My friend from uni, Sarah, has written a beautiful post about her love of yoga and how it’s helped her, especially whilst living in crazy London. This post is such a delight to read, hopefully it’ll bring you spot of calm on your morning commute or wherever else you might be reading this.
A few months ago now my wonderful friend, ex-flat mate, fellow dietetics student and founder of this amazing blog – Jess – asked me to write a guest post about Yoga. Maybe it was the many evenings when we lived together and I went out into the cold dark night saying “Going to yoga, see you later” that made her wonder what I actually like about it so much. Especially because she knows that I’m not actually a huge fan of exercise…
So I will attempt to put it into words here. Growing up, to me yoga was something old people do- my grandma has been practicing yoga for years, my dad used to back in his hippy days, and whenever I had gone to a yoga class at my local gym in Germany I lowered the average age dramatically. I started to like yoga when I was 16-17 years old- I’d got a free DVD with a magazine and I started to practice semi-regularly. I’ve always been quite stretchy so it came easily to me in the beginning, which is probably why I stuck with it and started to do more. When I moved to London three years ago there was a really cool yoga studio near my halls of residence and I went almost every day and I think that is when I first really fell in love with the practice. Now I don’t have money for studios anymore so I just improvise on my mat at home which is cool too 🙂
I love the word practice – because that is what yoga is about: it is not mastering a contortionistic pose that may get you loads of Instagram likes, but it is about practicing. Practicing awareness, practicing self-care, practicing kindness, gratitude and really feeling your breath and your body.
To paraphrase Waylon Lewis (the founder of elephantjournal.com), Yoga is not yoga pants, or young models stopping at Wholefoods on their way home from class to pick up some quinoa. Yoga is a spiritual path; yoga is about opening up your mind and heart and becoming a more present, sane, compassionate and relaxed human being.
I think today many people are attracted to yoga for the physical side of it- the Asana practice. And this is great of course- whatever brings you to the mat is great. But know that once you start, yoga will change you.
This ancient practice is made up of 8 limbs and Asana is just one of them. The first two limbs- Yama and Niyama are about ethical standards, integrity, self-discipline and spirituality. Asana is the third limb of yoga and this is what we usually practice in a yoga class. Asana is about making a deep connection to the body and using the body to still the mind (if you’re focusing on not falling over in a headstand it is hard to worry about why someone hasn’t texted you back yet). Pranayama– or control of the breath- is the fourth limb of yoga. The breath is one of the most powerful tools for meditation, because it gives you something to concentrate on even if you are completely still. The 5th limb Pratyahara is about withdrawing our senses from the external world and focusing on what we feel inside. Dharana (No. 6) is about concentration, Dhyana is meditation and the final stage Samadhi is described as the completion of the yogic path and is sometimes translated as ‘enlightenment’. I’ve not gotten that far obvs 😛
If this philosophy aspect sounds kind of cool to you, you can check out “The tree of yoga” by B. K. S. Iyengar. It sums it up pretty nicely.
I hope that philosophy lesson hasn’t put anyone off – it is not something that is talked about in a lot of yoga classes so don’t worry if you’re not an ultra-spiritual kind of person! I think yoga can be intimidating for a lot of people. I’ve heard many times “oh I can’t do yoga, I’m not flexible” or “I can’t sit still” or some variation of that. If that is you, I think that is exactly why you SHOULD try yoga. As I said before it is about practicing and I think especially if you are struggling with flexibility or quieting the mind or anything else that intimidates you about yoga- maybe you can get better at it if you practice! Also, every yoga pose can be modified to what feels good for you – nobody will expect you to do the splits (or monkey pose) in the first class. You will get better over time!
I love yoga because for me it is incredibly empowering. I feel super badass getting on the bus in the morning after playing around on my mat for a bit. It’s fun to experiment with what my body can do, where it can go. It is also super adaptable – some days I want to move and then doing a physically challenging flow can be great, but if I’m honest that is not always the case ;). But even if I feel shit I can always do a more restorative kind of practice, or even just sit on my mat for 5 minutes and listen to my breath.
Living in London for the past 3 years, away from all my friends and family hasn’t been easy. But yoga has given me something to come back to, a place to come home to.
Seriously guys, you should give it a try 😉 And you can find great classes online for free, e.g. Bad Yogi on Youtube!
Love, Sarah xx