Yoga is one of my favourite hobbies, but apart from being a relaxing activity/way to get out of making dinner/excuse to buy new exercise gear I believe it’s also something that promotes physical and mental well being and makes me feel happier on a daily basis. I’ve met people who are wary of trying out yoga, though, because they are worried it will be too difficult, that they’re not flexible enough, or because they feel intimidated by some of the eye popping poses they’ve seen in photographs or in magazines. Well just to reassure you, the yoga I do isn’t difficult (it’s actually more like stretching), I’m not particularly flexible (although I realised recently I can still touch my toes, hurrah!), and I can’t do any of those eye popping poses either (maybe one day). No, for me, yoga is all about the benefits, and giving up 20 minutes of my day to practise it reaps rewards that make taking that little bit of time to myself seem like the ultimate no-brainer. So today I thought I’d list some of the benefits I’ve noticed since starting yoga a couple of years ago, as well as some tips for getting started. I’d love it these gave you some inspiration to try out yoga for yourself!
- It Makes You Feel Good
Put simply, yoga makes you feel good, and during some post-dinner ‘research’ lately, some friends and I concluded that that it gives you that warm fuzzy sensation rather akin to partaking in a nice glass of red vino. Whether you’ve had a long day at work or a busy day at home, yoga is a lovely way to wind down (or wind up depending on when you choose to do it). Think of the feeling of a nice warm bath or an evening cosied up with your favourite book and you’re getting close.
- It Could Help You Sleep Better
A couple of years ago, I started having difficulty getting off to sleep at night and would lie in bed thinking about all the things that suddenly took on life threatening importance as soon as I tried to get some shut-eye. After starting yoga, this problem started to reduce, and these days, I find that doing yoga really helps me sleep better and more deeply. I’m not really aware of doing anything differently but just the practice of doing yoga seems to have helped me learn to switch my busy brain off. Why not give it a try if you’re also having problems dropping off?
- It Helps to Combat Stress
Various research studies have shown that yoga can help combat stress and anxiety, and in fact, the yoga that I do, a 20 minute session from Nadia Narain’s ‘Everyday Yoga for Stress Release’ DVD, is specifically designed to help release the tensions that so many of us experience in our busy daily lives. As a naturally anxious person I find the practice of doing yoga really helps to calm me, and I always feel lighter and brighter after my regular yoga session. When I’m doing yoga often I find my mood is much better and my stress levels are reduced. If you find yourself getting stressed out or anxious regularly, you might find that yoga is just the thing to help.
- It Helps Your Balance and Posture
As a pretty clumsy individual I find that doing yoga has helped improve my balance, made me feel stronger, and generally encouraged me to improve my overall posture. These skills might have helped me a few years ago when I broke my toe after tripping and hitting my foot into a door, or that time I randomly fell into a pile of nettles when I was a little kid. And whilst improving balance and posture might not seem like a big deal to you right now, there is evidence to suggest that doing yoga can help reduce the risk of falls and associated injury as we age. So why not think of it as a little insurance policy towards your future health and wellbeing (because let’s face it, folks, none of us are getting any younger).
- It Helps You Focus on Your Breathing
A lot of the yoga practice I do is centred around focusing on your breathing, and I find that just that simple exercise reaps benefits you can tap into at any time regardless of what you’re doing. Despite breathing every minute of our lives, most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re doing it, but just focusing on taking a few deep breaths can really help to lift you out of whatever situation you find yourself in (think running late for the school run, preparing for that difficult meeting, or getting ready to do that all important presentation). One of the biggest benefits I’ve gained from yoga is just learning to step back and take a moment to breathe a little more often. And I’m quite sure that most people would benefit from doing exactly the same thing.
- And Helps You Be More Mindful
The practice of focusing on your breathing doesn’t just have to be about negating stressful situations, and I’ve found that doing yoga has helped me focus better on the present moment – one of the key principles of ‘mindfulness’, a practice that has grown in popularity in recent years. Just taking a few moments to breathe in the fresh air and properly take in the scenery on a walk with my dog, watch my children playing, or appreciate a bit of bird spotting in my garden – yoga has helped me enjoy all these things without my busy mind taking over. I recently read an article that suggested that meditation could be as simple as just focusing on your breath for a few minutes of each day. Why not give it a try and see if it helps you?
- It Can Help to Reduce Pain
I find that yoga really helps with aching muscles, and if I have a stomach ache or PMS, a few yoga stretches are almost guaranteed to help to relieve me. Obviously, if you have any pain issues you should initially consult your GP (as you should before starting any new exercise regimen), but for day-to-day pain management, you may well find that trying some gentle yoga could really bring relief.
- It Doesn’t Need to Take a Lot of Time
The yoga DVD I do takes 20 minutes daily – not much more than it takes to make and drink a cup of coffee. Personally I find that I benefit most when doing it regularly, and most of the time it’s possible to find that elusive 20 minutes even on the busiest of days. You can of course also attend classes with qualified instructors, and this is how I started off enjoying yoga initially. These days I find it easier to fit around my own schedule, but whatever your own availability and experience, it’s likely you can find an option that suits you too.
- It Doesn’t Require Fancy Equipment
There’s very little you need to get started with yoga, and all I really use for my yoga practice is a yoga mat and the DVD I mentioned earlier. It doesn’t require fancy machines, or even trainers for that matter – making it a very inexpensive hobby considering the rewards.
- But it is an Excuse to Buy Some Nice Exercise Gear
Of course, it’s by no means necessary to buy exercise gear to do yoga in (especially if no one is even there to see you doing it). But if you do fancy treating yourself there is some lovely yoga wear on the market – have a look in stores like Sweaty Betty for some ideas. I do have some pretty yoga wear which is probably nicer than my normal clothes if I’m being honest. I’m tempted to start wearing it on the school run as an alternative to wellies! Downward facing dog, anyone?
I hope this article has given you some ideas on how yoga could benefit you, and some tips for getting started. What do you think, are you a yoga fan already or do you prefer other forms of exercise? I’d love to hear your thoughts!