This blog has been sadly neglected over the past few weeks, in the aftermath of the most recent issue of Seedling and various work stresses (not to mention a trip to Wales to visit my family!). But I really miss blogging, and I’m keen to get back into it and start posting more often again.
This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I actually pitched it to a wellness website originally, but was secretly glad when they rejected it because I wanted to keep it for my own site!
I did a post before about why yoga is so great, but I want to come at the subject from a more personal angle and really look at how it’s changed my life for the better. And because yoga is so much more than a physical practice, the benefits are mental, emotional, and spiritual too.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful lessons I’ve learnt from yoga is the power of showing up. I’ve learnt that if something is really important to me, then I’ll make time for it—not just occasionally, but on a regular basis. I now practise yoga almost every day, because it brings such huge value to my life. With most of my other hobbies, I’ve never managed this level of commitment.
Yoga is such an act of self-love, because it’s nurturing for the mind, body, and soul. So committing to yoga is committing to self-love, and that is a powerful thing.
Best of all, developing the discipline to maintain a regular yoga practice eventually allowed me to start meditating daily too. The benefits of this have been huge.
In western cultures, many of us are so out of touch with our bodies. When we get aches and pains, we tend to either ignore them or take painkillers—or maybe go to the doctor if it gets serious.
Often, we’re so detached that we don’t realise our pain is avoidable—or maybe we know it’s down to our lifestyles but feel powerless to do anything about it.
Yoga brings awareness. Learning to properly align my body in yoga has made me much more aware of what my body is doing in everyday life. If my spine isn’t straight, I often naturally correct it. When my body gets stiff from sitting, I notice and go for a walk or do some stretches.
I’m also much more aware of tightness and tension in my body. If my back is tight, I know which stretches will make it click and loosen up!
I hope this awareness will prevent me from developing serious problems in later life. I plan to stay strong, flexible, and mobile for as long as I possibly can!
Yoga can bring hope to those who are already suffering too. My dad was suffering from chronic pain in his back and hip which doctors struggled to diagnose. Willing to try anything, he asked me to teach him some yoga. His pain made him very motivated, and he was soon doing more yoga than me—as much as an hour a day!
Healing was a slow process, and at first the yoga didn’t seem to be having a huge impact. But as time went on, his pain began to improve. Now, two years later, he’s virtually free of pain and says he’ll still be doing headstands in his nineties!
Be active in a way that feels good and the body you want will follow
I started practicing yoga mostly because I thought I wasn’t exercising enough and was concerned about my health. Yoga appealed to me because it also has a spiritual dimension.
I began with no real expectations; I don’t think I even thought about how my body was likely to change! I just continued to practice because it was making me feel really good. So it was a pleasant surprise when my body began to get more toned. Though I’ve always been thin, I’ve never been very fit and didn’t see myself as someone who could be (as absurd as that sounds now!).
People started saying, “You have really good abs,” which surprised me because I’d never made a particular effort to work on those muscles. I was surprised again when my partner took this picture of me on the beach last summer (awkwardly adjusting my bikini top!) and I saw that I actually had become pretty toned. (I feel kind of weird about sharing photos of my body, but just wanted to show that it is possible to get some muscle tone without having to do super intense workouts.)
What I’m getting at is that exercising in a way that makes you feel good is what’s important. If you’re doing it purely to get a better body (which I’ve tried in the past), you might not be able to stay motivated, especially as it can take a while to get results. Enjoying what you do is really important. Get that right and the other stuff will follow.
Taking responsibility for my own happiness
This may seem like an odd thing to associate with yoga, until you remember that yoga is a way of life rather than just a physical practice (something I forget myself sometimes!). It’s kind of difficult to explain, but yoga has given me an awareness of my emotions as well as my body. When I get caught up in negative thought patterns, I’m better equipped to notice and break out of them. Likewise, if negative emotions arise unexpectedly, I find myself able to look at them objectively and trace their cause. That makes it much easier to deal with them constructively and not get overly caught up in them.
Both yoga and meditation emphasise slow, mindful breathing, which I’ve also found very helpful in stressful situations. On the rare occasions I get really angry, taking some deep breaths helps to calm me down.
Basically, yoga has helped me to realise that it’s my choice how external situations affect me. I can let them get to me and destroy my inner peace, or I can mindfully process my emotions and let them go. I don’t always make the right decision, but in general my emotional state is much more harmonious now than it used to be.
Fitness is not a competition
When I was growing up, PE lessons in school were mostly about sports, or other activities which involved competing against classmates. I’ve never been a very competitive person, and I hated it.
But with yoga, the only aim is to feel good. You can’t fail at yoga. For me, it’s something I do purely for myself. I can do it in the privacy of my own home, and what anyone else thinks is irrelevant. That is a beautiful thing.
If you’d like to start doing yoga, I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene on YouTube—her videos are super helpful. Going to yoga classes is also great, since it can be difficult to know whether you’re doing the poses correctly without being able to see yourself. Having said that, I only go very occasionally and you can get many of the same benefits from a home practice.
If you’re already practicing yoga and feel you have something to add to this list, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!