This is a love story about myself and yoga. If you knew me in my teens, you’d think it an unlikely love story, as I was lazy and regularly tried to get out of PE at school by ‘forgetting’ my kit. But in my mid-20s I did a full 180 on exercise and fell in truly, madly, deeply in love with yoga.
The reason I love yoga is simple: its benefits are both physical and mental. After a few months of practice, I grew not only stronger and more flexible in my body, but also in my mind.
Knowing what I know now, I wish I’d got into it sooner. I’ve long suffered from anxiety, fretting incessantly about exams, homework, friends (you name it, I’ve probably hyperventilated about it). But yoga gives me some headspace. It doesn’t solve my problems or make them disappear, but it pushes my anxiety to the edge of my mind for an hour or so – meaning I leave with fresh perspective.
You may have heard about meditation, which is where you switch off your worries by focusing on the here and now (the present), usually through deep breathing. Well, yoga is basically moving meditation. You’re encouraged by the instructor to think so precisely about different postures (positions) that you put your body in – how your feet are placed on the mat or whether your shoulders are tense – that you can’t help but switch off from your day’s worries.
Most yoga classes start off slow, building up to a more challenging standing or balancing posture and then winding down again to more relaxing postures, ending in ‘shavasana‘, where you lay outstretched on the floor with your eyes closed. Sometimes you can lay there for five minutes and it’s so relaxing after all that exertion that I’ve even fallen asleep and, ahem… definitely snored. This part of the class is really important, instructors say, because it allows you some downtime to reflect on the class and face the world with a calmer, more balanced approach.
Spending an hour on the yoga mat focusing on myself has helped me through some really tough days when I’ve felt stressed, lost and inadequate for a multitude of reasons. I wish I’d tried it sooner so I could have used it at school, and coped better with the pressure I was feeling.
Intrigued? Here are five things you need to know about yoga before you get started:
1. You don’t need to be able to get your leg behind your head to do yoga
It’s a common misconception that you need to be super flexible to do yoga. You don’t. Our bodies are all different and we will all have different strengths and weaknesses. Yoga is all about learning about your body and working with what you’ve got. It will help with flexibility – to open your hips and shoulders – but it will also help you to become stronger and develop better balance.
2. Not all yogis are chilled-out hippies.
If you think all yogis are sat under a tree meditating somewhere you’re mistaken –loads of us are sat on the sofa eating pizza. People who practise yoga come from all walks of life: from Premier League footballers to the elderly woman sat next to you on the bus. There’s no ‘right way’ to be a yogi; all types of people practise for different reasons.
3. It doesn’t matter how good you are.
Yoga is a non-competitive practise, so it doesn’t matter if you can’t contort like the yogis on Instagram. All that matters is what you do on the mat. Trust me, you’ll be so preoccupied with whether your feet are in the right place or trying not to topple over completely, that you won’t even notice other people.
4. You don’t have to spend a fortune.
Yes, some yoga classes cost a bomb, but you needn’t splash the cash. Just buy a yoga mat and pair of cheap leggings (look at the activewear range from Primark, Forever 21 or H&M) and watch a video on YouTube for FREE (try Yoga with Adrienne). Note: If you plan to practise yoga in a class rather than at home, yoga mats will usually be provided – but always check ahead.
5. There are lots of different types of yoga.
Do your research and try a few YouTube videos out to find out which is best for you. My advice is start Hatha yoga (good for beginners as it teaches postures) and then try out something like Vinyasa Flow (which is based on fluid movements from one posture to another) or Restorative (which involves staying in very relaxed and nourishing postures for an extended period of time and is great for stress relief).
See – aren’t you feeling more chilled already?
Image: Amber Griffin – @ambergwins