I started doing yoga because I was working out a lot, doing circuits and weights and I decided I needed to stretch. When I started I was only flexible in my dodgy, clickety hips and knees (anyone who has been to one of my classes will have heard them) and I could barely bend over. My balance was just as bad and I thought that I would never in a million years be able to put my body into the positions that my teacher could.
Despite struggling with most of the poses, every time I left the class, I felt amazing. For years, I kept going to the class with no idea why I felt so good after it except for the relaxation at the end, still my favourite part of every class. Well I say I had no idea, but my teacher did always tell us what the benefits of all the poses were. To be honest, I probably didn’t believe her at first.
As I did more and more yoga, I began to feel more and more benefits. Of course, firstly, my flexibility increased. I remember how great I felt when I downward dog felt like a resting pose and when I could actually bend forward in sitting forward bend. And then there were all of the benefits that I totally didn’t expect.
I can honestly say that no other form of exercise I have tried has come close to yoga in the way it has increased my strength. As an adult woman, increasing your upper body strength can be challenging, but doing sun salutations every day has given me a strength and definition in my arms, shoulders and back that I thought I would never have. This helps with loads of different workouts and makes things like burpees seem easy. The strength it takes to do inversions is immense and it takes strength in your whole body - something I am still working on.
My first real goal was to do headstand, and for a full year I tried it every day. I found that pose so difficult for a long time and at one point I never thought I would be able to do it. I didn’t think I would ever have the upper body strength, the balance, or the self-belief to get up there. Eventually I did and I realised something else that yoga was teaching me – that you can do just about anything with enough persistence.
I went to the gym initially to lose weight and become a body size that I thought would make me more attractive. At the time I was severely lacking in confidence. Although I have lost a lot of weight practising yoga, it’s not what my exercise is about anymore. Yoga helped me to think of my body in a different way. Instead of feeling like I was fighting against it, I started to really appreciate it and what it was capable of. Yoga asanas are fun and challenging and the goal is to be able to do them rather than anything to do with how I look. Coupled with meditation, it has helped me to develop self-acceptance. I learned to love and appreciate the wonderful body that is going to be with me until the day I die. I want to look after it for the long-term, and that is what my yoga practice is about – getting to 100 years old and still practising!
Not only is the increase in strength why I find my workouts less challenging, but learning how to use my breath has made running, circuits and boxing easier too. We don’t always think of it in that way, but yoga can be a great cardio vascular workout.
One of the other unexpected benefits was learning how to really listen to my body and what it is telling me. This is so helpful in looking after your body when doing other kinds of exercises and workouts. I know my body so well now that I know if something is good or bad most of the time and I alter my technique accordingly. This is also hugely beneficial if you are like me and have moments of complete absent-mindedness that end in missing a couple of stairs and spraining your ankle. When you have an injury, being aware of everything that is going on with it and the different kinds of pain you feel in your body means you can decide what things are going to help (always with the advice of a physio).
Learning to chill the fuck out (I mean relax, mum)
I can suffer from anxiety. Like everyone else, I worry and stress and I can let things go around and round in my head a million times until I literally can’t breathe. Yoga has taught me how to purposely relax and put these thoughts into perspective. Guided meditations have helped me through many sleepless nights and breathing exercises allow me to pause before I panic. When I take time to relax and meditate, I can deal with the stressful things that happen more calmly. I am much more productive and focused in my work and I can actually give the people in my life attention when I am with them.
These are only a few of the many, many ways that yoga can change your life! Once you develop a regular yoga practice, stepping back on the mat feels like returning home. It sounds trite, but in all honesty, yoga really does make you feel at home in your body, your mind and in this life - something that so many of us in these times struggle to feel.
For my yoga classes in Ayrshire and online - go to www.vhairislavenyoga.com/book.