If you had been following my posts and Facebook, you certainly noticed my love for yoga. My story with yoga is preceded by years in which I fought it back. Some people are seeking for balance in yoga, others look just to stretch their body. For many years, I said yoga is absolutely not for me-even when I have never tried it. I thought to myself that I will not sit in stillness and meditation, because I like to sweat in fitness classes with music. Now I smile thinking about it. Firstly, because those who practice yoga knows, it is physically very demanding and it has nothing to do with meditation in stillness (unless you choose to meditate in stillness). Secondly, I assessed radically something I totally did not know and did not tried (first lesson learnt – before you judge something, try it first). Now, looking at it in retrospect, those were the years, when I have been running away from myself. I also think that these were the years when frankly looking at it- I did not even truly liked myself, even though I was not aware of it. On the outside everything looked great. But I kept running and running away from myself. Rebuilding of my self-esteem deserves a separate post so I will write about it in the future and share with you my experiences.
In my case, I became interested in yoga at a time, when I was already aware that emotional balance and mental health are important to me as much as physical health. Now I know, that this cannot be separated. I’ve always eaten healthily and sport was present in my life: I danced for many years, and then continued the various forms of physical activities. But I wanted to find something complementary to the sport. I wanted to stretch and strengthen the body. But I wanted also to stop for a moment, seek for balance, listen to myself and understand better, what is happening to my body. I wanted to learn to read all the symptoms and signs that my body gives me. I wanted to learn to take care of the body naturally and react for pain in a natural way ( before I reach to take a pain killer I wanted to understand where the pain comes from). Ever since I started to look at the body as a magical organism that helps us go through life, I started to take care of myself with a greater care.
I loved yoga from my very first Vinyasa Flow yoga class (this type of yoga is the first one I tried and is still my favourite and the one I practiced most frequently). “Vinyasa” means a movement that is synchronized with the breath. It is a kind of yoga combining asanas (yoga postures) with enormous power of breath and flowing transitions between postures. Every movement has to change to the next posture (asana) combined with inhalation and exhalation. The movements are flowing, almost as in dance. I guess that’s the reason I fell in love with this type of yoga, because I could feel the contact with the body, like one I had dancing. I will start to describe the different types of yoga as there are many and everyone can find something. Today however, I will not write neither about the history of yoga neither of different types of it . I’m not able to cover everything at once.
Today I want to share with you benefits ( health but not only) which I experienced while practicing yoga:
- Spine / back: I think my “office” back is saved by yoga. Since I practice yoga, there are fewer and fewer pains in my back caused by sitting at a desk. Let’s face it, sitting in front of the computer the entire day does not foreseen a healthy spine. Well balanced asanas, including bending, arches and twists help to keep the spine in good condition.
- Flexibility: This is perhaps the most visible effect. And I’m talking about total flexibility for both muscular and skeletal system. You have to know that flexibility is not just showing off a split. Yoga stretches muscles, which I had no idea they exist. Secondly, tight muscles can cause pain. Before I started to practice yoga I did not know that there is such a thing as “hip opening” and that tight hips can be the cause of pain in knees and cause of using the spine in a wrong way. A “sitting” lifestyle causes the tight hips. Opening your hips through yoga will give you amazing results. All different types of pain begin to disappear. You have to understand that our body is a holistic system where everything is linked. You stretch and “open” your hips and suddenly it turns out that several pains disappear.
- Breathing: Yoga taught me how to breathe. It suddenly turned out that I’ve never deeply breath using my diaphragm. Most of us are breathing wrongly, without bigger attention. We do not deliver enough oxygen to our internal organs. Each movement in yoga is associated with the breath, so we learn how to breathe deeply. In practice it has effect on the blood circulation, oxygenation of organs, increased energy and vigor.
- Focus/mindfulness: yoga postures can be quite demanding physically, even when they look easy. An hour of practice requires focus. Focus on your breathing, on achieving balance. As simply as that (from my experience) if I do not focus, either I’m going to fall or will not be able to make certain postures. After some time I started to bring the focus from the mat to my everyday life. I’m learning to be here and now.
- Balanced body: Why balance is important? Because our whole system of functional movements, like walking, dancing or running requires a well-functioning system of balance. Practicing yoga improves posture and makes our body more balanced. At the beginning, I waved even in simple asanas. After some time, the balance of my body increased. Having balanced body means wellness for yourself: you feel well and your posture is correct.
- Strong body: Yoga strengthens the body – many asanas are focused on lifting your own weight (lifting the entire weight of the body on the forearms , head stands, arm stands- class after class I see how my body gets stronger.
- Coping with stress: When I am on the mat, I know I have to leave behind everything that happened that day. I focus on asanas, on breathing. Yoga is physically demanding, and when I add the conscious breath, I cannot think about what happened earlier that day. It is a time that allows me to relax. After practice I can look at the things that bothered me, from a distance
- A sense of value and self-esteem: like it or not yoga entails a certain philosophy. No, yoga is not a religion. And no one is forcing anyone to explore the philosophy of yoga. You can practice yoga only because of its positive impact on our body. But a good teacher often communicate these core values which stand behind yoga: each of us is part of this world and for everyone there is place on earth, we are worthwhile no matter how we look like and what past we have behind. Yoga teaches compassion for ourselves, empathy and gratitude. Teaching us not to compete with others. After some time, it all affects the self-esteem.
- Awareness of body: yoga practice improves body awareness. I am able to better read the signs, which my body gives me. I see when I have to slow down, when I’m tired and stressed, because I know that if I do not, my immunology will go down and and I will get sick. In my case my sinuses are my Achilles’ heel- the weak point in my body. If I am getting sinusitis, I know there may be other things that are wrong, which my body does not like. This is all a matter of learning to read your own body. I know that if I have a headache, before I reach for a pain killer, I should ask myself: did I drink too much coffee, maybe I did not have enough of sleep for some days or forgot to hydrate myself? I used to never pay attention to that. Yoga taught me to listen to my body.
- Yoga and other sports: Yoga greatly complements other forms of activity like running -my muscles are strengthened and stretched. I have a lot more balance, which is useful for example in water sports like in SUP (stand up paddle) . The practice of yoga can prevent injuries.
This are just a few benefits I wanted to write about today. Yoga is such a broad topic that will never be covered in one post. I will comeback to it more often, bringing you more aspects of the practice and my lessons from it. Stay tuned.