I began practicing yoga about three (four?) years ago, and it has been a regular part of my life since that first encounter. Simply put, it has changed everything about my life. I am more flexible, more toned, more able to find a place of calm in my mind, and I breathe better when under stress. I also have made peace with my body, with the cellulite that remains, with the effects of aging and pregnancy and childbirth.
I like myself better when I regularly practice yoga.
Maybe this post title should be changed to "How to get in shape, be happier, conquer stress and mild anxiety/depression, and learn to love yourself. For real, right? But the thing is, I'm not exaggerating when I say those things.
Oh, sure. Yoga isn't for everyone. My mother gave it the old college try after listening to me extol the virtues of yoga, and she loathed it. I could nag her more, irritate her until she gives it another chance, but I have known her for a long time. Yoga really isn't for her. She doesn't want to move that slowly, and so she does heavy yard work instead, and takes long, fast walks to relieve stress and to get physical activity.
But I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that a large percentage of the population would love yoga if they gave it a chance. I took a series of yoga classes through our county recreation department this fall, and the wide variety of participants was jaw-droppingly fabulous. There were grandmothers, women of all races, and even a man in his late forties. And that was just at a tiny town, rural recreation department.
Oh, I know that the pictures you see in magazines make it look like yoga classes are filled with perfectly toned, incredibly gorgeous women in their twenties. Don't be intimidated by the way magazines portray life. They twist reality by photoshopping already lovely women. They are out to sell advertising. They don't care how they make you feel about yourself.
Yoga isn't like that. Yoga teachers, at least the ones I have come into contact with (in person, in class, in print, and online), are loving in their approach, gentle in their instruction, and authentic in spirit. Some of them have perfect bodies, most do not. But they all have the most beautiful smiles you have ever seen. The focus on breath, on flowing movement, on control over your body, on getting to know yourself and your physical limits, all conspire to develop a self-acceptance that we could all benefit from.
If you have the time and the money to attend yoga classes, I highly recommend it, if only for a short time. The teacher will help you get into poses with the proper form, they will suggest variations where appropriate, and they will bring you into a state of ethereal relaxation at the end that will blow your mind.
But here, in the real world, it isn't always practical to attend classes. You can practice yoga in the comfort of your own home, with little to no expense. When I started my practice, I did so at home, using videos for beginners that I obtained from the library, online from Yoga Journal, and on cable from the fitness channel. I already had yoga pants and tank tops, because those are my usual lounging clothes, and I had an old exercise mat that wasn't even the recommended sticky kind.
You do not have to spend any money. Try it first, see if you like yoga (you will), and then decide if you want to sign up for classes, if you want to purchase videos, and if you need any props.
- I purchased all my videos from Goodwill and yard sales.
- My sticky mat came from a yard sale, as did my favorite pair of yoga pants.
- There are 13 episodes of Namaste Yoga saved on my DVR from when it used to air on FitTV. Namaste Yoga, by the way, is excellent for beginniners. It is very gentle, thoroughly non-intimidating, and the instruction is sound.
All told, I might have $14 invested in my yoga practice. I spend about 30 minutes per day doing yoga, attempting to practice six times per week, not because I am militant about how often I think I should do it, but because I miss it so much on the days I slack off. My kids often participate for a couple minutes, and this morning, even The Carnivore joined in. Family yoga is hilarious.
There are a myriad of poses that I cannot get into, many that I am not even close to being ready to attempt. This isn't the sort of thing I beat myself up about. Yoga is referred to as a 'practice' for a reason. But I get stronger, and more flexible, all the time. There are poses that kicked my butt a few months ago, but that now I am able to ease into, and hold, for longer than I would have thought possible. The key is not to push yourself too hard, to not do anything you feel uncomfortable with.
When I feel anxious or stressed out about virtually anything, I practice yoga. When I feel sad, I practice yoga. When I am irritable and I feel sure that the sky is falling, I practice yoga. When I feel achy, or premenstrual, or just plain knotted up, I practice yoga. When I find myself whining or complaining, I practice yoga.
And in every single case, by the time I roll up my mat, I feel calmer, happier, and physically, mentally, and psychologically restored. It's a beautiful thing.