, and a 5-minute headstand. Then black coffee or green tea and a 15-minute stretch, following a 30-minute walk around my neighborhood. My body feels the best with this routine. I used to be unhealthy before yoga. Once I figured out the best I could do for my body, it became a routine and a lifestyle. I believe it’s about creating habits that you can enjoy.
SO: I try to make sure that we have a house full of fruits and vegetables because when I was competing, I had a very strict diet. And now that I’m not, I find that I don’t eat as regularly as I should, and then when I do, it’s something that I have to care about. What I’ve done recently is to make sure that I have at least raw fruits and vegetables that I can easily access throughout the day. And then we meal prep in my house and try to prep a couple of meals earlier in the week that we nibble off throughout the week as a time saver. And have plenty of water. Oh man, I think that’s another thing that we got to do is get in plenty, plenty of water.
How do you think yoga can be helpful for people at home during the pandemic?
HM: I think it’s more than helpful. Just to be about to move the body, stretch, and strengthen especially when people don’t go to work, it’s important to commit to a home practice.
If you can’t get to in-person classes, online yoga is a great option. Find teachers that you like, connect with them, and ask questions.
SO: Yes and not only yoga but getting out of the house if you have an outdoor space to get some fresh air because the house is great, but I think we also have a lot of people who’ve been in the house for so long getting cabin fever. So to get outside and do yoga and get that fresh air while you’re taking a deep breath is very important.
Are there any of our essential sprays that you would integrate into your practice?
HM: The CALM one sounds good. I love bergamot.
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