We All Have To Start Somewhere
Let me tell you a story. Sometimes, quite often in fact, I’m lying on the sofa scrolling through Instagram, looking at Insta-yogis doing Insta-inspiring (and quite frankly inconceivable) things with their practice. Sometimes, quite often in fact, I lie there and get increasingly disheartened. More often than not however, namely because I’m quite good at giving my monkey mind a stern talking too when it needs one, I put down my phone and get on my mat because, frankly, no one gets anywhere in life by sitting there thumbing their phone.
Now I’m not saying that every practice I do is an epic 90-minute flow effortlessly linking advanced pose with advanced pose. Nothing like it. But I do make sure I get on my mat 6-7 days a week, even if it’s just to hug a bolster for a while. And that is the key to developing a regular practice: to simply show up and do the work. Some days magic will happen, other days it won’t, and that’s more than OK. What matters is the commitment, discipline and ability to stick at something when the going gets tough.
But I’m getting a bit off track here: the point of this post is that no one really knows what they’re doing the first time they set foot on a yoga mat. Most of us can’t touch our toes, everyone wobbles when they try tree pose, and the mental effort it takes… well, that’s something that takes years (decades even) to master. It’s the falling over, picking yourself up, and trying again (and again, and again), that makes this practice so beautiful. Yoga offers us a sanctuary within which we can safely explore and learn from the stories and inner narratives we all have.
So who cares whether or not you can touch your toes – here are 5 reasons you should try yoga anyway.
It allows you to discover yourself
That first time I stepped on the mat, I just got stuck right in: copying the person in front of me, thinking ‘I’ve got this, I’m so flexible, this yoga stuff is easy…’ Cut to 60 minutes in, just as the teacher was talking us out of savasana, and it was like my brain had melted. I felt so safe, so relaxed, so at ease within myself. I’d never experienced that before. It was that feeling, that sense of coming home, that kept me coming back for more. Your mat becomes a place where you go to comfort yourself, to uncover new layers, to peel back the onion so to speak. It takes you right to your core Self: who you are when you strip all the other stuff (your job, your house, your education, your car, your clothes etc) away. Case in point: by nature I’m really competitive and love being physical, yet I often try too hard and burn out or injury myself as a result. So for me, the practice is about learning to soften and accept that I can’t control everything. Maybe you’re similar, maybe you’re the exact opposite: your mat is the place to uncover, explore and rebalance your tendencies.
It gives you a sanctuary
As someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression since my teens, my mat is a real safe haven. If I’m having a bad day, I go get on my mat and will more often than not have a really muddled, confused, erratic practice that reflects my mental state. Sometimes I’ll have a little cry too. Other times, I’m so at one with body and breath it just feels effortless. Your mat is a place to allow all these emotions, the full spectrum of them, bubble up. Honour them and explore them: you’ll feel so much freer for it.
It makes you stress less
Yoga and breath are intrinsically linked. The breath helps us find that mind-body connection, encouraging us to move in harmony with it. Slowly but surely, you start to find that when you’re practising, your mind isn’t really thinking about anything else: you’re here, in this moment, just moving and breathing and being in your body and feeling alive. Kapow! You’re BEING PRESENT! Stress has a tendency to rear its ugly head when we’re worrying about the past or the future – in the present moment there is no fear. Yoga – and its focus on being present – helps you build a stress-relieving toolkit that you have with you whenever you need it.
It reduces your risk of injury
A lot has been written lately about how dangerous yoga is. Sure, if you a headstand where you’re on the wrong part of your head and you’re not pressing down through your arms, you probably will injure yourself, and you should probably slow down, focus on learning the basics and building strength, then try again once your foundations are solid. But everything in life comes with some level of risk factor, and surely it’s better to move and breath and get into your body than lie on the sofa watching Netflix - I would argue that that is, if anything, more dangerous. But I’m going off on a rant here. Yoga encourages us to be fully present and move mindfully. Through doing so, we build better body awareness, thus minimising the risk of injury. Does a pose feel uncomfortable in your body? Then back off or come out of it, and ask your teacher for an alternative. Moreover, your muscles are only as strong as they are flexible, so it’s important to balance out whatever other training you’re doing (running, cycling, weight training, CrossFit) with yoga to improve mobility. You’ll feel so much stronger for it. Yoga teaches you to be aware of and compassionate towards your body. If something hurts, don’t do it - seek an alternative pose. Which leads me onto my final point...
It teaches you to listen to – and love – your body
The great thing about yoga is you can modify or intensify your practice as much as you need to on any given day. Feeling tired? Let yourself rest in child’s pose as much as you need to. Feeling like you need to burn off excess energy? Do those extra chaturangas and handstand hops. Old injury playing up? Ask your teacher how you can modify and feel empowered that you’re looking after your body. Self care is key. I’ve honestly - despite all the tiny, toned, Lycra-clad yogis I see daily on social media - have never felt better about my body than now, age 34, 10 years into my yoga practice. Practising yoga makes me feel strong and able, which is empowering, and it’s also encouraged me to soften and accept what is, and treat myself with compassion and kindness, and I think we could all do with a little more of that, right?