Happy International Yoga Day!
I still find it strange that International Yoga Day is something that even registers with me. Yoga was always one of those things I thought I should do. I would read about its benefits in magazine articles, see it mentioned in blogs I follow and regularly come across social media posts featuring incredibly flexible people twisting themselves into a pretzel. The more I was presented with the idea of yoga, the more I wanted to try it, but just never got around to doing anything about it.
But that’s not to say I had no experience of yoga at all. Years ago, back in what I now think of as “another life” as I tried to forge a path through early adulthood, I realised I should probably try getting some exercise, and alongside the odd “swim” (heads up breaststroke) or visit to the gym where I would faff around on various machines for a while, I also attended a few Dru yoga classes at the local college. The classes were led by a pleasantly plump, motherly woman who took us through a selection of gentle stretches before tucking us in under blankets for the most glorious relaxation. I enjoyed it, but as life moved on and things changed, it was something I let go. Yet somewhere in the back of my mind the idea of “properly” taking up yoga was firmly rooted, waiting to sprout when the time was right.
And that time was early 2016. Now leading a very different (and happier) life with lots of structured training and regular races, I was also coming across more and more about yoga and its various benefits. It finally dawned on me that it could make a difference to my training and perhaps help to “injury-proof” my body. I had tended to shy away from yoga as I thought I wasn’t flexible enough, but was realising at last that yoga would IMPROVE my flexibility – not going because I wasn’t flexible enough was like not starting to run because I couldn’t run far enough. A ridiculous notion! So I looked into my options, sent some emails and decided on an Ashtanga class at a local yoga studio.
I loved it from the very first class. It was a beginners’ session designed to introduce the basics before joining the main class. As it turned out, despite others being expected I was the only one there so had a one-to-one session to introduce me to ujjayi breathing and some of the key postures. With my grounding in running and fitness, the teacher felt I could join the main class the following week: a led session working through around half of the Ashtanga primary series. At first it was a little tricky as I was unfamiliar with the sequence of postures and didn’t know how each one should feel if done correctly, but soon it became almost like muscle memory and I found I could more easily move from one posture to the next without reminder. I also began to notice improvements in my flexibility as I was moving more deeply into some of the postures as time went on and progressing into full postures from some of the options.
Now, I’m a little more than a year into my yoga journey. My weekly Ashtanga class is a crucial part of my schedule as it makes such a massive difference to how I feel. I leave the class feeling stretched out, relaxed and centred. At crunch points in the year it helps me to forget about the stresses of work and unwind. During marathon training it helps to keep my body in check and the improved strength and flexibility I have gained DEFINITELY help me to run better and be more in tune with my body to (hopefully) notice any little niggle before it becomes a big problem.
I’ve also added more yoga into my life with a weekly Hatha class – a more gentle selection of postures and breathing exercises which allows me to take some time for myself and focus on how my body feels. This is more about the stretching and the mental wellbeing than the strength and flexibility I am building in Ashtanga, but the two are mutually beneficial. More recently, I committed to 100 days of completing at leat 10 minutes of yoga or mobility work as part of the Tough Girl 100 challenge. This is making me think more carefully about how I can make yoga part of my everyday life and I have been exploring various resources to help me with this.
Thinking about my journey as part of International Yoga Day, it’s clear that yoga has changed my training for good. I like how strong I have become from moving through postures and holding them for a number of breaths. I like how much more flexible my body is, something that really counteracts the demands of running. And I like how going to a class allows me some dedicated me-time and headspace to focus only on the present moment without dwelling on everyday stress or thinking about my to do list. For that alone, yoga has become invaluable in my life and as we approach the summer holidays I intend to spend much more time focusing on my yoga practice so that daily yoga becomes part of my routine.
Yoga really has changed my training for good, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Tell me about your yoga journey…