Since lockdown starts 8 weeks ago my whole company (minus front line workers) transferred to their homes. I work for a large social housing company covering across the UK and so the job roles we do vary massively.
In that first week or so when people where really struggling with the sudden change, I recorded a breathing exercise video and a short neck and shoulder release video which I circulated to try to share some release. They went down so well that I was approached to host a weekly live yoga lesson in a virtual meeting style, which I’ve been doing every Thursday for around 5/6 weeks now.
Off the back of this I was asked to sign up as a Mental Health Champion. If you work in a corporate environment you’re probably familiar with the term, in brief we join together to be a point of support for those colleagues who need it, whether we know them in person or not.
As its Mental Health Awareness week we’re working hard to share as much information as we can, and as an addition to the successful weekly yoga classes I as asked to write a short blog about yoga and how it helps me, as usual when I started i found it hard to stop, so the blog was more than the short paragraph i intended. I’ve written about yoga a lot in my other blogs, but if I’m honest most are over a year ago and I don’t really refer back to them myself, so some of this may well be repeated but I wanted to share it just in case.
But isn’t yoga just stretching? If only I had a pound for every time I heard this, and I too thought this once I have to admit.
When I first tried yoga it was because I bought a Groupon for hot yoga at a studio near my mums house, I’d just moved back to Liverpool and we thought it would be nice to try some new exercise, we’d heard it would keep us fit which seems to be the reasons so many people try yoga.
Our first lesson was 90 minutes long, it was absolutely not a beginners class and neither of us could touch our toes or do downward dog, we sweated so much it dripped in our eyes and we slipped off our mats, I absolutely hated probably 80% of it. It was confusing, they said strange words and everyone else knew what they were doing!! But at the end they instructed us all to lay down, close our eyes, relax our bodies and talked us through a relaxation. This part I now know is called Savasana, it’s a gentle relaxation to release all tension at the end of the practice, we shed the postures and movements we’ve done, leave them behind and come out fresh to face the day.
And so despite slipping and sweating and struggling through it, when we got up to leave the feeling of lightness was second to none. We’re both anxious people by nature and it really released that heavy feeling we so often carry around in our chests. From this moment we were both hooked and despite me moving out a few months later to my own house we’ve each continued our practice!
That was 3.5 years ago, and I slowly went from one class a week, to two, to three. About a year later I did an introductory pass at Yogacita in Liverpool City Centre, and I went 9 out of 10 days to get my money’s worth. Through this I noticed how I preferred some teachers and some styles of practice more than others, everyone is so different and there’s several different styles of yoga which incorporate different speeds, intensities and breath-work and after this intro pass I quickly went on to a 6 day a week practice.
It dips sometimes, times like if I’m really busy, unwell or on holiday. And it of course isn’t always a full hour or more practice, sometimes its 5 minutes, sometimes its just lying on a yoga block or in childs pose. But if ever I go more than 48 hours without practicing I can feel it, and not just in my body becoming stiff or tight but in my mind. The thing we don’t always know or realise about yoga before try it is that the physical side is only a really small portion. The true reason most of us get addicted to this practice is the way it soothes our minds, it works like a moving meditation, focussing on moving whilst breathing clears the mind from worries or to-do lists, and this feeling of lightness or relief we have at the end of a practice is the most amazing thing!
Of course there’s a physical side to it too, we will gain strength and as we loosen up our tight muscles we will be more comfortable, it can release aches and pains and soothe from hunching over computers all day, support runners and their hamstrings and so much more. But we don’t have to be fit to do it, nor flexible! We can do yoga form a chair, at our desk, lying down. We can do it just with the top half or bottom half of our bodies. Through my practice I’ve met people in all different shapes, sizes and ages, with different levels of abilities, some with physical impairments and it never matters, we adapt our practice and we all practice together in our own ways.
In late 2019 I spent 7 weeks in India studying and training to received my 200hr qualification in teaching yoga, since returning I’ve focussed heavily on beginners yoga, it think because being a beginner is still so fresh for me I remember the daunting feeling and the overwhelm, I remember so clearly wanting to do it for a good 2 years before I did, but not knowing where to start! I want as many people as possible to approach it and try it and take it into their lives.
Now more than ever we need to protect both our physical and mental health, connect to ourselves to find release from the world outside. I’ve never been great at meditation sitting still, but connecting to my breath and moving is the best form of meditation I’ve found, and its accessible for all.
I became a teacher because yoga changed my life, it made life easier to manage and happier, it helped me build tolerance to things around me, learn to know myself more and I want to spread that to as many people as I can. We don’t have to be flexible, we don’t have to weigh a certain amount or wear latex yoga outfits. Put on something you’re comfortable in, roll out a towel or a fitness mat and have a go!