Sunday, 21 September 2014

Why I practice yoga (and why you should try it too!)

If I didn’t love yoga so much I would begin this post with an apology to all my family, friends, colleagues and pretty much anyone who has met me over the last 2 years – I talk about it a lot! However I am not going to begin with an apology because I’m not at all sorry for being so enthusiastic about something that has hugely influenced my life in such a positive way. And here’s a little post to get it down in writing as to why I practice yoga (and why I tell everyone else to as well!).

The main reason I practice yoga is because it makes me feel freaking awesome. From my first YouTube video 2 years ago, to a year of classes in a Hot Yoga studio, to a yoga retreat in the Canary Islands, to practicing in a field with my best friend, to self-practice at home under the stars – every single yoga practice I have ever done has left me feeling better than when I began it. I can say with full confidence that I have never (and will never) come away from a practice thinking that I wish I’d done something else with my time. I have always come away feeling refreshed, rewarded, and more positive.

Breaking this down a bit, practicing yoga makes me feel good both physically and mentally. The physical side is perhaps a little more obvious – the stretching, strengthening and conditioning that you do during a yoga practice really do help to make you feel stronger and fitter. And there’s also the internal physical benefits – the breathing techniques, the twisting, the inversions (that’s going upside down for you yet-to-be-yogis) are all fantastic for enabling your organs, heart and blood flow to work more efficiently. I’m not saying that it’s given me the perfect body by any means – I still have plenty of squishy parts and insecurities that I’d like to change – but I generally feel better in myself and my appearance which is partly down to the physical practice, but is perhaps more down to the mental side of yoga.

Practicing inversions on the beach! 

 A yoga practice encourages you to stop and to be present with your own mind for the length of the practice. This may sound a bit scary or even pointless, but actually it’s an invaluable part of my life routine and has done wonders for my mental attitude towards myself, those around me, and life more generally. And that would be a positive thing for many others in this crazy world, right? It’s made me much less anxious about life and has made me accept that life won’t always go the way I’ve planned it to, but it will go the way it’s meant to go so just jump in and enjoy the journey.

Since starting to practice yoga I have gone from a self-conscious, anxious, scared young person, to a more confident, more relaxed, and braver slightly-less-young person. I’m not saying that it’s a miracle cure for all mental hang-ups, but in my experience it has definitely gone a long way to helping me to embrace life more fully: let go of the negative, focus on the positive.

And I could go on forever as to how yoga has improved my life and why I practice, but self-indulgence isn’t the reason for the existence of The Beautifully Healthy Project. My aim is to share my passions and experiences in the hope that some of you may read it and feel like you want to make a few decisions that will lead you to a healthier and happier life. And the purpose of this post is to inspire you to try yoga!

So, where do you begin? How do you know which yoga to try? (Goodness knows there are enough styles to choose from!). Where do you go to practice yoga?

Well, my first piece of advice would be to try a bit at home. That way you can have a go without feeling too self-conscious about all the new breathing techniques and stretches that you haven’t done since you were forced to do gymnastics at school. The first time I ever practiced was in my university accommodation living room. I’d been keen to try it for a while, but was too broke and nervous to go to a class without trying it first, so I put my exercise gear on and literally just typed “Yoga for beginners” into YouTube. Up popped numerous videos, but the ones I found most helpful were by a lady called Esther Ekhart. She talks through simple breathing and safe practice, and the videos are well paced for beginners. After going through these videos a couple of times over a couple of weeks I begun to really enjoy it – it was such a great way to take a break from studying and to refresh my outlook – and so I also downloaded a free app called Simply Yoga to vary my practice. And these yoga sessions in the privacy of my living room kept me going for a good 6 months, until I moved to London and knew that I wanted to get deeper into my practice and it was about time I joined a class.

Now, before I actually went to a yoga class I was rather worried that it would be full of super skinny yogis who could stand on their heads for the whole hour if they so wished (I suppose this is the reason it took me 6 months before plucking up the courage to actually attend one!), but I was pleasantly surprised to see the class was actually a really mixed bunch of sizes and abilities. The yoga classes I started with were Vinyasa and Astanga yoga in a hot room (not to be confused with Bikram!). I really enjoy doing both of these types of yoga as they are strong sequences which encourage you to flow through the asanas (or poses), whilst paying close attention to your breathing. In all honesty I haven’t got to the stage where I know enough about all the different types to suggest which type of yoga is best for which sort of person, and I really believe that the best way to find “your yoga” is to go to a class and persist with a few different ones until you find the style that you most enjoy. Really I would say that it’s best to try as many different styles as possible as many of them compliment each other and that way you keep learning new things.

The number one most important thing when trying to find a class is actually finding a good teacher, so here are my tips as to what a good yoga teacher should be doing:
  • The teacher should ask at the beginning of the session whether there are any beginners, any injuries or illnesses, or any pregnancies.
  • The teacher should demonstrate the asanas (or poses) so that the class can see the correct technique.
  • The teacher should talk the class through the correct breathing techniques and should remind the class of their breathing throughout the class.
  • The teacher should make adjustments to their pupils’ asanas (or poses) if the pupils are comfortable with this.
  • The teacher should not try to impose any spiritual or religious ideology onto their class.
My final point is possibly controversial, and I’m sure many teachers will disagree with this, but in my opinion the yoga studio is not the place to bring up the spiritual path that yoga might lead to as it may be intimidating to beginners, but also many people who practice yoga do not believe in the spiritual side to it. There are also many who have other beliefs and faiths, and yoga should not discriminate against this. The best teachers I’ve had say to make your practice what you want to make it – use it to focus on something earthly, use it to focus on yourself, use it to pray, use it to say a mantra – but just use it how you want to use it, and not how a teacher instructs you to use it. Personally I am a Christian and so use my practice as a time to focus on prayer. But you use your practice how you want to use it. It’s your time. Your practice. Your mind.

And if you’ve got to the stage of committing to a class I don’t really need to say much more because you get it. And the more you attend your classes the more you’ll want to do self-practice, and at the moment that’s what I’m really getting into. Finding a space (usually outdoors) and just totally switching off from the world for an hour or so to reboot, recharge and to show myself some love.  After all, if you love yourself that’s when you can really show love to others, and that’s when you can be more aware of how to be the best version of yourself, which is what we should all be trying to do.

Yoga is such a personal journey, and mine will be different to yours which will be different to everyone else’s, but I really do encourage you to give the journey a go. Life will never be perfect, but if we equip ourselves with tools that help us to deal with the daily stresses and strains then we’ll be able to absorb all the bumps along the way and yoga is a really, really useful tool for helping to do just that. It encourages you to see the positive in every situation and to just focus on the present – not the past, not the future – just the present, and where you are in that exact moment.

Open your heart to new experiences

Lastly I would just like to share that yoga has really given me the energy and the insight to actually live life. For many years I was just going through the motions, like many of us do, but over the last few months I’ve really seen what living can be and I genuinely believe that yoga has helped to bring me to this realisation and enabled me to do something about it.

If you want to ask me anything about yoga or The Beautifully Healthy Project please comment on this post or follow my Facebook page. Also to be inspired by an incredible yogi and human being follow yoga_girl on Instagram!

So breathe, relax, live, love, be present. (And of course, try yoga!).

Love Lucy x

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