Some days I’m a Warrior, Some days I’m a Worrier, but everyday I’m glad I found yoga (or that yoga found me).
If you’d have told me 18 months ago that I would be a fully paid up member of the yoga fan club I would have probably laughed in your face. I have all the grace of a baby elephant, and firmly felt that yoga was best left to Kombucha slurping supermodels living in Southern California. I could barely even touch my toes, never mind do a successful forward fold. And yet somehow, without even really knowing how this transformation has happened, I have become that person. I will happily wander around campus, yoga mat tucked cheerily underarm. I own yoga leggings. More than that, I actually wear them for the purposes of yoga, rather than for optimal comfort whilst binge-watching Netflix. Mostly. When I thought of yoga in the past, I’d always been a little downward facing done with the whole concept. Why indulge in some restorative stretching when you could treat yourself to hours of gruelling cardio on the treadmill? Who knows?! Almost like it’s good for the soul, or something.
I was stuck pounding the treadmill – literally and figuratively running up a slope and never quite seeming to reach the peak. A sweaty little hamster determinedly running away at its wheel, no matter how long I managed to jog I never quite felt satisfied. I was all about any exercise that promised to torch a whole bunch of calories, and enjoyment didn’t really factor into the equation. I locked myself away in our garage/gym in order to run daily until I was exhausted, and afterwards I could barely walk up the stairs as I was aching all over. Not exactly soul-nourishing. I’ve come to realise that this is actually not only pretty sad, but also acts as a form of self-punishment and is an abuse of exercise. Exercise should be a celebration of what your body can do, not a penance for what you have eaten. Your self-worth should not depend on how many minutes you can stand running at speed 11 at a steep incline before you go dizzy.
The holistic nature of yoga is something I’ve really come to appreciate. The focus on breathing and on management of the breath, paired with an emphasis upon mindful movement of the body, has been immeasurably helpful to me. Yoga is incredible for managing anxiety. For one hour, my mind is quietened, and my worries seem smaller. In yoga, you do not see quick results, and one day a pose your body has no problem with you may struggle to get into the next. Your body fluctuates daily, in flexibility, in capability, in strength, and that is something that practicing yoga on a regular basis has made me realise. Keep at it and you will find that every day some aspect of your practice gets easier or more rewarding. For me, there is nothing better than being able to get into a pose which I couldn’t previously reach. Equally, I am slowly learning that I do not have to be the ‘best’ at yoga. I’m not a failure if I can’t manage the poses that dedicated Yogi’s that have practiced for years have no trouble with. Everybody is different. Every body is different. This difference should be celebrated, and everyone is the proud owner of a yoga body. There is a practice to suit every person.
The idea that there is no judgement in a yoga class is something I’ve come to really love about group practice. I first came across yoga by stumbling across some Youtube Videos which, trying to control my compulsion to do cardio exercise excessively, I thought I’d give a blast. To my surprise, I loved it. So when I heard my university was offering yoga classes for as little as £5 for the whole term, I figured I should pull on my big girl yoga pants and give it a go. I was pretty anxious before my first ever class. What if I couldn’t do any of the poses? What if everyone laughed and privately thought I was ridiculous? What if I was barred from class and told never to besmirch the name of Yoga again?? Turns out, the world doesn’t actually revolve around me. Shocking and confusing, I know. But seriously, I think this is an issue a lot of us struggle with, be it in the gym or in on the mat. It’s not a sign of self-obsession or arrogance, I don’t think. It’s more an anxious fear of judgement. The more I went, the more my flexibility increased and my transitions became smoother. For the first time in my life, I felt (dare I say it) almost…graceful. I loved it. Nobody gave a flying f**ck if I was the wobbliest tree in the forest, or if my cat/cow transitions were more ageing moggy than lithe kitten. Everyone in class is focused inwards and is, or at least, should be, rooted in their own practice. That’s kind of the whole point. It’s to make you feel better in yourself, and enables you to acknowledge and deal with your emotions whilst moving in a way that makes your body feel good.
As time goes on, I’m working to navigate a healthier relationship with exercise. I firmly believe that in the right circumstances, intensive exercise is rewarding and enjoyable, whether that be on the treadmill or doing circuits at your local gym. I feel that the enjoyment probably largely comes from the glow of satisfaction right after you’ve finished, but still. But this post is not about celebrating one form of exercise over another. This post is a love letter to yoga. I would recommend anyone to give it a try. You may just be surprised at how empowered it makes you feel, from the inside out. It calms my mind, it calms my soul, and it stretches my back out after I’ve spent the entire day huddled at a computer resembling the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
See you on the mat.