I do not want to preach to the converted here. I want to preach to those who think yoga is boring, a waste of time, not good for releasing pent up energy, and only reserved for vegetarian/vegan hippies.
I was in this camp a few months ago. People kept on telling me that, in order to work through stress and anxiety, I should start flow or ashtanga yoga. Their suggestions made me even more stubborn: “Why would I do something light and ‘easy’ when all I want is to run, sweat and really feel the burn?”
So, how did I get into yoga? Well, one day I was really angry. I only had around 45 minutes until I had to leave the house, and so I Googled (the solution to all emotional hardship) ‘Anger release exercise’. Up came ‘Yoga for When You’re Angry‘.
It transformed me. Seriously. Like a snot-filled spiritual enlightenment. I say snot-filled as I started crying around 3 minutes in, which really made alternate nostril breathing a disgusting (yet relaxing) practice.
Why did I cry? The online yoga teacher said something along the lines of: “Congratulations for getting on the mat. That is the hardest thing. Anger is a passive and destructive emotion, and you are being constructive by just stepping into this practice”. There was no expectation of doing anything, or being perfect. I just needed to be there, to be present. I think I cried because I was proud of myself.
Now, three months on, I want to write about how yoga has helped me to form a better relationship with my body and food. Here goes:
Yoga is a treat.
I’d like to think I am an intelligent person, but when I am feeling low or resentful towards a person or situation in my life, I think that the best way to release emotions is to punish myself. Good one, Becca. I do this via 1000kcal HIIT and Tabata workouts that result in me ‘squaddling’ (a hybrid between a squat and a waddle) for days; through restricting my food; through boxing and punching inanimate objects such as pillows. When we are feeling low, why not give ourselves a treat? Yoga is a treat. It is about connecting with your body, giving it self-care and saying ‘you are okay, you are enough, in this moment’.
Yoga is not about perfection.
When it comes to physical exercise, I really don’t like being bad at things. This comes across as competitive, but honestly it is rooted in insecurity and a fear of failure. I want to look and be competent, and take this far too seriously. Yoga has challenged this stubborn insecurity of mine. It is not about being able to do a handstand or crow position straight away: it is about attempting, falling over, laughing, recognising your limits and trying again. Your limits change over time, of course. And, after thirty consecutive days of yoga, I noticed a massive difference in my arm strength and balance. I still don’t look like the Instagram yogis, but that’s okay as I have achieved something more fundamental; the ability to not take myself, and my ideals of a perfect physical body, so seriously.
Yoga is fundamentally about energy.
In the past few months, I have learned about my body. I have learned where I feel blocks and soreness, and how to breathe into these. If you don’t believe in the whole energy thing, I would challenge you to do a simple exercise: breathe in through the nose, and then out through the mouth like a lion. Breathe out vigorously and loudly, while smiling. If you’re not a bit happier after that, then you can stop reading now.
Yoga is union.
Via simple balances (I am by no means a yoga guru – literally, my ‘balance’ is holding one leg up while in cat-cow), I have learned that each part of my body is in union. It is not about focusing on the defects of your leg, arms, stomach; it is about recognising that your body works together as a whole. This is fundamental, especially in a society where our body parts are constantly micro-analysed and urged to be perfected: ‘Tank top arms’, ‘rock hard abs’, ‘strong legs and Beyonce bum’. We are one body as an energetic subject, not discrete objects to scrutinise, and that is enough for me.
Yoga helps read your body’s needs – including nourishment.
Every day, I do a simple practice which lasts between 10 and 30 minutes. No more, no less. I do this as soon as I wake up, and my practice may include meditation and deep breathing, rolling about on the floor like a lycra-clad baby, or wide-armed push ups and warrior poses. There is no rigidity, it is about how my body feels in that moment.
This lesson has extended to how I nourish my body throughout the day. When I am stressed or anxious, I am terrible at reading my body’s needs. As soon as panic hits, hunger goes. These complicated psychological reactions are not conducive to a healthy relationship with food, and shows just how emotional our food choices and habits are. I need to keep things simple, like with the yoga. I now have three vegetarian meals and three snacks each day. The anxiety around what, when and why to eat is starting to fade, as long as I just keep it simple.
Yoga is releasing.
I have already spoken about how yoga can release negative energy blocks, and help increase flexibility which in itself releases muscle tension, however there is another huge benefit I want to talk about. I should not have left this one until the end, but perhaps squidged it in between the others…but hey, I’m only human. I am talking about physical release. Yoga really, truly helps with digestion, people. When I am stressed, my stomach flares up. The result is that I don’t enjoy eating, I eat less diverse foods or reduce my intake all together, and a vicious cycle is created. Over the past ten years, I have tried flax seeds, high fibre diets and all manner of other remedies to help with stress-related stomach conditions, but yoga is 10000% the best solution so far. So, if nothing else makes you give a sh** about yoga, let it be this reason.
I hope that these reasons give you some impetus to adopt simple, flow yoga into your daily routine. My personal story may relate, it may not, to your own mental and physical relationship to body and food. Either way, all I know is that I am so thankful that I stepped onto that mat.