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Yoga is not just series of physical exercises often taught in gyms and yoga studios. It involves every cell in the body. By turning and twisting your body in every direction combined with yogic breathing each cell is replenished and rejuvenated with fresh oxygen. This unique process maintains optimum health.
Yoga is the soul connection to universal power and enlightenment.
It provides the wisdom to unlock our inner realm to raise our conscious levels to discover spiritual truth.
Article from Women's Health, May 2000.
If you want the lean body and serene aura of an Eastern goddess, then start practising yoga. Vimla Lalvani, one of the world's leading yoga teachers, talks to Christine Morgan about her brilliant career
Having discovered yoga at the ripe old age of 14, I consider myself to be lucky. But in those days there weren't any yoga videos or many yoga teachers (especially in the depths of the Welsh valleys, where I grew up). People starting to practise yoga today are far better catered for. Not only are there yoga teachers and classes in virtually every town in the UK, but there are books, videos, audio tapes... And, of course, there's Vimla Lalvani.
As I've practised yoga with Vimla via her videos for several years, I was delighted when I was asked to meet her at her London home. If you've ever seen one of Vimla's yoga videos or caught her doing her thing on GMTV, you'll know how beautiful she is, with her long, lean body that any woman half her age would kill for. In real life, she's even more fabulous. And very tall for an Asian woman. Actually, Vimla was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.
'My grandfather had left India in 1913 - in fact, a part of India that's now Pakistan - and decided to find tame and fortune in America,' explains Vimla.
However; her grandfather never made it to San Francisco and settled in Hawaii. As a young girl in Honolulu, Vimla found that she was drawn to dance and went on to study with such luminaries as Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham while at university in Los Angeles (UCLA). She also studied philosophy, theosophy and history in her spare time aifer her dance training.
Back to her roots
'When I graduated I had an urge to go to India,' says Vimla. 'As children, we went every summer so I'd been going all my life and there was a strong connection. But I decided I wanted to study Indian philosophy and classical dance.
Unfortunately - or fortunately as if turned out - Vimla found if impossible to be accepted in Indian classical dance, as she towered over the other students and, at just 19, was considered too old to start the training. However; members of her family in India suggested she try yoga. Vimla had heard about yoga and read about it principles during her time at UCLA, but she had never done a yoga class.
'At that time, there were no yoga teachers in America?' says Vimla. But now in India, she soon found a local class nearby in Bombay.' After my first class, I couldn't believe how fantastic I felt. It was like something inside me clicked, as if I'd been searching for something and didn't know what, but all of a sudden there it was.'
'One day I went to the school where he was teaching, and was told I had to wait for the teacher,' says Vimla. 'Eventually when he arrived, I tried to speak to him but he brushed me aside - he wouldn't even look at me. This carried on for a few days until I decided to disguise myself as an Indian woman and stand at the back of his class, hoping he wouldn't recognise me.'
Of course, Iyengar did recognise her - she must have stood out like a sore thumb, standing head and shoulders above the other Indian women. But when he ordered her to leave, the other student pleaded with him to let her stay. Luckily, he gave in.
'After that he trained me very closely - he really kicked me into shape,' says Vimla. Iyengar yoga is renowned for its accuracy, its precise body alignment, and Vimla's rigorous training is evident in her books and videos. After a year, Iyengar sent Vimla back to Hawaii to start teaching, where she set up her own yoga academy and starred in a TV series called Yoga And Health.
Vimla in London
In 1972, Vimla came to live in Hampstead, London with her new Indian husband. They soon had two children, but Vimla carried on practising yoga by herself. When the children were old enough to go to school, she started informal classes with neighbours as her students. One of those neighbours was Lulu.
Vimla's classes started to take off and she was soon teaching three times a day all over London. However, the aerobics boom in the eighties saw class attendances drop. Nevertheless, Vimla still travelled around the country, teaching whoever wanted to learn about yoga, and subsequently started to travel all over the world. This, however, meant that she was often away for long periods of time. Some of her students suggested she make a yoga video so that they could keep practising with her. At the time, Jane Fonda and the like were going full blast producing and selling aerobics videos, so Vimla decided it was time to make a yoga tape.
'I thought I'd do a video at home in Hawaii,' she says. 'I felt like Barbra Streisand - I produced it, I starred it in, I wrote the script, I directed it... I even financed it by starting a beauty company distributing natural products in California.'
The result was her first video, The Fountain Of Youth, which sees Vimla in an idyllic setting on a deserted beach. Her students were her first customers, but she decided to find a bigger distribution outlet.
'I went to see a man at WH Smith but he kept saying no' she remembered. 'But I wouldn't accept his decision and nagged him so badly that he said he'd take it at home to show his wife just to get rid of me. He called back the next day to say his wife loved the video and that he wanted to place an order.'
The rest is history. In addition to six books on yoga, Vimla's subsequent video releases include Yogacise with Jerry Hall, Stop the Clock, Diets Don't Work and, most recently, Vim Yoga.
'My new tape, Vim Yoga, is a lot of fun,' says Vimla. 'Many people say that yoga doesn't get them fit, it doesn't get their hearts beating fast enough and it doesn't burn calories. So I devised a new way of doing yoga for a younger audience, people who like to move their bodies more. So in Vim Yoga you learn a posture, then you do a series of movements where you're swirling around a lot, but then you come back into the posture. You boost your young energy and get your heart beating with the movement, so you build up your stamina. Then you find stillness when you come back to the posture. This is different from traditional yoga, where you get in a posture and hold it until the body starts to work harder and your pulse rate starts to rise.'
Long, lean muscles
Anyone who doesn't believe that yoga is great for the body only has to look at Vimla, and indeed just about anyone who practise yoga regularly. According to Vimla, yoga elongates the muscles. While you're stretching, the muscles are being pulled lengthways, which is why you get good muscle tone without fat and without bulk. Any time you stretch your body lengthways, she says, it eliminates the fat around the cells and it also helps reduce cellulite and at the same time you get long, lean muscles.
Convinced? So how do you get started in yoga? There are organisations that have lists of teachers throughout the UK (see Finding a class). Otherwise, you could try a class at your local gym or leisure centre. 'Make sure the class includes a mixture of standing and floor postures,' says Vimla. 'And your teacher must explain how the breath works with the posture - if they don't, you're in the wrong class. Also, anyone who forces you to do anything you don't want to do is not a good teacher. There should be no forcing and no pushing.'
And, if you can't find a good class, you can always buy one of Vimla's videos. All tried and tested by Women's Health, they're highly recommended. See our special offer for details on how to get Vimla's latest video.