Monday, 28 October 2013

Keep calm and practice yoga

It's been a few weeks since my last entry, so apologies to anyone who has been waiting.  

For several reasons it’s been a trying period recently, and it hasn't been a large leap for me to feel overwhelmed with things.  One of the reasons I wanted to try out yoga, apart from helping me get fitter, was to try and give myself some “me” time and relax more.   Admittedly my personality sometimes doesn't help me on that score.  I'm sometimes tightly-wound, and can too often dwell on negativity without seeing the positive.  With my mind constantly racing, finding that inner space is always welcome.

There’s no doubt that yoga is helping me find it, and here’s some of the main reasons why I’m finding the practice such a positive experience in terms of helping my relaxation:
  1. Focus – the asanas you practice take concentration.  Admittedly some much more than others, but with your mind learning to focus fully on each asana and trying to keep breathing and muscles all where they should be, there’s not much room for anything else to creep in to your noggin to bother you.
  2. Stretching – obviously yoga means a lot of this, and I’ve found that a session where I went along feeling wabbit at the start would see me leave feeling energised.  Some sessions even feel like you bounce out afterwards, as you're stretching muscles that are rarely used.  It’s an amazing feeling when it’s new to you, and hopefully I don’t lose it.
  3. Breathing – I've discussed breathing before, but since it’s so integral to practice, you can’t help but benefit from it in terms of helping you relax.  The steady, controlled breathing you learn gives you energy, but it also by default relaxes you.
  4. Savasana – this is the corpse pose that you adopt at the end of your session.  You lie there, clear your mind and just relax, feeling the positive effects of the asanas you've just undertaken.  To begin with it feels unusual, just being still and clearing your mind.  It almost feels the antithesis of keeping fit, but it’s actually a vitally important part of the process, allowing your mind and body to come back slowly to the real world after your practice.  I look forward to this part every time, and not only because I'm a lazy sod!
  5. The people – I've only been taught by two teachers so far, but both have been lovely, warm people who are positive to be around.   You can’t help benefit from being around a person who is relaxed in themselves and who understands the benefits of yoga practice.  As well as learning how to practice yoga, you also take something of that person’s approach to life.   If you’re around negativity all the time, and like me are often guilty of it yourself, being around people who take the opposite view on life is liberating in itself.

All of these benefits are real to me, and even only a couple of months in I feel a better person for my limited exposure to yoga practice.  I'm still a curmudgeon, but little by little that part of me is lessening. 

I sense the more I can engage with yoga the more positively I will be able to live my life.  

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Every breath you take…..

So far it seems to me that far and away the most important part of learning how to practise yoga properly is breathing.  I’ve found this to be a real challenge, if I’m honest, but like everything patience is the key.

In learning the skill, I’ve been acutely aware that one of my main problems re fitness generally has been my inability to breathe properly to maintain a decent level of focus.  Having recently seen my VO2 max reading improve quite a bit in a three month period, exercise is becoming easier.  But I was completely clueless really about the importance of breathing.  Yoga is helping me massively here, and is also having a big impact on my swimming practise too.

The ujjayi breath is something I practice a lot, and in my sessions with Judi at Merchant City Yoga we’ve been spending perhaps the first 15 minutes each week working on that and trying to extend and properly target my breathing.  This has been immensely useful, as the more it becomes natural, the less I am consciously thinking about it when actually trying asanas. 

This week I was able to feel exactly how much extending the breathing helps, being able to extend stretches much further as I learn to move with breaths.  The ability to move just the odd extra centimetre here or there to extend a stretch gives you confidence and really makes you feel the muscles that have never been exercised before are getting attention.  I just need to get that flow working properly and it’ll be onwards and upwards.   

Or perhaps downwards and upwards.  Dog, obviously.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Starting out with yoga...

For the past two years I've been trying to become healthier and lose weight.  The first stage has been to focus on diet, as exercise wasn't easy given how badly I'd let myself go.  For the past few months though, as my weight has got to a respectable level, I've been keen to try out new ways of keeping active.  The more weight I lose, the easier this has become, and I've managed to introduce new ways to exercise I wouldn't have dreamed of even last year.

One of these ways is yoga.  The thought of trying it when carrying too much weight was a nightmare.  How on earth would I be able to lift my hefty frame?  Yoga isn't for blokes like me, I thought.  Everyone I've ever met who practices yoga even remotely seriously is super-thin and toned.  I'd never met anyone of my (current) bulk who ever mentioned yoga.

Yoga really wasn't for me, was it?  A middle-aged unfit bloke?

The first thing that made me think it might be was finding the book Yoga for Regular Guys.  This is a book by the pro-wrestler, Diamond Dallas Page which is now so rare in physical format that it will set you back upwards of £200.  It's an amusing book that discusses his passion for making more regular guys take up yoga.  It did the job of demystifying much of the spiritual side of yoga that might also put others like me off (I'm a rabid atheist).

What I really needed though was a place to be a taught how to practice yoga properly.   In late August 2013 I took the plunge and sought out the right place for me to take my first yoga steps.  I wanted somewhere near my workplace (Glasgow city centre) and that seemed accessible.  I found Merchant City Yoga via Google, and made contact.  Judi, the owner, was so warm and friendly that it took away much of the fear I had of going along, and when I visited for my first class, I felt right away that yoga could fit in with my life.   Since my first couple of group classes I've been focusing on one-on-one classes to really concentrate on my technique.  I learn better this way, having successfully used this method for learning to swim this year.

I'll be using this blog, then, to track my experiences with yoga and hopefully show how it's helping me in my goal of getting healthier, and becoming a calmer person.  I'll reflect on new asanas learned, and how specific asanas have made me feel.  Hopefully what we'll see is a new me developing.

I hope anyone reading enjoys my ramble along this exciting new path for me.

In the next post I'll reflect on my first month of practice, what I've learned so far, and what I feel it's done for me to date.