When I first started yoga, it was purely a physical thing – moving my body (contorting?) in a totally different range of motion to what I had been doing for the past 30 years or so!
Stretching was something I did at the end of a class or run, it was half-hearted at the best of times. When I eventually started yoga, my body was so tight that every posture was a huge effort, my breathing was all over the place- my mind was all over the place too- trying to hold the posture for any length of time! I was used to mental and physical endurance sports and I needed that mental side in yoga when I first started out on my yoga journey, as I was so determined to stay in the posture or perform the posture at any cost! I would look around me and think, ‘how can I not stay in ‘Downward Dog’ without my shoulders screaming when I can do 20 push-ups on my toes??’ It was extremely humbling and a great wake-up call for me both physically and mentally.
My back was rigid, my shoulders and neck were super tight, my dodgy ankles were weak, my hamstrings were tight, my glutes only ‘fired up’ (that magical Physio quote!) on one side, my hips were out, my quads were over-developed, my core was weaker on one side, my wrists and forearms were super-tight and inflexible, and the hips? Well? …a whole other story – the list went on! The more yoga I did, the more I found out about my body and all its little imbalances / nuances. It was like a ‘check-up’ every-time I went in the ‘room’ and a diagnostic tool. I, at this stage in my life, started to become aware of my posture, my weaknesses, strengths and limitations – this is an ongoing process by the way: it never stops. I’m changing all the time, both in age and environment. With Yoga there is always somewhere to ‘go’, something to improve on –mental or physical; discover and unfold.
But, enough about the physical because what has become even more important to me after several years of yoga is the mental, and (perhaps) spiritual side of things. I won’t dwell on the spiritual as I am so far away from any spiritual enlightment that I’m in no position to comment, but I get that there is something quite ethereal about yoga and the moving energy, whilst connecting the body, mind and breath. For me, yoga is now a moving meditation, one that I can slip into at anytime during a practice because I no longer have to try so hard to get in and out of postures. I’ve spent time, lengthening and stretching, and balancing and strengthening, so I can now concentrate on being ‘present’ (to myself, no less!) and moving with the words of the teacher. I get to see, where, on any particular day, my body wants to go. Sometimes it’s ready for a big kick and other days it’s not. I don’t care about the end position of the postures anymore; I care about the breath, the movement, the nourishment, the self-care. It was such a release and realisation when that happened: the surrender and relief to move without challenge, ego and punishment. Finding the stillness in the eye of a storm (middle of standing bow!) has helped me find the same stillness outside of the room.
I always wondered why I felt so amazing after a yoga class, like nobody could ‘steal my peace’ and I put it down to switching-off and zoning out and not thinking of anything else, but I was curious as to how else to achieve this state, because I can’t always go to a yoga class or practice yoga at home and I began to look into ‘mindfulness and meditation’. I wanted to know how you achieved that ‘blissful’ (not to be mixed with the Bliss Balls, alas!) state, that might come from sitting on your bum chanting! The more I read about it, the more I realised, it was exactly like my yoga practice, I needed to spend time sitting on my butt and realise that it would not happen overnight, and like my body and ego fought the yoga postures, my mind would fight the stillness and contemplation. I needed to follow an app or video to help me meditate or be more mindful. Reign in the ‘wild horses’, so to speak.
The mind is such a powerful and fragile thing. It can create amazing things and multi-task like nothing else, but it can also break-down and work against us so that we hardly recognise ourselves anymore. The signs of mental stress and break-downs manifest in many ways such as: depression, anxiety, insomnia, anger and addictions. To work on the mind is as important as to work on the body but it’s not valued even an inch, in most of our lives, as much as an exercise class. Of course, for some, an exercise class does help their mind, boosting endorphins and creating an amazing after-glow, but what happens when you stop exercising, through injury, illness or ‘can’t be bothered-ness?’ The answer is that you can find calm, serenity and peace from just 10 mins a day, sitting on your bum- contemplating, concentrating & meditating, but you have to practice it, like anything else and once you get just a nugget of how good you can feel from a regular practice, then it opens up another window into how you can nourish your body from within. Meditation/mindfulness, they are both similar and if you are new to either or you are curious, then a guided session is the best possible way to see the benefits.
What are the benefits of calming our bodies and minds? So many! Our heart rate slows, our blood pressure drops and yes sometimes when our bodies relax, the tears follow, but our ‘rest and digest’ system kicks in, creating a relaxed nervous system, yielding a calmer and clearer mind and improving our mood.
In July and August we have two ‘mindful’ options for you to try: the first is a two hour Yoga class on Sunday, 29th of July at 930am, which ends with a guided meditation, and the second is an 8 week block of ‘mindfulness sessions’starting on Thursday, the 23rd of August at 7pm.
The yoga class consists of a physical warm-up, known as Yang postures (heart starters, muscle burners and stretches) preparing you for the floor based – YIN postures, which are slow and restorative and mindful. After the Yin, it’s time to immerse yourself in 30 mins of guided meditation, using breath and visualisation to calm, revive and restore your mind.
In August, our mindfulness classes, run by Louise Cullen, of Tranceform Therapies, (www.tranceformtherapies.co.uk) are a wonderful opportunity to sit and be guided through what is essentially a therapeutic practice. This could punctuate your week, ensuring you hit the weekend feeling mentally restored. These sessions are available as a ‘drop-in class’ or save some money and book an eight week block. More info on the sessions are available at reception. To book, go to our website, www.heatfitness.co.uk and click on timetable, thursday, 23rd of August – sign up.