Why I love Yoga
Let's be clear and honest here - I'm not your typical yogi. Before I started my yoga journey to become a teacher, I had no idea about the stereotype that came with yoga - one sadly, that I find to be true on a regular basis. I don't mean to be controversial, but the yoga world can be exclusive, judgemental and a little bit like the skinny popular girls at school, who passive aggressively picked on you - only now they do it wearing Lululemon leggings and saying 'love and light', which I'm still convinced means literally bugger all!. Throughout my working life I have always enjoyed working in places where the emphasis was on inclusivity and teaching in a fun and interactive way (I was an environmental educator for 9 years!) and I like to think I continue to think in this way through my yoga classes. I know coming to a class for the first time can be a daunting idea, so I wanted to give you some of the reasons I enjoy yoga, with the hope it spurs you on to find a class too!
Here are my 6 reasons why I yoga:
1. It makes me feel really good.
Let's get straight to it, on the most basic level moving my body makes me feel good, really good. It helps iron out my kinks, release tension and stretch my muscles. If you spend most of your day at a desk or working at a computer (near enough everyone) then its a great way to lengthen your spine, improve your flagging posture and strengthen your core. That extra release of endorphins is also sure to shift your mood, and even 10 minutes on my mat is enough to leave me feeling better than when I started.
2. The physical and mental benefits are huge.
I've started to cover this above, but I think its important to really understand all the benefits a regular practise can have:
- Better balance and stability. There are many studies which show a regular practise greatly improves your balance and stability, which is so important the older we get. As a clumsy teen I also find with yoga comes grace and coordination - although don't quote me on that if you ever see me fall over.
- Improve flexibility. A more flexible body capable of moving through its full range of motion is less susceptible to injury. Don’t worry though, you don’t have to stand on your head or perform a split to do so! I know lots of people think they aren't flexible enough to try yoga - but thats the reason most of us started out!
Stress relief - A study published by Oxford University Press discovered that yoga could be an effective intervention for reducing stress and back pain at work. Study participants were split in to two groups of 37: the first performed a 50-minute yoga session every week for eight weeks and received a 20-minute DVD for home practice, while the control group received no intervention. The yoga group reported significantly lower stress, back pain, sadness, and hostility than the control group. They also reported feeling self-assured, attentive, and serene. Not too shabby aye!
Increased concentration and motivation - Several studies have found that yoga can improve concentration, enhance motivation, and reduce anxiety within two months. Study participants completed three assessments during the second and ninth week of the study to measure concentration, motivation, and anxiety. According to the study authors, the improvements in all three areas were “dramatic.” This should come as no surprise, since yoga is regarded as a mindful discipline in the East.
Another study by the University of Illinois that appeared in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that yoga can improve focus and brain function. Thirty study participants took tests measuring their ability to focus, retain, and use information. One group performed aerobic exercise (walking on a treadmill), while others participated in a yoga class that concluded with a brief meditation and deep breathing. Those who performed yoga had a higher ability to focus, learn, and retain new information than those who walked.
3. It makes me feel strong.
Using my body and improving throughout the years reminds me of how capable I actually am. All that time in plank playtime and down dog means my shoulders and back are strong and I have more strength than I realise. For me a combination of yoga and mixed circuit training has meant I have a body that I can rely on that won't let me down.
4. Reminds me to breathe
Just because I'm a yoga teacher it doesn't mean I don't loose my shit now and again! We work a lot on the breath (pranayama) in class, and this can be used in everyday life all the time. When faced with a stressful situation you learn how to slow the breath down, create more oxygen for the brain and organs and give yourself time to decide what reaction to the situation you want to have. Some of the many benefits of deep breathing include a reduction in stress and blood pressure, strengthening of abdominal and intestinal muscles and relief of general body aches and pains. Deep breathing also promotes better blood flow, releases toxins from the body and aids in healthy sleep.
5. Its not about punishing your body.
Unfortunately, most people associate exercise with punishment. Running on the treadmill is something you do because you “ate too much and need to burn it off.” This attitude is unhealthy and unnecessary. Yoga is a great way to teach yourself that exercise is about treating your body (not torturing it).
6. Helps me deal with the tough stuff.
Without being too much of a grump, life can really suck sometimes. It can be awesome and exciting, but it can also be dull and crappy. That is never going to change. You are going to have rubbish days, and that is just a part of the human experience. Although we can't control the complications of life, we can control how we deal with and react to these situations. I try to give myself some time everyday to meditate, and I have to say it hasn't made my life any easier, but it has made how I cope infinitely better.