No-one wants to be a January cliché – fridge full of avocados, stash of Beck’s Blue, spanking new activewear…tick, tick and tick – but when you’re on a mission to find inner peace it’s probably best to kick off with what you know.
I’ve always lent towards the sick-note side of sporting activity. I have no hand-to-eye coordination, I don’t get team sports and I’m still reeling from the day I discovered the point of tennis isn’t to get a rally going. Bar an exceedingly short-lived stint on a school under-10s netball team (as, erm, an unsubbed sub), I spent the first 18 years of my life bunking off, on the bench or positioning myself so deep field in rounders no ball would ever reach me. I was naturally skinny so the idea of exercising for vanity wasn’t on my radar and it hadn’t yet occurred to me that sport was something I might want to get into for the good of my health. When I finally gave running a go, aged 34, after two babies and a lifetime of laziness, the resulting all-over muscle pain freaked me out so much I seriously considered a trip to A&E.
I’ve upped my game since then, clocking up a few half marathons and a class pass for a local power plate studio but no one would describe me as overly committed to a fitness regime. I skip class for work deadlines, my trainers are ancient and that endorphin high people talk about is generally M.I.A. In fact, the only form of physical activity I’ve ever enjoyed or felt any real affinity with is yoga… something I’ve recently incorporated back into my life in a way I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to commit to. So that, if you’re still reading, is the focus of this post and the first step on my mystical inner peace 2018 journey (Yep, I just used the word journey without irony. I hate myself).
Of course, it all started with the worst of intentions. Cast your mind back to 1996. Spaceman by Babylon Zoo is at number one and I’ve taken a shine to a long-haired rollerblader in the Liverpool University student bar. He regales me with yogic tales of travelling in India and, in awe of his spiritual wisdom and infinite maturity (a worldly 19 to my infantile 18), I decide to take myself off to some dusty sports hall for a six-week yoga course in an attempt to join him on a higher plain.
I’m not sure our relationship outlived that course (we’re still friends, though – he no longer wears tie-dye or wheels on his feet… Hi, if you’re reading!) but I definitely caught the yoga bug. Finally, a type of physical activity that wasn’t about winning, beating the other team or nailing a personal best. Yoga was calm, yoga was the opposite of competitive, yoga helped quieten the constant whirrings of my chaotic mind. I’m pretty sure the only definition of grounded I understood in 1996 was the type where your parents incarcerate you for stealing their gin, but I know now that’s what I felt after an hour of downward dogs in that hall.
I haven’t been the most committed yogi in the 20+ years that followed, but when I really needed it, yoga was always there. After-work ashtanga at Soho Triyoga, pregnancy yoga with Bristol’s earthiest earth-mothers, a mother and baby class where we swung our infants like the ‘swaying branches of a palm tree’ and banged on about breastfeeding a lot. You name it, I’ve been there… and I’ve made all the mistakes, too. I’ve been the skinny 20-something giving everyone side-eye at Triyoga as I tried to make myself faster, bendier and, goddammit, thinner than the rest of them put together (never has yoga been more exhausting). And I definitely didn’t feel Zen when I went back to my hippie pregnancy yoga group to relay my birth story (as was the done thing) with only tales of abandoned birth pools and scary abdominal incisions to tell. Even recently, I found myself at a weekday morning class in a chilly community hall trying my hardest to concentrate while a mental to do list on steroids whizzed through my mind.
Yoga is amazing. But if, like me, you are an all-or-nothing type of person, if you want to commit you’ve got to get your timing right. So, in radical manner, at the start of this year, I actually bothered to think about it. I knew I loved yoga and wanted it to feature in my life on the regular, but how could I fit it in in a way I could definitely commit to? How could I get the most out of it? Basically, how could I recapture that 1996 magic, ideally without the dusty sports hall vibe?
The answer was so obvious I can’t believe it took me so many years of flailing from class to class to find it. I know I can’t focus on sun salutations with a full day of work ahead of me… so clearly what I needed to do was get back into doing yoga in the evening (minus the Triyoga craziness this time round, obvs).
The second it hit me I got to work and signed up to a Monday evening class at a beautiful studio overlooking a wood (that I can’t yet see because it’s pitch black at 8pm when I arrive). It’s a short walk from my house, we practise in dim lighting with candles burning and there are good vibes galore. And because it’s evening, I don’t find my mind wandering on to my to do list for the day ahead. Lightbulb moment alert! It might sound too early to call it, but I know I’ve finally found a way to do yoga that I can stick at long term.
