It’s official… David Beckham, Jennifer Aniston, Russell Brand, Ryan Gosling and Lady Gaga – they are all doing it. Some pretty busy people make time for a yoga practice so they must rate it highly. But how can yoga help you?
Flexibility, strength and fitnesss
The obvious one
My experience is that most yoga students first come to class to work on their flexibility or strength. And that they feel the benefit of a regular practice very quickly.
Modern life, for most people, involves moving on one plane, sitting, standing, or if you are lucky, walking. So tightness or limited movement in the hip or shoulder areas are common. Moreover these are frequently accompanied by a degree of inflammation or lower back pain which makes movement uncomfortable and then exacerbates the problem. In yoga we work with the whole body, usually starting by moving the spine and releasing any tensions there and then mobilising the joints before stretching the muscles and opening the hips.
Generally a fit flexible body makes movement easier and is less likely to be injured if you trip or stumble. Especially as experienced yogis know how to avoid tensing up. Which leads me on to…….
Where yoga becomes more than an exercise class
Our breath is the only only physiological process which is both consciously and subconsciously controlled. Thus it links the two parts of the mind. So the greater the awareness of the breath the more we are able to control thoughts and actions. Pretty useful in all areas of life.
Yoga teaches awareness of the rhythms of the breath and also specific breathing techniques or ‘pranayamas’. Rhythmic breathing leads to rhythmic movement. When the breath falters so does the body. So the ability to keep the breath steady will help you deal with physical and mental stresses.
And for the anxious types, there are breathing exercises which will help calm the mind. These can be as simple as taking deep breathe into the whole of the torso: focussing on a three part inhalation or exhalation.
Bringing the body back into balance
Yoga is a totally holistic practice which helps you become aware of imbalances or blockages. These might be causing pain or discomfort or simply preventing you from performing as well as you might.
In a good yoga class you will soon become aware of imbalances in your posture or even the way you walk. These could be impacting your knees, hips back or shoulders. Many issues start with badly aligned feet. It fact it is amazing how many aches and pains can be reduced by mastering the Tadasana or Mountain pose which looks so simple – just standing still!
The psoa muscle which connects the your spine to the legs, can also cause alignment issues, along with back problems and other pelvic issues. It is a particularly difficult one to deal with too as a lot of the tension it holds can be subconscious. Hence a holistic practice like yoga has more chance of sorting it out than hours spent pumping iron at the gym.
And of course a yoga practice will include one legged postures, which, once your body is in alignment, will help improve both mental and physical balance.
Put your mind in your body
My yoga teacher always said ‘You don’t put your body into the pose – you put the pose into your body’
When you truly practice yoga your mind is in your body. The student who has perfect alignment but who is thinking about what he will have for dinner is not doing yoga. While the person who is struggling to touch the toes but is feeling what is holding him back and where his strengths and weakness are is on a journey.
Knowing how your mind and body work together, both where they do it well and where they need improvement, is a big leap forward in any training programme. And once you have mastered that you can begin
Come out of the grooves
Habits are not always bad (though some are better than others!). What they do, however, is to create grooves, and our impulses find it very comfortable to run along them. Ever noticed how you tune in to the piece of music that you listen to often? It’s literally in the grooves.
Once we reach adult age we will undoubtedly have adopted a lifestyle with large amount of repetition. Our minds and bodies are stuck in the grooves. Helpful, perhaps to get us to work on time, but not so great if they involve eating badly, watching too much TV…………
Yoga breaks habits. We turn upside down; put our legs in the air; twist, turn and balance. Even more of a change for some, we slow down, we tune into our breath. And as we learn to break habits on the mat, we find it easier to break them in life.
Being in the moment
How yoga can help you with whatever you do
This is a skill that may be easier to perfect on the yoga mat than when racing through life. And once mastered it will enhance everything you do.
A fellow yogi and long distance runner once told me her best performance always comes when her only thought was ‘I am running’. Not ‘am I running my best?’ ‘Or am I going to win?’ Simply running with her whole being.
Whatever you like to do, or have to do, yoga will help you give it your all.
Put in the work and enjoy the journey
The most important lesson that yoga teaches is from the ancient yogic text the Bagavada Gita: ‘Do your best and let go of the outcome’. A difficult one to take on board, particularly for the more competitive in nature. But so transformative when adopted. Success is transitory and once achieved at best leads the desire for more success; at worst it can be lead to a hollow feeling of ‘what was all the fuss about?’.
Whether your ambition is to build a business empire, compete successfully in a sport, be a good member of the community or simply keep your head above water in this crazy world we inhabit, put the work in and enjoy the journey. And if you find that your results fall short of your aspirations then let it go. You’ll fall more comfortably anyway.
Give yoga a try
If you would like to see how yoga can help you, many of our yoga retreats at Valley View are suitable for beginners. You can combine an introduction to yoga with a mini holiday too. Or if you want to delve a little deeper into the many aspects of a yoga practice we would love to help you do this.