Yoga has the power to break negative patterns of behaviour and open the mind and body to other possibilities. It allows us to become present and connected to ourselves and the world around us. It brings us to the very heart of ourselves, sometimes for the very first time.
These somewhat grandiose promises can seem rather alien and abstract to the new yoga student, who find themselves on the mat for the very first time for a multitude of different reasons. Reasons for beginning yoga can be many and varied, from a desire for a healthier, more toned body to a need for personal headspace away from the demands of a busy life to a pathway back to health from injury.
In order to benefit fully from a new yoga journey, consistent and regular practice is required. But fitting a regular 30 minutes of yoga practice into a life that is already bursting at the seams can be very challenging!
There is more to yoga than just the asana (poses).
Here are my tips for bringing yoga into your life:
1. Make time for yourself.
Popular science holds that it takes 66 days to form a habit. Make your yoga classes a "can't cancel" appointment with yourself. Our busy lives and conflicting demands on our time can make us feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, meaning we often end up feeling empty and drained. By taking a "fit your own oxygen mask first" approach and carving out time to recharge and rejuvenate, we top up our own internal reserves meaning that we are better equipped to give our energies to those near and dear to us, as well as cope with the demands of a hectic lifestyle more effectively and with more grace.
Reduce stress and bring your awareness inwards by focusing on breathing long and slow to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. Practice lengthening your breath on your commute to work, perhaps while standing on a busy tube, and notice the calming effect that mastering your breath starts to have on your mind and body. This takes practice! Don't worry if it doesn't feel natural to begin with. Start the beginnings of a home practice by finding a quiet 10 minutes to sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe deeply and allow your mind to wander.
3. Accept your body's capabilities today.
Everyone's body is different. I see time and time again students new to yoga quickly growing frustrated at their perceptions of what their bodies can and can't do. Try to accept that it's totally normal to find some things (many things! Most things!) in yoga challenging. It takes time to embed a new pathway of movement within the body.
We notice many many advances with a regular yoga practice in time, but ultimately there will always be things we find difficult due to the different make up of our bodies. Many a time I have been in class as a student and gone absolutely nowhere in Upavistha Konasana (Wide Legged Seated Forward Fold), while students all around me fold as flat as a pancake. It's taken me years of frustration and a good dose of anatomy training to understand and accept that, while I may make progress with practice, the unique make up of my body will never totally allow me to fold that way. And that's ok! Through our yoga practice, qualities such as patience, compassion, persistence, self-belief and kindness start to take root and shine through in our everyday life off the mat.
4. Practice, not perfect.
It's called a yoga 'practice' for a reason! It can take time to see the benefits of a yoga practice. Allow yoga to come to you by developing a regular practice and the benefits will start to show themselves, little by little. Have fun with a wobbly Tree Pose and embrace the number of times we fall out of Half Moon Pose as all part of the experience.
5. Become aware of your body.
As the vessel that transports us through life and through which we experience every aspect of our day, it's amazing how quickly we can lose touch with our bodies. During yoga class, start to tune in to the signals your body is sending you. Is something hurting? If so, back off. Does one side of the body feel stiffer than the other? Perhaps take a little longer in the pose on the stiff side to ease it out. Is your breath becoming ragged in a pose? Ease off a little or take a Child's Pose until the breath stabilises. Off the mat, start to become aware of how your body is feeling in different situations. Can you use your breath to relax your body in situations that make you feel tense? Yoga can bring balance and greater awareness to the mind and body, improving your sense of proprioception (the awareness of your body in space).