To Celebrate International yoga day 2018, we asked our Yoga and Cycling ambassador Polly Clark what the benefits of yoga are and why, whatever stage of life you’re at, yoga will benefit you.
For me practising yoga isn’t about the pursuit of physical perfection. Yes, it does keep my body toned and flexible, but my reasons for practising are really about something a little deeper. For me, yoga is about feeling connected, physically, mentally and emotionally.
“The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”
T K V Desikachar
Yoga increases strength, flexibility and balance as well as helping to improve posture.
Most yoga classes will focus on a combination of poses that focus on both strength and flexibility. Increasing core strength is important for helping to protect our spine and improve balance. We need flexibility to maintain the range of motion in our joints, for injury prevention and improved circulation.
Maintaining freedom in the upper body, chest and ribcage helps to increase lung capacity, this helps the cardiovascular system to function optimally.
Being strong and flexible makes you feel good in your body, enhances your sense of wellbeing and will aid any sports or adventures that you choose to do.
“Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are” – Jason Crandell
Yoga helps to focus the mind, increase concentration and aid mental resilience.
Yoga can be a challenging practice both mentally and physically (hatha literally means “effort”). Staying focused on your breath whilst in a demanding yoga pose tends to draw your attention away from day to day worries. Don’t get me wrong, your mind will constantly bombard you with random thoughts and feelings. The skill in yoga isn’t being able to wrap your legs behind your head. It’s about keeping yourself focused on the body, mind and breath.
Yoga is a non-competitive practice. Don’t compare yourselves to others. Focus on how the pose feels. Notice any negative internal dialogue and turn it around. Become your own coach instead of your own critic. The more often you can tap into that space the more it will become a natural way of being.
Use your breath as an anchor to concentrate on. Creating discipline on the mat will transfer into your daily life.
“When the breath wanders, the mind is unsteady, but when the breath is still, so is the mind still.” Hatha Yoga Pradipika
At certain times during the year, my practice gets disrupted. I soon feel it. I can’t really explain it, I just don’t feel myself. As soon as I step back onto my mat, move my body and breath deeply, I feel normal again.
Yoga can be a grounding, life-affirming practice. It can give us the means to deal with anxiety and depression by helping to lower the blood pressure and heart rate as well as teaching us how to steady the breath.
When we are stressed, suffering from anxiety or upset our breath tends to become unsettled. During a yoga practice we aim to steady the breath, this can help to bring a sense of calm. Multiple studies show that yoga can decrease the secretion of cortisol, the main stress hormone. This could help to reduce anxiety and depression over time.
There’s something elemental about being in your own space and simply moving your body. It’s a feeling of quietness. In that space, we can connect with ourselves and the simple joy of being alive.
Take some time each day to just feel the experience of being in your body. It doesn’t need to be a 90-minute yoga practice. Give yourself a small aim, five minutes on your mat is better than no minutes. You won’t regret it, I promise!
If you are new to yoga my advice is to find a class local to you. There should be plenty to choose from depending on where you live. You might need to go to a few to find the right teacher. The one thing people always worry about when going to a class for the first time is that everyone will be watching you. Believe me when I say that no one will be looking at you. Most people are too focussed on what they are doing themselves to worry about what you are doing. Plus everyone will have been where you are at some point in their lives. My main advice is – Don’t worry, just give it a go, everybody has to start somewhere and it’s never too late to start!
Read more about Polly’s love of Yoga with her Yoga for cyclists demo or visit her yoga mountain bike holiday website www.mountainyogabreaks.co.uk