For the whole of January I'm reframing New Year Resolutions as Gifts - ones that keep on giving well beyond Christmas - and asking you give them to yourself. Mindfulness, healthy eating, meditation, fun. All inspired by a Barcelona lifestyle.
And it makes sense for me, to begin by talking about something close to my heart, Yoga. As a teacher (and student) it holds me up, it shapes me and it softens me. For me this has little do with flexibility or fitness, they are fortunate by-products. It's my constant daily practice and at the risk of sounding dramatic it has changed my life.
So all this week I'm going to be sharing ideas on how you can incorporate yoga into your life. Even if you are crazy busy or have young kids that never give you a moment to yourself, there is yoga you can do.
I'll be offering up ideas for quick beginner practices, yoga locations in Barcelona where you can practice in English, and ways you can do a class from your own home wherever you are (apps, websites etc). Simple suggestions that might just make it be more accessible in your life.
WHAT IS YOGA (TO ME)?
In the Western world many of us have the preconceived idea that yoga is an hour-long class held at a studio or gym, a time where you work out and get more bendy. What most people don't know, is that asana (the physical postures) is just one part of the whole shebang. Pantanjali, an ancient yogi, many moons ago, set down 'The 8 Limbs of Yoga' which are seen by many as the fundamental foundations of yoga. In these, Asana (physical practice) is just ONE element. The other seven are, in simple terms, ethics and codes to live by, breath work and forms of mediation which progressively take you to the ultimate goal of enlightenment. Don't worry, that's something even the most ardent of yogis are yet to even touch upon and it's unlikely to come up at your local class down at the village hall!
The point being that yoga is more than just handstands and down dogs. My friends often joke with me that most of the time I'm probably off somewhere with my leg behind my head doing some kind of weird yogi pose. But that's not true. My yoga is less about handstands, twists and balances. For me yoga is simple (and yet so very complex).
- It's about breath
- It's about being in touch and really being aware of my body
- It's about being so focussed on the movements I am making that I still the busy thoughts in my head
- It's about lengthening my spine
- It's about unblocking tight bits
- It's about softening
- It's about connection - to my body, to my mat, to other everything around me
- It's about sitting
I could go on. It's all of this, and of course so much more. But you should know, it's not just complicated stretches which only bendy people can do. Anyone can do it. Anywhere.
WHAT SORT OF YOGA SHOULD YOU DO?
Of course when you're starting out you will want guidance from a reputable teacher and there are so many different types of yoga. Iyengar, Ashtanga, Bikram, Vinayasa Flow, Hatha, Kundalini. If you're a beginner I can totally understand why all the variety on offer might seem overwhelming. It can be hard to know where to start. My suggestion is to pick a class that you like the sound of and give it it try. If you're really stuck a Hatha class is usually a good place to start. If you don't like it, pick another and do the same. Keep doing this until you find one that you do like.
And of course the teacher can make a massive difference too. You might decide you like Ashtanga yoga (the athletes yoga) and yet one teacher works for you whereas another just isn't your cup of tea. That's totally fine. As in life, we can't like or be liked by everyone. A yoga teacher accepts this.
Keep persevering and when you do find a class, teacher, time, studio/ gym/ location you like, it'll all start to fall into place. The benefits of yoga will start to shine through.
WHY SHOULD I BOTHER?!
Now I could write a whole list of the practical anatomical, physiological and emotional benefits of yoga, but there are tons of people out there who have done that better than me. Take a look at this list for starters
I find the best way to talk about the benefits of yoga is just to say exactly what it has done for me, to speak about my own experiences makes it feel more real.
It has made me stronger
It makes me calmer and more relaxed
It makes me feel great!
It has made me commit to something fully
It has made me brave
It makes me sleep better
It makes me see the world in front of me as it truly is without lots of negative (and mostly untrue thoughts clouding my perspective)
It has made me more open
There's more of course, but these are some of the key reasons that make yoga my thing. I actually rarely talk about yoga and why I think it's so beneficial to people close to me, I think I have always felt quite exposed when doing so. I have also believed that people should come to yoga when they want to rather than have it forced upon them.
But today, I'm putting my hand up and shouting proudly. Give yoga a go in 2017. It's brilliant!
Please try it. If you fall down, get up and try again.
Be good to yourself, give yourself this present, you won't regret it.
PS. I'll be posting some ways soon to practice yoga from the comfort of your living room and also studios and locations in Barcelona that teach yoga in English. I hope that that will be a useful resource.