Ok, so it's not the perfect pose. But that's the point. It doesn't have to be.
Exercise and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. It felt like exercise always involved being hit by a ball.
Football, rounders and hockey balls mainly, coming my way, to inflict pain and embarrassment as I swerve and by misjudging their path, find them hitting me on the head or another unsuspecting body part.
After years of not partaking in enough exercise due to those earlier ball-based experiences, I hit the gym, to undo the effects of skittles vodka and snakebite whilst at Glasgow University. This wasn’t sustainable for the same reasons it isn’t for 99% of people. It’s pretty boring let’s be honest.
I then got into running when I moved to Ireland when I was 26, enjoying early morning winter runs around the river Shannon. This led to some half marathons in London and Amsterdam but never without injury due to a lack of commitment to proper training.
It wasn’t until later, when I moved to London, that I would find exercise that wasn’t so much of a competition. Moving that would feel more about improving my overall health for no one but myself.
I found yoga.
I actually threw myself into my first experience of yoga when living in Leicester a couple of years earlier, straight in with forty degree bikram. Yup that’s hot yoga in your pants. Packed in like sardines to a hot, sweaty feet-smelling studio, constantly comparing everyone’s wobbles and warrior ones (yogi speak for lunge and stretch) in a vast array of mirrors. No balls which was positive but no drinking, no stopping, no sitting, no slacking, no socks.
There were so many rules at bikram that made me think yoga was a pretty strict soulless kind of competitive activity.
Note: if you ever have a chance to try bikram, remember to eat and drink lots in the 24 hours before attending. Once I had forgotten this point and after a class, was stuck cross legged, unable to feel several body parts including my mouth and had to be fed by the yoga teacher to regain feeling. How embarrassing. This feeding routine seemed oddly familiar to the yoga teacher so I took some comfort in realising that I hadn’t been the only one.
But yoga’s supposed to bring calm and serenity right? Everyone who’s doing it on instagram looks healthy, happy and beautiful.
I went to a couple of classes here and there after bikram and the general consensus was that yoga was not really my thing.
That was before reaching out for help managing stress. Yoga was the only thing that there wasn’t a waiting list for so I thought there was no harm in giving it a go. I was introduced to ‘yoga for the mind’ a weekly class designed for those experiencing mental well-being challenges, to unwind and release tension.
Waiting to enter the class was totes awks (totally awkward) as we were all ‘experiencing mental well-being challenges.’ I mean, I asked myself do I look challenged enough with my issues? Should I be here? Surely there’s people in a worse position than me.
It turns out everyone was ‘normal’ and there’s no template for someone experiencing stress, anxiety or depression. I’d never been in such a supportive exercise class before. Where the teacher said softly ‘it’s ok, you can do whatever you feel like doing, if it feels right for you.’ This was the first time that exercise wasn’t about sweating or looking good in brand new yoga gear but more about how it can be used to open your mind. I felt safe, still challenged but within my own comfort zone. I was able to stretch and breathe. I felt great.
To enjoy yoga, we need to accept our abilities and be in an environment where we feel comfortable. The type of class and the teacher you choose is THE biggest tip for enjoying yoga.
Work stress was, well, stressful and although the time either side of the class was challenging and sometimes emotional, the time in it allowed me to press pause. There was no pressure or judgement. Using it as a form of meditation almost, accepting the yoga terms and finally giving in to prayer position hands and calling ‘namaste’ at the end of the class. I could finally say:
I. do. yoga.
The joy of this class was a spectrum of people, situations, abilities and variation in yoga get up. Too often are we thrust with the image of the perfect yogi girl or guy, buff as can be on our screens. But reading about the beginnings of yoga, I found out about it’s uses in healing all manner of health problems. Iyengar Yoga’s step-by-step guide being more of a medical journal than the perfect instagram grid.
So don't work about the pants, the poses and the perfect posture to match that insta yogi. Start with something easy, ask about the class before you attend, take a friend and do what you feel you can do. The first class might not be the right one for you but there are hundreds more, waiting to welcome you.