I first discovered yoga back in 2014 whilst working at a summer camp in America. A young, hippie-looking man called Michael was invited to lead some classes for the children and staff. He seemed to have a certain something about him, a glowing kindness and a zen-like calm with everyone he spoke with…I immediately thought something was wrong with him.
I look back now and think, what was wrong with me? This lovely, genuine guy, who seemed so at peace with himself and the world; he would never be texting on his phone or looking over your shoulder when you spoke with him, he was right there, in the present moment with you. Meanwhile my mind was trying to figure out what was not quite right about him. In the end I put it down to ‘he must have had an easy life and he’s stocked up on one too many herbal produce’.
I sat on the sidelines for a few classes, telling myself that yoga is nothing more than glorified stretching and that I didn’t want to be converted into some hippie, yoga cult. However, as the ‘Fitness Director’ at the camp I was left with little choice than to get involved with this alleged form of ‘exercise’, so I reluctantly threw myself in the deep end. It’s safe to say I’ve been swimming in that same ocean ever since and, I don’t want rescuing anytime soon. The path (to date) has been life changing and I wish to share these thoughts with you. Also, Michael, I apologise as I do not think those things about you anymore, in fact, I aspire to find such levels of peace that you have cultivated. So yeah, without further ado, here are the 5 most important ways yoga has changed my life:
5 – You will meet some amazing, kind people and potential friends for life
It would be unfair and unrealistic to assume that every single person I have come into contact with who has a passion for yoga are all awesome, kind, caring, amazing people. However, in my experience, the truth is not all that far off. For the individuals who truly immerse themselves into the yoga experience (and not just the physical side) you will feel a certain change in your character. There are people out there who still consider yoga simply as a form of exercise/fitness and that is fine. In all honesty I initially got into yoga for that reason alone. However, the ingredient which immersed me into yoga was the growing need to feed my curiosity. Yoga (if you allow it) will draw you in to something larger than just an exercise routine. Your outlook on life shifts, you become more understanding, caring and compassionate towards people.
But before I continue, let me just put something to rest because you may be completely new to yoga and you’re thinking ‘I consider myself a pretty decent person’. I believe that yoga is one form of outlet which allows people to develop themselves and become an even better version of themselves. To bring a certain mindfulness to both yourself and the world and to promote a genuine curiosity and kindness towards people.
I’ve lost count of how many random acts of kindness fellow yogi’s have shown me in class but I’ll tell you about the most profound. When I first attended an Ashtanga Yoga class I was pretty skeptical and nervous as I had many misconceptions of yoga before this. I thought it was going to be clicky and unfriendly when I walked in (like when you walk into an unfamiliar local pub and it goes quiet when you walk in). In fact, it was quite the opposite, I was welcomed with open arms (quite literally). People asked me questions about my life, about my family and they seemed to be genuinely interested. A couple of month in I was absolutely in love with the classes and the people. I was attending frequently and making some really good friends. The problem was I was still at University and I was almost completely broke, I was struggling to even put fuel in my car, let alone keep it on the road. In the end I had to sell my car so that I could afford my other monthly bills. Seen as though the yoga classes were such a distance away that the end of that as well.
I received a call from my yoga teacher a few weeks later to ask where I had been and I explained my situation and said that hopefully I will come back when I am in a better situation. I continued to practice at home but I missed the sense of community, the direction of the classes and most of all, I missed the people. A few days past and I received another call from my teacher. She had contacted her friend who goes to the classes and arranged for her to bring me along with her. She only lived up the road and insisted that it wouldn’t be a problem. In fact, she was adamant that I take her up on this offer so that I could get back into my practice. Simple acts of kindness like this are what keep me attending week after week. Her motives were pure, she genuinely wanted me back at the class, not for financial benefit (in fact she even said I could pay for the classes when I was back into work if I needed to). She wanted me back at the class because she saw how much I enjoyed it and how much I missed not being there.
I’ve tried classes all across the area and I’ve found the same thing everywhere. Give it a try yourself, get out there and meet some awesome, interesting, uplifting (and usually a little quirky) yoga-folk. They say that we are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?
4 – You’ll become more aware of your diet, lose weight and become healthier without trying to force it.
I was diagnosed with diabetes back in 2009. It is a rare form of diabetes (a Type Ib) and can be best explained as a progressive Type I diabetes but my pancreas is still hanging in there doing it’s best to keep producing that insulin. As such, I can control it with medication and I need to be careful on what I eat and drink. I struggled for many years to do this and I would regularly ‘rebel’ against my condition by consuming lots of alcohol, binge eating, regularly ordering takeaways and generally not looking after myself.
