I thought we’d talk about something quite different today and that’s because it’s something that I’ve been doing quite a lot of lately: yoga.
I’ve always been active and I’ve tried all sorts of exercise, but yoga has been the thing I have done more regularly than anything else, because it’s so beneficial.
What is yoga?
Yoga is a physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in ancient India. The word, yoga, comes from the Sanskrit word which means “to yoke.” Yoga aims to join together the mind, body and spirit.
Back when I started doing yoga in my early twenties, I didn’t stop to think about the reasons why yoga was good for me, I just went along because I was curious and it was local. I was instantly hooked.
There’s so much variety with yoga, so many different types, each with their own particular way of doing things. Some are more active and physically challenging, others are slower and more meditative, some are highly spiritual and contemplative. But one thing I am certain of, there is a yoga class to suit everyone – keep trying different classes until you get to one that suits you. Not only does it depend on the type of yoga, but it also depends on the teacher themselves. There are teachers to suit every student, so it’s important to find a class and teacher that feels right to you.
In the classes I regularly go to at my local women’s gym, we are a variety of shapes and sizes, what we all have in common though is our enjoyment of yoga and our goal of good health and wellbeing.
Here are a few of the reasons why I think yoga should be prescribed for everyone.
A recipe for wellbeing
Just thinking about yoga as a recipe for wellbeing – to help us feel good and function well, it ticks pretty much every box.
Here’s how yoga stacks up on the PERMA-V wellbeing model which I have talked about on this show before:
P Positive emotion – yes it can be hard work and it can be challenging, but it sure does make you feel good, both in the moment and afterwards, having a lingering positive effect. Practice yoga enough and it will change your outlook on life.
E Engagement – one of yoga’s significant benefits is that it allows us to become focussed on the present moment. I like to think of it as a moving meditation, and that is one of the reasons it is so good for our mental state. As we engage with the various poses, the outside world drops away, calming our mind in the process.
R Relationships – with yoga we are guided to tune into aspects of our self. This helps us gain self-awareness and self-acceptance and so over time contributes to a more positive relationship with ourselves, which in turn positively impacts our relationships with other people.
M Meaning – one of the reasons I stay with yoga as something regular in my life, is because it can be a very meaningful activity. Making what I believe to be a significant contribution to my health and wellbeing, it therefore underpins everything else I do.
A Accomplishment/achievement – if we choose to allow it to, yoga can challenge us on so many levels. Not only the physical, but also mentally. Today the challenge might be balancing our body, tomorrow it might be quieting the chattering mind or doing a new pose.
V Vitality – yoga is well known to benefit our physical health. Creating balance and alignment in our posture, strengthening our bodies, flushing out toxins, increased flexibility and cleansing our organs are all yoga benefits. Learning how to breathe more effectively and mindfully also plays a significant part in yoga and this has a flow on effect to how we feel. Although I am tired immediately following a full on yoga class, later in the day I feel energised and motivated. It also helps to improve the quality of our sleep.
Exercise of all kinds reduces our stress levels, but yoga punches well above its weight in comparison to many exercise types because of its mental and in some cases spiritual dimension. Interestingly yoga has been shown to reduce anxiety in some instances, it also creates a greater sense of calm and helps us relax. I like to think of it as helping to re-set my stress levels, making me feel more able to cope with what daily life throws at me, so in this way it makes me feel more resilient.
Some of yoga’s many benefits might take a while to reveal themselves to us, teaching us patience and acceptance as we learn how to delay our gratification. Likewise, try as we might, we can’t always be in control, the body and mind don’t always do what we want them to do, and I think it can be very healthy to learn how to accept that and work with it. This makes us humble.
Yoga teaches focus and discipline. Sometimes you have to dig deep to hold that challenging posture. Our bodies and minds are all different and what might be easy for you to do might be a real challenge for me. It’s not about competing, it’s about challenging yourself, which sometimes requires persistence. It’s also about knowing when you’ve gone far enough, and when to stop striving.
If it’s good enough for the All Blacks, it’s good enough for me!