Although I have practiced yoga on and off for years, it wasn't until 10 months ago that something clicked in me and I really got the bug. I'd always seen yoga as something that bendy, long limbed people did and I most definitely didn't belong to that crowd. My first experience was a really old DVD that I bought and played at home with a lady that looked straight out of a 1980s workout video. I gave it a go from the comfort of my living room and I was surprised at how I could actually bend over and touch my toes, or how breathing would help my body become more flexible.
Then came the time of trial and error. I had a couple of bad experiences in classes, including a very determined teacher who made me do a pose in class even though I said I couldn't. She stopped the class and made me do it as everyone else watched. I never returned. And then I found an excellent class at my workplace and a teacher who made me feel comfortable and at ease, who made me look forward to Wednesday evenings. I still skipped loads of classes though...
But it was last September when I went on a 4 day retreat with Shine Yoga in Cornwall that I made the resolution to make yoga a priority in my life. It was the first time that it felt fun as well as relaxing, and I came back feeling healthier and stronger than I had felt for a while. Since then I have been on another week long retreat in France and now practice most days. It's difficult to explain and something that will be very personal and different for everyone, but here are the reasons why I love it so much!
It helps me be present
I know this sounds like a cliche, but just being has been a challenge for me since I can remember. My brain has a natural tendency to overthink, and yoga has been so helpful for me. It's not so much about switching off, but kind of steering your focus somewhere else. To be honest, sometimes I am so caught up in a pose (how you place your hands on the floor, how your weight is distributed, etc.) that there is no space for thinking about that long list of things I need to do.
When you are in a challenging pose, sometimes you stop breathing. If you start focusing on your breath you will adjust and ease into it. When life gets tough and we have serious stuff to deal with, finding that space to pay attention to your breath for a few moments can give you so much strength and resilience. This is a skill I have learnt in class and that I have used so many times during difficult situations.
I feel fit and strong
People who don't practice yoga tend to think that it is all about being relaxed and stretch, but yoga makes you sweat and makes you strong! You can get a pretty good workout, and there are poses like arm balances and inversions that require a lot of strength. Since I've been practicing a lot more I definitely notice it in my arms and legs. All those vinyasa flows definitely pay off and get easier with time.
Up to now it all sounds very serious, but honestly, it can be SO much fun! Do you remember whole afternoons doing handstands against the wall at home as a kid? You can still do it as an adult! I still have a long way to go with inversions and arm balances, but if I go to class and I know we will be doing them it puts me in a great mood!
What if I can do it?
One of my teachers always tells us to be curious and go into challenging poses with an open mind. I never thought in a million years I would be able to do an arm balance, and when I was first able to float my feet off the floor for a few seconds it was exhilarating. There is so much that we tell ourselves we can't do, that our body and our minds tries everything possible to stop us from achieving it. What would happen if we went into it wondering if we can do it and we cheered ourselves on? We could discover there is so much more that we are capable of!
Yoga starts from a place of loving yourself and your body
Often when you start exercising you do it because you don't like the way you look, so you try to change yourself, to be lighter, leaner. I find that totally demotivating. I'm all for challenging yourself, developing, learning, improving and growing, but I find that if I start thinking that actually, I am ok right now, I go into it looking forward to being even better, with a very positive attitude. If you enjoy it, you will stick to it, and if you do, you will see the benefits.
I hope you have enjoyed reading this and if you've never considered yoga, maybe it has tickled your curiosity. Before I would have never imagined I would benefit so much from it, but over the years it has become something that not only makes me healthier and stronger but that I also get so much enjoyment out of that it feels like no effort whatsoever to roll the mat out.