Yoga is the stealthy way to an improved you.
Yoga is rather like a magic trick. It’s not until you stop that you realise how much it’s done for you. By stealth it tones, improves posture, flexibility, and general well being.
I hadn’t realised how many benefits a twice weekly yoga class would reap until I went to a cardio session. My lung capacity was amazing. Despite a total lack of cardio in recent months, there was no breathing like a steam train or dizziness; just the shock of keeping up with everybody else!
That’s how yoga works – by stealth. It doesn’t smack into you and scream its benefits. Over time you realise you’ve quietly transformed how you feel. I practise Hatha Yoga, a traditional form which combines poses (asana) with breathing exercises (pranayama). Mostly it isn’t too difficult or too exhausting – certainly not in the way many other exercise classes are – but I would still describe yoga as challenging.
Our class begins with contemplation and breathing. The poses are slow and deliberate, the focus on listening to your body and knowing what it can do. There are moves and postures which may never be fully accessible, though over time most of us can improve and master an impressive array.
The practice is what enables us to learn about our physical ability whilst developing mental strength. It’s common to experience determination when practising yoga. It’s a gentle, internal transformation, one where you quietly compete with yourself, not others.
My favourite poses include the Cat-Cow (above) and the Bridge, both of which are excellent for stretching and moving the back. The Bridge also works those glutes.
Another thing is the pure childlike delight I experience when I can hold a balance. There is a serenity that comes from standing on one leg, not to mention an immense sense of satisfaction from being able to maintain it. It helps you stay mindful. After all, you can’t think about anything else or you’ll fall over!
I’m a big fan of Hatha Yoga’s focus on breathing. Linking different areas of the body and learning how to visualise and encourage the flow of breath is a fabulous experience. I particularly enjoy lying on my back so I can feel my rib-cage expand into the mat, along with the rise and fall of my stomach. Deep breathing into your rib cage or throat takes practice and is another mindfulness exercise in which you have to pay close attention to your breath. It helps slow your thoughts and calm the racing mind down.
It’s a self-help cliché that you should schedule exercise as an appointment, but in every overused piece of advice there is a kernel of truth. My mornings on yoga days are protected time. I have my eye on achieving the most difficult moves. This may never happen, or take me a year or two, it doesn’t matter. It isn’t about being competitive, it’s personal. It’s about feeling comfortable in myself.
It’s the thinking with which I approach yoga: patience, focus, listening to my body and the positive mood I take away from each and every session.
Now imagine the impact that has on the rest of your life.