I'd been happily ignoring the hype around yoga for a long time, but lockdown gave me the push I needed to finally try it for myself
For years now, yoga (along with drinking more water and going to bed earlier) has been on my list of things that would probably make me feel better but I was unlikely to ever commit to, and I was pretty content with that.
I didn't have the time, and I did plenty of other exercise. I didn't have the funds to shell out for expensive classes every week. I've always been inflexible so I'd probably be terrible at it. (Spoiler: I am, but it's all the more reason why I should be doing it).
I really didn't intend for lockdown to become my journey into yoga, I'm just trying to get through, not aiming for major self-improvement. But as it turns out, it has been one of the things that's helped me get through the most.
I'm using an app that was recommended to me by my sister, which you usually have to pay for, but has been made available for free until May because of the pandemic. It's really great, and allows you to tailor your sessions, from the type of yoga you do, to how long, to any specific areas you want to work on.
I think this has been part of the reason I stuck to it, and have been using it every day — as a total beginner I was able to ease myself in gradually. Of course, there are plenty of other great apps, YouTube videos, and yoga teachers giving online classes at the moment. Here are just some of the things I've learned on my unintentional yoga journey.
It gives you small moments of achievement
From years of running and mere minutes of stretching, my muscles were incredibly tight when I first started. Unsurprisingly, this made me very bad at yoga. Initially I really struggled to do anything even resembling the poses the nice woman on my phone (the app informs me she's called Sammi) made look so easy, and I wondered was there any point in me even continuing.
Although it took me over two weeks, the first day that I was able to get my feet flat on the ground in downward dog felt amazing, and it has been my proudest achievement during lockdown. I may not be learning a new language or re-reading classic literature, but I'm improving at yoga, and it's easy to notice when you can do a pose that you initially struggled with.
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This will be a slow road, and there's something nice about that
As proven by how long it took me to do a basic downward dog, I've realised that I won't be doing any fancy, Instagram-worthy standing on my head for a very long time (if ever). There are five levels of difficulty on my app, and true to my competitive nature, I initially imagined that I'd be able to move past the 'Beginner' stage in a few weeks.
A month in, and I don't think I'll be moving on any time soon. There are plenty of poses I still find very difficult, and I enjoy the careful way the app takes me through each pose at this level. I tried the next level for just five minutes recently and felt very out of my depth, with many unfamiliar poses and little time to move between them. Accepting that this will be a slow process takes any pressure off, and allows me to take pride in small achievements, something I'm not usually good at.
The breathing is shockingly hard
While I knew yoga involved working on your breathing, it's not an aspect I thought I would find challenging. However, as Sammi tells me to inhale, I find myself having to cheat and take a sneaky extra breath before she tells me to exhale again.
Although I'm definitely getting better, I just can't make my breath slow and deep enough to match hers, especially during a pose I find difficult. Yet another area where I have plenty of room for improvement.
I have discovered muscles that I've never felt before
I mean this statement quite literally. Like, I'm sure if I'd ever thought about it I'd have realised there were muscles running down the side of your torso, but not once had I ever been aware of them. Yoga has changed that, allowing me to feel a satisfying stretch down my whole side when I bend.
Hip flexors, too, were another fabled muscle that various people had told me was probably tight because I had a certain running injury, but I'd never really found a stretch that helped me feel them. Let me tell you, spending a minute in lizard pose will make you well aware of where your hip flexors are.
Stretching is addictive
Before my yoga days, I was not one of those people who felt the need to stretch when I got out of a chair, or any other time for that matter. But now that my muscles have been awakened, I find myself stretching all day because I love how it feels.
I find myself absent-mindedly watching TV with my legs straight out in front of me, working through a range of stretches, or frequently reaching my arms up to stretch my back as I sit. As a person who did not stretch, ever, this is a very uncharacteristic turn of events for me.
I can really feel the benefits, body and mind
So surprise surprise, the yoga hype was not unfounded. Not only do I feel more flexible and stronger, but I look forward to yoga every day as a time to focus only on not falling out of tree pose: not work, not the pandemic, not anything else. I probably don't have to tell you that this is a welcome relief.
Dogs love yoga
As something that forces you to be either on or in close proximity to the floor for much of the time, dogs see yoga as an excellent opportunity to lick your face, one of their great aims in life. I've learned I have to close my bedroom door tight when I do yoga unless I want this to happen.
Featured image: @hayleyroseyoga
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