So what about you? Is yoga something you’ve dabbled with, enjoyed but failed to find a way to stick to? Perhaps you’ve never tried it before but have been thinking about giving it a go? Or maybe you’re a fully paid up yoga queen/king who started reading this post thinking there’d be a more impressive ending? If so, apologies…maybe skip ahead to my Luxe it Up list below, if that’s your bag.
Whoever you are, whatever your intentions, whether you embrace yoga as the spiritual, meditative discipline it is, use it as a relaxing retreat from the pressures of everyday life or just think it’s a nice way to stretch out your body at the start/end of the day… the benefits of this ancient practice are too numerous for one blog post. But let’s have a go anyway:
Benefits of Yoga
Increased muscle strength
A clear mind
Feeling more connected to your body
Inspiration for a healthier lifestyle
And so much more…
Sounds good? Ready to get going or re-commit? Where should you start?
IF YOU’RE A COMPLETE BEGINNER
- Try it out for free. There are some brilliant YouTube yogis with sessions aimed at beginners. I love Yoga with Adriene.
- Find a local class. You need one that’s specifically aimed at beginners. Do not make the mistake James Nesbitt did in that Yellow Pages ad and decide you’re more of an intermediate. You’re not.
- Get your kit on. The joy of yoga is you really don’t need any ‘stuff’ to get started. Most studios will supply you with mats and any other equipment needed for the class. You don’t need a sports bra, water bottle (unless you’ve picked a super strenuous or hot-yoga class), shoes or special clothes. Wear a decent pair of sports leggings (your baggy Topshop ones will do if that’s all you have), a top that won’t flap about revealing your entire midriff/greying bra while you do a shoulder stand and a jumper for the relaxation bit at the end.
- Call/email ahead. Introduce yourself to the teacher before the class and on the day so they know you are a total beginner.
- Embrace the process. Yoga can be as slow as you need it to be and is by nature totally non competitive. Your place in a class as a total beginner is just as valuable as someone who’s been doing it for years.
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR YOUR OWN LIGHTBULB MOMENT
- Tune back in to the moment you first discovered yoga and what exactly it was about it that made you tick.
- Write down your reasons/excuses for not getting yourself to the mat as often as you’d like.
- Consider a change of pace. Have you strayed too far into the bendy competitive zone? Maybe think about taking it back to basics or join a class populated with an older, calmer crowd.
- Get the timing right. If, like me, you can’t concentrate before a day of work, try an evening class. If you’re always bunking off evening classes because you’re too tired, try a lunchtime class.
- Switch it up. Try a new studio (upping your game from community halls can work wonders), a new instructor, a different type of yoga or see if following YouTube sessions at home works better for you. Or maybe what you actually need to reignite the fire is a yoga retreat or study-course.
- Biro it in. If your class isn’t in your diary/phone calendar put it in. And treat it like you would any other appointment.
- This isn’t necessary and it doesn’t work for everyone but if you’re the type who’s motivated by fancy new yoga pants and lavender eye masks, go for it. See my Luxe It Up list below. Just make sure they make you turn up to class.
- Know that it is worth it. And so are you. Anyone who’s known and loved yoga knows that finding a way to make it a regular part of your life is ALWAYS worthwhile.
IF YOU JUST WANT TO GET ALL THE GEAR
We all know yoga isn’t about spending money on clothes, equipment and post-class green smoothies but there are plenty of beautiful brands out there for those who find investing in their favourite discipline also helps to keep them disciplined.
- There are loads of labels making gorgeous leggings, tops, bras and sweatshirts with yoga in mind. Check out Lululemon, Move Your Frame, Yuj, Sweaty Betty and Under the Same Sun.
- One thing you really do need to practise yoga is a decent mat. I use one my husband got given for Christmas years ago, but if I was feeling flush, I night plump for one of Yogi Peace Club’s eco mats or Always x Always palm leaf designs. You can also go to town on belts, bricks, eye bags and special yoga towels if that floats your boat.
- Scene setters. Got all the gear and multiple mats? You can still go crazy with the candles, incense, special teas, relaxation music and inspirational books. None of this essential to reap the many rewards that yoga brings, but if it keeps your interest piqued, I say go forth and purchase. I just ordered A Life Worth Breathing by Max Strom for some additional January inspo/motivation.
Not that I need any. I’m sticking at this.