by Sarah Hughes
For years my best friend told me I needed to do yoga. I rolled my eyes and laughed it off every time she insisted it would revolutionise my life.
I’m a high-octane type of person you see? I actually like to be rushed off my feet and crazy busy. I’ve been low-level stressed for a decade and that’s my jam now, I thought. I don’t have time to think about my ruddy breathing or clear my mind and the idea of actually sitting with my thoughts or meditating was pretty horrifying. So no, not for me thank you very much.
Fast forward until a few months ago when my ability to sleep disappeared. I’m not sure exactly why this happened other than that insomnia is a close friend of burnout, and I was definitely on my way to burnout city. When another friend of mine mentioned she was sleeping much better now she practised yoga regularly, I decided it was worth a punt. Still obstinately sure it wasn’t going to work, of course.
Well. I sit before you now, filled to the very brim with humble pie.
I have fallen in love. Fallen really hard. And like everyone newly in love, I’m a bit OTT. A tad prone to gushing… so you’ll have to forgive me if I go on a bit. Yoga and I have only been together about three months so I’m still very much in the hearts and flowers phase. Yoga can do no wrong.
Please bear with me as I wax lyrical about all the things yoga does for me, which my friend rightly said it would.
● Having spent a decade in perpetual motion, yoga seems to have turned off my ‘Fight or Flight mode’, or at least dialed it down enough that I can sleep at night. Yoga cultivates the relaxation response, taking you away from that reactive heightened state… the state that I think I was spending 95% of my time in. I can actually feel a difference in the way I’m breathing. Less shallow, more calm, more full.
● Yoga is making me kinder to myself. It takes a while to break the habit of a lifetime doesn’t it? Having always been a pretty competitive exerciser, it went against the grain for me to not strive to be the best in the class. But the teachers I have come across regularly encourage lightheartedness when it comes to practising yoga. To think kind thoughts about yourself even as you’re wobbling and unable to hold a particular balance. I find I’m proud of myself for trying rather than mad at myself for being less than perfect. I guess what I’m saying is… Yoga loves me even when I’m having an off day.
● It’s well documented that yoga boosts concentration. It was one of the things I’d read previously and not paid much attention to. But now, as I sit here writing my third article of the day, without procrastination might I add; I’m sure yoga has improved my focus both on and off the mat. Having to clear my thoughts and focus only on my balance for a pose seems to have unlocked something for me when I’m working. My thoughts feel more ordered and I can compartmentalise my tasks so much more easily.
● Yoga is reinventing my relationship with exercise. For many years, like lots of women I’ve seen exercise as a means to an end. It’s been a tool to help me to look a certain way… But now there’s something so freeing about dedicating an hour of my precious time to a non-aesthetic-focussed exercise session. If HIIT training is the boyfriend who always messes me around, then Yoga is the guy whom I know is going to treat me right in the long term.
So what’s still to come in this love affair of ours, Yoga? Surely it can’t get any better than these heady early days?
Well, yoga teacher Madina Tanekeyeva, who created Emotional Release Yoga, insists that some postures can encourage emotional release. So holding certain positions and travelling through specific flows can help us release anger, guilt, and even grief. While I’m not particularly hoping to break down in tears on the mat in front of an entire class, I am intrigued to see whether as I practice more, I unlock feelings I didn’t know were lurking there beneath the surface.
Though I was pretty skeptical about it, I’m already seeing how yoga can improve your relationships. It makes sense that the more calm and centered I become, the less reactive and snappy I’ll be with those around me. At the moment I’m pretty chill for the few hours immediately after the class… if someone could just make my kids a bit more calm/centered/zen too that would be the ideal scenario for longer term familial harmony!
After only a few months I can see yoga as a long-term relationship. This ain’t no lust-at-first-type situation… I’m in it for the duration baby. The evidence is overwhelming that regular yogi’s are less prone to depression and anxiety and have greater emotional resilience. With three young kids and their ever-increasing demands, resilience is vital I’d say!
That couple of hours a week stretching further than I ever believed possible; the time carved out for only me, is precious.
And since it’s been proven by the brainy bods at Harvard University that yoga encourages your brain cells to make new connections, creating changes in both structure and function and improving cognition, it’s as much an investment in future-proofing my brain as it is my body.