I started yoga 6 months ago at my local gym during a time that I particularly needed a release from the constant demands of mothering my two beautiful children. It was actually my husband who suggested that I join the gym and after my first month of membership, they started to offer yoga classes. I immediately jumped at the opportunity, because I’ve always enjoyed group exercise, but more than that I was familiar with all the benefits that yoga had to offer and I was keen to take advantage. It started with one yoga class and one pilates class per week, and as the two sessions were offered by the same teacher I was happy to do both. A couple of months into it, she started to offer an additional yoga class and I immediately started to attend that one as well, which took me to 3 classes per week! If you’re wondering why I’m including pilates in this post, it’s because many of the stretches and poses we hold in yoga we do in pilates as well. So I almost view my pilates class as an extension of my yoga practice, although at its core, pilates is quite different.
If you’ve never heard of yoga before, it’s a scientific system of physical and mental practices that originated in India more than three thousand years ago. Its purpose is to help each one of us achieve our highest potential and to experience enduring health and happiness. There are many different types of yoga such Vinyasa Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga, and way more than I’m able to speak on as a beginner, but essentially, yoga consist of 8 different disciplines or limbs. To my knowledge, we focus on 3 of the limbs in my class: The first limb, yama, which deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focuses on our behaviour and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Through the practice of asanas, we develop the habit of discipline and the ability to concentrate, both of which are necessary for meditation. In recent years, it’s the Asana limb of yoga which has received the most attention, mostly depicted by yogis doing beautiful and often very challenging yoga poses.
Initially, I didn’t really enjoy the yoga classes that much, but I loved the way that I felt after having done one and that’s what got me hooked. A few months in I’m now so in love with the practice that I dare not miss a single class as it’s transforming my life in ways that I never thought possible and I’d 100% recommend it to anyone. Here are the ways that yoga is changing my life right now.
1. IT’S TEACHING ME TO RECONNECT WITH MYSELF
In yoga we do a lot of breathing exercises where we become still and specifically focus on our breath, reflecting on how the way we breathe has an effect on our bodies. Through connecting our breath with our movement and yoga poses we become aware of what our bodies and minds are truly capable of, cultivating an appreciation for our body. By taking that hour out a few times a week it helps me to slow down from the business of life and to become aware of all my senses. It helps me to feel more connected with myself and even those around me. In my book it’s the ultimate form of self-care.
2. IT’S MAKING ME MORE MINDFUL ABOUT WHAT I EAT
There’s a link between our stress levels and the food we crave, often resulting in eating all the wrong types of food the more stressed we become. Because yoga is generally helping me to deal with stress, it’s also helping me to have an awareness of the physical and emotional sensations associated with eating. I.e. I’m so much more aware of how awful I feel when I eat the wrong kind of food and vice versa, I’m acutely aware of how on-top-of-the-world I feel when I’m eating the right kinds of food. It’s reignited my love for eating whole grains and a lot of fruit and vegetables.
Yoga increases the levels of serotonin in the body, which means we’re less likely to binge eat and more likely to feel happy. Yoga also helps to lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. This hormone causes us to opt for high-fat, high-sugar foods. And it’s these foods which, in particular wreak havoc on our adrenal glands and cause inflammation throughout the body, mirroring the effect that stress has on us.
3. IT’S CURED THE LOWER BACK PAIN I’VE HAD SINCE GIVING BIRTH TO JASPER
From about the 6th month of pregnancy with Jasper and continuing on from his birth I was constantly dealing with lower back pain, sometimes quite debilitating. I’ve always been quite weary of taking a lot of pain medication, so I basically just lived with it for close on two years! But after about a month and a half of regularly doing yoga I noticed that my back pain was completely gone! You can imagine how elated I was at this. The reason for this is that yoga helps to increase strength in very specific muscles and muscle groups. So when you hold a certain pose it requires a great deal of concentration and specific use of muscles throughout the entire body, including the back and abdominal muscles. Muscle strength improves by remaining in these yoga positions and incorporating various movements. This is another reason why I highly recommend yoga to anyone dealing with muscular pain.
4. IT’S HELPING ME TO COPE WITH ANXIETY
As blessed as I am with my two beautiful boys, motherhood-related anxiety is something I deal with fairly often. I get knots in my stomach and start to breathe really shallowly, which can lead to hyperventilation, not a good situation to be in when both your children are begging for your attention or perhaps even throwing a tantrum. But by incorporating the breathing techniques l practice in yoga, it helps to bring me back to a calm state, focusing on inhaling deeply right into the stomach and slowly exhaling. This flow between my breath, mind and body is such a game changer in helping to cope with anxiety.
5. IT’S BRINGING ME CLOSER TO GOD
I’m a Christian and yes, I do yoga. I’m aware that in some religions and even in Christianity some people frown upon yoga because of its background. However I’ve found that many of yoga’s teachings actually support my Christian beliefs, teachings such as non-violence, non-covetousness and truthfulness. Yoga also requires you to become still which is teaching me how to meditate more and to listen out for the word of God, something I’ve been pretty appalling at in recent years.
6. IT’S MAKING ME PHYSICALLY STRONGER AND MORE SUPPLE
I don’t think this one requires too much explanation, except to say that my upper body strength in particular has increased dramatically and I’m a lot more flexible than I was six months ago when I first started.
7. IT’S MAKING ME MORE PRODUCTIVE
This is something that I’ve noticed more gradually, but the more I practice yoga the more productive I want to be in other areas of my life. I actually feel the need to clean more, cook more, and do more of the things that bring me joy in this world. If this isn’t a reason to start yoga then I don’t know what is!
8. IT MAKES ME FEEL HAPPY
Now I’m not saying that yoga makes all my problems go away, but in general it is such a mood booster that I feel the need to incorporate a little bit of it in my life everyday, even if it’s just the breathing techniques after I’ve just woken up and I’m still lying in bed. Studies have shown that yoga and meditation help improve cognitive-behavioural performance as well as aid with mood swings, menopause, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. Practicing yoga in a group setting also stimulates the production of the love hormone oxytocin, which explains why I love doing yoga in my regular class. It also produces higher serotonin levels, which is the happy hormone. Combined, these hormones dramatically improve my mood and can definitely do the same for you.
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In conclusion, I’m a much happier and healthier person, both mentally and physically, since having started my yoga journey. I never dreamed that it would affect my quality of life in the way that it has over the last few months and I can only imagine where it will take me as I keep up my practice.
Are you a yoga fan? Have you ever done it before? If so, what are some of the benefits that you’ve experienced since you’ve incorporated it into your life?