A Yogi (Laid) Bare…

IMG_0712After feeling somewhat woebegone throughout the earlier weeks of January, I decided that something needed to be done. Too much gluttony and a disregard for anything green (other than the green triangle in a box of Quality Street) had lead me to feel sluggish and craving a refresher for my body. Throughout my life, I’ve struggled with my weight and anyone frequenting my Instagram will find that I’m actively promoting body positivity, leading by example with my own newly discovered acceptance of my curves. But that’s not to say that a little health kick would be totally unwelcome. A lack of available funds after the Christmas splurge left me unable to pay for a gym membership (and, if I’m honest, I lacked the motivation to stick to it), so I began searching for something that I could do at home.

Yoga is something that I’d always had an interest in. Weight and stress management have always been important to me and with yoga ‘focus[ing] on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental wellbeing’ I thought that I’d found something to suit my needs. But like many, I was living under the false impression that yoga was reserved for the healthy and ‘green’ elite, and therefore, was a bit scared of it. I imagined slim young things with washboard stomachs hoicking themselves up into gravity defying pretzel shapes, or long haired peacekeepers, meditating in tie-dye. But, like many, I was wrong. After a little nose around on various social networking sites, I discovered a whole plethora of plus size yogis, all supporting the message that yoga is for everyone and I endeavoured to follow suit.IMG_0713First and foremost, anyone who says yoga is easy is wrong. Yoga is hard, bloody hard, but so worth it. If you’re not hot and sweaty after your practice then you’re not doing it right! Fully expect to plant your face into your yoga mat, or flop onto your back as you attempt a tricky pose; expect to become hot and sweaty as you tangle your body into various positions; expect to ache the next day; but most of all, expect the sense of peace you find within yourself. For someone who normally falls at the first hurdle, chucking in the towel where exercise is concerned if I do something wrong, it’s important for me to not feel pressured by my instructor or tutor, especially when beginning my yogic journey. I follow a YouTube channel for my yoga practice, mainly because I was too nervous to go to a class but also because I found the woman in the videos to be suitable for my needs. Not only does she have a great number of videos to aid the practice – from yoga for abs and arms to healing and meditation – but she pushes and pulls you in equal measure, encouraging you to push yourself, but acknowledging that you might not be able to. It’s far flung from the garishly presented celebrity exercise videos that many follow, but it seems to work for me.

So yoga is hard, that’s a given, but it’s also so very satisfying and for anyone who thinks that yoga is a load of ‘hippie mumbo-jumbo’ then I’d suggest that you give it a try. We’re all so frantic in our day to day lives and many of us consider sitting in front of the telly to be a relaxing pastime, or that delving into a novel is at the core of mental rehabilitation. We rarely allow ourselves the luxury of switching off completely, such are the demands of life. I’ve found that my yoga practice over the past few months (although I’m still somewhat of a novice) has given my mind and body a level of healing and revivification that I don’t believe I’d get if I went to the gym and pumped some iron or got stuck in to a console game. You should never underestimate the limits of your body, I recall viewing the aforementioned slim young things with unease and it made me question my own abilities, but since undertaking yoga and making it a regular part of my lifestyle (2-3 times a week), I’m stunned by what my body can do – I’ve lost weight, I’m more toned, I’m stronger, I’m more flexible, all of which can be attributed to my yoga practice. Similarly, you should never underestimate the healing that yoga can offer your mind – just by switching off and honing in on my mind, focusing on my abilities and pushing my body, I’ve found a kind of still peacefulness that I’ve not had before. In the past my stress relief has come in a less than desirable format, but now, if I’m stressed, I find that yoga satisfies my need for relief.

My aim isn’t to promote yoga to you, but to try and show that you shouldn’t be afraid of it and to debunk some of the myths and stereotypes surrounding yoga that made me think that it wasn’t the exercise for me. But I gave it a shot and I haven’t looked back – unless I’m trying to grab my left ankle in another optimistic pose – so why not give it a try?

Notes from a Novice

· You don’t have to have a yoga mat to do yoga. My practice takes place in my living room, on a rug and (aside from the odd slip) I’ve had no issues.
· I tend to wear baggy harlem pants and a vest top for my practice, but many wear yoga pants, shorts, underwear, anything that you feel comfortable in and that has some ‘give’ really.
· When you come to your mat, always be sure to lightly stretch your neck and do a full body stretch. You always need to be aware of how your body is feeling, if, for example, your legs feel sore or tender, then be careful not to overwork that particular part of your body.
· Connect – when you come to the mat don’t make a half-arsed attempt to move into positions, connect with your body and the way that it’s moving.
· I always alternate my practices. Luckily, the YouTube videos I follow are all named and are all around 20-30 minutes long each, so if I do a weight-loss video, I’ll follow it up with a healing and meditation one. This works for me as I feel I’m working on both my mind and body at the same time, but it might not work for others.
· For those of you who are a little curvier – don’t be threatened and don’t push yourself too much. I’ve found that there are some poses I can’t quite move into in the way that the instructor on the video can – but that’s ok. In the 3 months that I’ve been doing yoga, I’ve noticed changes within my mind and body, my legs might move further than they used to, my back might bend more than it used to, I might be able to hold a pose for longer – things like that. Don’t let your size hold you back, if you persevere in your practice you’ll soon find the stretch and you’ll soon find that the things that were holding you back before won’t be there anymore.