It’s far from Yoga I was reared!
by Rhea Peel
Work outs in my house were the chores, walking to the supermarkets (and walking back laden down with a weeks’ worth of shopping), playing outdoors, the odd time going with your mam to that weird aerobics class in the church hall, or attempting to follow her Jane Fonda cassette tape… yes… cassette tape, not even a video!
Yoga was not a word I would have heard growing up, and certainly didn’t seem to feature in the society around me.
It seemed to me that yoga exploded into existence some time in my teens. Now, I know that it has existed for thousands of years, but not in my little world. Even when it did start edging into the corners of the society I grew up in, it was regarded with a great degree of scepticism and a nice helping of ridicule!
It was something that was just for bendy, wealthy, ‘yummy mummy’s with too much time on their hands - (also, side note, I’m a mother now and there is no such thing as a mother with too much time on their hands, there could never be enough!) - or those with hippie notions that just came back from their gap year in India with baggy pants, and a new religion.
I’ve since learned that yoga was first popularised in the west as early as the 1920s, and 30s, with yoga gurus and their disciples bringing the knowledge with them as they emigrated to the US, and Europe – however, it was still a small niche, nothing like the booming trend we see today.
Through my teens, and early 20s I engaged in no formal exercise, people that formally worked out, went to classes, or certainly, did YOGA, were a different breed from me… surely?
It was then recommended to me as part of my recovery programme for mental health, and it had a lot of coverage in popular media at the time. Celebs were shooting off to Ashrams left right and centre, and yoga studios were popping up in places where they would have been laughed out of town previously.
I still felt that it just wasn’t for me. It’s funny how we’re brought up with certain ideas about what is ‘for us’ and what isn’t. The truth is you can try anything, well you know, within reason and legality, and if you like it – hooray, it is for you!
I read a bit about it, looked at a few DVDs and instructions, and just huffed and puffed… and pushed it away. Just LOOK at those people, they look like ballerinas, and contortionists! Their bodies bend like pipe cleaners, and they don’t even break a sweat, no, no, that’s NOT ME.
The rise of YouTube was a phenomenal help in my personal journey with Yoga - doesn’t that even seem like such a notion ridden thing to say - (hello internalised judgements) - but there it is. YouTube is brilliant, you can now find any number of people – all different shapes, sizes, ethnicities, and of different levels of abilities, engaging in yoga, and instructing.
My personal favourite is Yoga with Adriene, I find her tutorials easy to follow, and she always offers alternative movements for different levels of mobility. I also love Jessamyn Stanley – she has absolutely smashed the stereotypes around what kind of ‘body’ you need for yoga. Then there is Dean Pohlman over at Man Flow Yoga – an impressive athlete and yoga instructor, and the fabulous Ben Clark at Adapt to Perform, proving that a wheelchair is no barrier to enjoying yoga; Age is also no excuse, which was beautifully shown by the late Tao Porchon – Lynch, who was still teaching classes aged 98!
It’s so accessible, with such a variety of teachers, and types of yoga practice to choose from, and we have an absolute wealth of information on its benefits.
Yoga can help improve: posture, joint pain, balance, heart health, mental health, sleep, muscle strength, and self-esteem – just to name a few! It is incredibly useful in the treatment of high stress levels, trauma, and anxiety.
The powerful impact that a yoga practice can have on individuals has been recognised widely at this stage, and we see it being employed at so many levels of society. It has been used in education, as therapy for those with additional needs, in prisons, even by NASA, and the US military, the list goes on.
And me, personally? I love it. It is such a relaxing contrast to the HIT workouts, or aerobics classes – although yoga can be intense too, whatever your preference – I find it gives me space in my mind, and I feel, tangibly, the space it creates in my body. It is also so encouraging to see improvement, you’ll do a pose one way, and maybe get frustrated that you can’t go further, only to find that as time goes by – doing nothing more than carrying on, breathing deep, and following the instructions – suddenly, you can!
I remember my friend showing me her ‘crow pose’ a few years ago. My immediate reaction, again, was ‘no, no, not for me – I’ll never be able to do that’ – it looked impossible! Yet, a year or so later, and at the time improving by also attending physical yoga classes in my locality (how’ya mammy, too much time on your hands?) – I did it. No, it wasn’t perfect, it may not have looked impressive, but I did it, and it was good enough for me.
I also have to give a big thumbs up to doing yoga outdoors, there is a totally different energy, and life to it – if you can find a peaceful spot outside, even just the back garden – or on the beach, or in a forest if you’re feeling adventurous (and if lockdown ever ends, yawn!).
Trust me, you’ll know exactly what I mean. I also highly recommend the Leguano shoes as an option for outdoor practice – Yoga for me is a barefoot activity, it’s the best way to enjoy it and feel the feedback from your body – but if you are an outdoors yoga enthusiast, these are the perfect fit. You get almost the same feedback as being totally barefoot, and 100% of the same mobility, whilst protecting your precious feet from the elements, and no need to cart your yoga mat with you!
Speaking of equipment, for Yoga you need very little! All I have is a simple mat, two blocks, and a strap. I would always recommend investing in a good mat – as this helps protect your knees, hips and other areas when practising indoors, on hard floors. Also, the blocks, and straps, are quite cheap to pick up, and will last years!
I thought Yoga was, well, just a notion! My mind has been permanently changed, and if this inspires even one person to get on the mat, I’ll be delighted. Trust me, you will not be disappointed, just find the practice, and the instructor, that works for you.