Yoga’s popularity seems to be continually rising. This is fantastic news for introducing more people to the amazing physical and mental benefits of this ancient discipline. But for every yoga convert, there seems to be a sceptic. People who say they don’t ‘get’ yoga, that it’s not enough of a workout, or my personal favourite ‘I’m not flexible enough.’ This quote from Jigar Gor is the perfect response to this: ”Yoga is not about touching your toes; it is what you learn on the way down.”
I found yoga just under three years ago and I’m not one for cliches, but it has honestly changed my life. Back then, I was working in a job that didn’t excite me and commuting three hours a day for the pleasure. I was so frazzled from the joys of public transport that I lacked the energy to do anything with my evenings and weekends were spent catching up on sleep. I was definitely in a rut and feeling constantly frustrated about my situation. I thought about changing jobs but I worried I’d end up in the same boat. A new job was the long term solution, but in the short term something else needed to change: my outlook.
My yoga story
A friend suggested I give yoga a try to reign in my tendency to overthink and help me de-stress. I’ll admit, I was sceptical. I was one of the people I described at the start: when I went to the gym, I wanted to feel it working – out of breath, sweat, muscle fatigue. I always thought of yoga as the easy option. I was so wrong! Yoga has challenged me in ways no other exercise or gym class ever has and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Putting my scepticism to one side, I found a new Saturday morning yoga class was starting up at my gym, so I went along. There were only three of us in that first class which meant plenty of one-on-one attention. The teacher, Linda, was a yogi through-and-through and she was big on breathing techniques and chakras (things that would normally send me running for the hills!). Linda’s style was gentle hatha and it was a real learning curve for me to have to slow down and really settle into a pose instead of rushing through to the next movement.
In that first class, I even learnt that I have double-jointed elbows! That was a revelation in itself – it explained why I struggled with upper body workouts like push ups. As I began to practice yoga regularly (and researched how to practice safely with my elbows!) I discovered that it wasn’t just my elbows. It turns out I’m hypermobile (and went 26 years without knowing!) which means most of my joints overextend and have the potential to become unstable if I’m not careful. This has resulted in me being much more mindful, not only in my yoga practice, but in any form of exercise I do. I’ve learnt how to adapt my body, where I need to build up strength and to listen to any pain I experience. These are all techniques I’ve developed off the back of yoga and now I can even do a push up!
“Yoga is essentially a practice for your soul, working through the medium of your body.” Tara Fraser
My Saturday morning classes soon became the highlight of my week. I’d walk home after class with such a feeling of lightness and calm, it was pretty powerful! Six months later, I’d finally come to the end of the road with my job. Still worried I’d jump into something I wouldn’t enjoy, I took the road less travelled and left with nothing to go to. This career break gave me the time and space to figure out that was important to me. I upped my yoga classes to five a week to include vinyasa flow alongside my hatha class. Whenever I was having self-doubts ahead of an interview or was anxious I’d never find another job, spending time on my mat helped to bring my focus back to the present and halt the never-ending cycle of ‘what ifs.’
Before I left my job, I’d been tentatively looking at yoga retreats. I hadn’t been on holiday in three years and as a SAD sufferer, I was in desperate need of some sunshine. Two months after I’d bitten the bullet and handed in my notice, I booked onto a five day retreat at La Crisalida in sunny Spain.
I was so nervous when I arrived. I’d never travelled alone and I was having all of the familiar doubts – what if I don’t get on with anyone, what if I’m not good enough at yoga etc. As with most things in life, I really shouldn’t have worried. I met so many like-minded people, some in a similar situation to me, others who’d been there before and had plenty of wisdom to share.
The yoga I experienced was eye-opening too. I joined a workshop on downward-facing dog (I had no idea how many muscles are working in that pose!), I was introduced to Ujayii breath and experienced my first ever meditation session. I left La Crisalida armed with a greater knowledge of yoga and how I could use it back home – not only in my practice, but my everyday life too.
Since taking up yoga, I’ve become better at living in the moment and understanding my body and what it’s trying to tell me. Ultimately, I’ve become more connected to myself. I’d urge anyone else to give it a go and see for themselves. Whatever your experience of yoga to date, I’d ask you to approach it with an open mind and see what happens.
I still have so much I want to tell you about my yoga journey! Keep your eyes peeled for part two where I’ll share more about how my teacher training has developed my understanding even further.