I had this preconceived idea that yoga was only for people who were flexible, and could do headstands in their sleep. I shied away from it because if anything resembled the gymnastics lessons I had in primary school, I’d run a mile (okay, more like walk). But I fell into yoga not because of the poses or the flexibility I’d gain, but the meditative experience and escapism it provided me.
Yoga with Adriene
I started yoga by using Yoga With Adriene’s ’30 Days of Yoga’ videos on Youtube. I propped up my phone against the wall and followed the videos in the comfort of my own bedroom. For anyone starting yoga, I’d thoroughly recommend trying it out at home with Youtube videos first, as you become accustomed to terminology and foundation poses that will set you up well if you ever join a class. Adriene’s ’30 Days of yoga’ series was the perfect introduction for me, and even after doing it for a week I felt that I was improving. I still continue to use her videos when I’m feeling like following a routine, so I am so grateful for discovering her channel.
I’d say I began practising yoga at the same time as I became more interested in meditation. I tried to meditate long before this, but my mind would often wander and sometimes I found it hard to carve the time out of my day for exercise and meditation. When I discovered yoga, I found the perfect middle ground between movement and mindfulness – the continuous breath work whilst moving into poses acts as simultaneous meditation while exercising. Most yoga lessons begin and end with a meditation too, often lying on the ground in Shavasana (corpse pose) which is pure heaven after a long day or when you’re feeling low. Yoga is the perfect way for me to switch off, yet meanwhile intuitively moving in a way that feels good for me.
A few months after starting yoga via Youtube, I felt comfortable that I knew the basics and decided to attend a yoga class at my local gym. Despite not having gone to a yoga class before, I felt somewhat confident because I already knew how to do poses that I learnt from Youtube and I had already gained some extra flexibility. Home yoga is absolutely fine as a permanent way to practice, but I’d recommend attending a yoga class at least once though, as the instructor can moderate your form or give you any pointers. There’s a worry if you only do home yoga sessions that you may fall into bad habits which could lead to injury. Yoga lessons also give me some accountability, and introduce me to new routines and poses I haven’t tried before with the help of a qualified instructor to guide me.
The experience around others in a group class can also be quite grounding, but sometimes intimidating. Depending on the ability of the class, you will always be practising alongside people better than you and sometimes I find this difficult to deal with (being surrounded by people doing headstands and crazy crow poses when I can’t even get my heels on the floor in downward facing dog is sometimes demoralising, but I remind myself that I cannot compare my chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20).
I attend one yoga class a week (when I could pre-covid!), and aim to do it around three times at home in the evening/night. I tend to do more relaxing/restorative yoga at night consisting of simple stretches as a way for me to wind down before bed, and more energising vinyasa flows in the morning. I find that it’s only when I maintain a regular yoga practice (ideally every day) that I notice significant improvements in my strength and flexibility so I try and do it as often as possible.
When I don’t feel like yoga, I will just meditate for even around 5-10 minutes – doing this makes such a huge difference to my mood, and makes me feel more on top of life and my emotions. I either listen to free guided meditation on Youtube, or actually I prefer to just sit in silence and focus on my breath. It all depends on what I want to achieve from it. When I have too many thoughts swimming around in my mind, or I’m feeling overwhelmed or indecisive I’ll sit in silence. If the silence gets too much, sometimes I’ll play sounds of nature in the background (i.e. ocean waves, forest rain) which truly helps my mind drift away into a place of my imagination. But if I’m looking for motivation, inspiration, or just something to guide my thoughts, I’ll do a guided meditation with someone’s voice. The night before exams I’d sometimes do a guided meditation on calming nerves, or before an interview I’d do a self-confidence guided meditation.
I firmly believe that meditation is not limited to sitting on the floor in silence – you can meditate in any activity which allows you to switch off and escape – this could be painting, running, or even to the most mundane act of sipping your tea. If you think you lack the time to dedicate to solely ‘meditating‘, I would say fit the meditation within your ordinary day. When you’re drinking your tea or coffee in the morning focus only on the sensations and nothing else. This is meditation.
Embracing the journey, not just the end result
I have done yoga for almost two years now, and have reaped the benefits in terms of flexibility and in clearing my mind. I am aiming to become more disciplined and have a regular yoga practice, and really try to conquer more advanced poses that I’ve always wanted to be able to do. I can currently just about do a questionable looking headstand which lasts for a short two seconds, so I’m working on that for now. But I need to remind myself that it’s the journey that is most important and not the end result, so I’m relishing this fun and playful time.
I think everyone should try yoga at some point in their lives, and see how powerful it can be for your mental health and your body. Let me know your yoga journey in the comments below, or if you’re thinking of starting!
The Conscious Medic