Now, whilst some dedicated yogi’s follow a strictly vegan diet, I am not here as an advocate of veganism or vegetarianism. Nor that I would be in the best authority on it because (at least for now), I do not follow a vegan diet, I don’t even follow a vegetarian one. I’m not saying that I will never be open to the idea, but I want it to be a natural transition just as I have allowed other areas of yoga to transform over time. However, there are plenty of benefits to vegetarianism and veganism (both physically and morally). If you do some searching around you can find a ton of resources on these areas, this one seems to be the most comprehensive: https://www.vrg.org/nutshell/vegan.htm
But I think where yoga has helped me to take steps to becoming healthier is a combination of an increased awareness of my actions, more control over cravings and a shift in how I treat my body and to care and respect for it. In essence I have cut out many of the harmful, processed foods and changed my diet to a more natural one. Sure, we are all human and every now and then I grab a naughty chocolate bar but the truth is, when you start to let go, stop forcing such diets and removing the guilt, you stop craving these foods as much. In fact, you learn to appreciate them for what they are and enjoy that cheeky chocolate bar rather than sub-consciously indulging for short-term comfort.
3 – You’ll learn to become more accepting, gain perspective and ultimately become less stressful in situations
When the magic of yoga begins to take it’s natural course, it starts to spill out into the rest of your life and gives you a real sense of perspective. I used to get stressed out a lot at work and worry about the outcome of the situation. Now if a potentially stressful situation arises (90% of the time), I can take a step back from the situation. In fact, if I’m having a really good day I can take a step out of the situation. In doing so it allows a greater sense of perspective to act in the best way possible. In a fast paced world people are becoming hard-wired in believing that we need to be reactive to a situation and many of us are forgetting how to be rational and responsive. It is a sad misconception that being stressed and uptight has to come hand in hand with the conception of a ‘hard worker’. In actual fact, research suggests that a clear, calmer mind makes for better decision making and greater productivity. It’s not always easy but try and go against what is accepted, slow down, and get more, quality work done. Forcing some time in your schedule (even if it’s just 10 minutes a day) to slow down and be present with your practice and it will start to change your fast pace into a positive flow.
Over time this will begin to overlap in to other areas of your life. Maybe you have just had an argument with your partner, your boss has just had a go at you, maybe a crazed motorist has cut you up on the road. Combining techniques through yoga (which will start to come naturally) such as taking a few deep breaths and slowing down, you can re-gain perspective and take back control over your emotions. We have all reacted negatively to a situation and regretted it only hours later. None of us are perfect but wouldn’t it be beneficial if we could walk away from a situation and reflect positively on our actions the majority of the time?
2 – You become much more aware and curious about everything.
It would be cliche to say that I hear the birds sing on my morning commute when I didn’t used before but this, among many other things is so true. Practicing yoga and being open and aware will help to develop your mindfulness skills. Have a look at my 8 favourite mindfulness tools that I use (including apps). It’s hard to appreciate this until you start to feel it for yourself. I could go through a whole day at work at a million mph, flying from one task to the next and then get home, collapse of the couch and at a push I could recite about 10% of my day. Wouldn’t it make much more sense to become more mindful so that we can not only remember more, but become more present, more aware of what we are doing on a day-to-day basis? In essence we all have an opportunity to create a longer, memorable and more fulfilling life.
As you become more aware of the small details when your on the mat, the micro-adjustments and focusing on your breathing, it will start spilling out into other parts of your life and you become curious about just about everything. I’ve certainly become much more open to trying new things because of yoga, anything from juggling, parkour, to writing a blog.
Yoga itself is an endless, ever-learning path, and as such you will never reach ‘mastery’. This concept will help you become curious about the journey and eventually worry less about the destination.
1 – You’ll feel stronger and fitter than you ever have (regardless of your age)
I qualified as a personal trainer back in 2011 and I thought I knew it all. I taught bootcamp, Boxercise, Spinning and ab-blast classes and in my opinion this is all you ever needed. Yoga was for girls, hippies and those born with unusually flexible limbs and that was the end of it.
I took this mindset into my mid-twenties and even when I started to practice yoga I had the goal to ‘improve my flexibility’. Two years into my practice I can now confidently say that whilst I supplement my practice with some cardio routines (swimming etc), my muscular strength, endurance and core are well and truly taken care of (and then some). That’s not to mention the insane mental and emotional benefits that I have gained.
I eventually convinced my friend to practice yoga with me when he was on leave from the Royal Marines. By the end of it he was pleasantly surprised at how demanding of a workout it can be and he struggled to do Vinyassas? This guy below does them absolutely beautifully. Typical, a full, Ashtanga Primary Series routine will involve at least 30 of these bad boys and that doesn’t include all the other sweat-inducing poses that go along with it.
#Bonus – I can do a headstand like a boss!
I’ve worked hard at my practice and I am proud that I can now do an awesome headstand. However, the key to staying on the right path is to continue with an open and curious mind and know that the path is long, you will never ‘get there’ so enjoy every moment of it. This is what makes yoga an equally daunting, exciting and uttely humbling form of practice.
May your journey be as exciting, challenging, diverse and eye-opening as mine has been so far 🙂