Nearly two years ago, I started practising yoga. I intended to write about how it has changed my parenting. On reflection, the benefits are steadily rippling throughout my life.
Stay with it.
Many people have little experience of relaxation techniques so the meditative aspect of yoga puts them off. Some have bodies so tight that they cannot imagine ever being able to touch their toes. Others find balance is their nemesis. At first, some yoga postures can seem bizarre and leave you feeling rather exposed, others are decidedly hard to maintain. Lots involve doing things with your body that you have never done before, at least not since your days in the playground. My yoga teacher says that when you want to come out of a posture, when you are beyond your comfort zone, that's when the pose truly begins. The same goes with marriage and parenting. It's a pleasure to parent happy, contented children. It's a joy to be part of a great union. But, when I am at my wits' end and most lines of communication with my family involve blame, shame or complete distain, this is indeed where they need me, where my role begins. Through my practice I am reminded: stay with it.
Concentrate on my own mat.
A yoga mat isn't much larger than the width of your body and the length of your widest stance. This is the only place your attention needs to be. I began with private sessions because I was convinced I would humiliate myself in front of fit, willowy yogis. Braving class, I clocked the bendy, balanced bodies surrounding me, envious of their poise and grace, certain that I wouldn't master much of it with my unbalanced, cumbersome body and skittish mind. As time went on and my practice deepened, external worries slipped away and now my focus is simply me, on my mat. I can see and feel where I can make corrections. I am centred. It is easy to compare ourselves to others; friends, family, colleagues, those in the public eye, in our real or virtual life. This can leave us feeling like comparative failures, under achievers, or worse - smug and self-righteous. What matters to me, what I can work on, is what is happening in my life. Comparisons serve no purpose. Through my practice I am reminded: concentrate on my own mat.
Our breath is powerful. Baron Baptiste, founder of Baptiste Power Yoga says 'the breath is the key to unlocking your body's potential'. It is an anchor, a way to leave the noise of the thoughts in your head aside, to come into the moment. As a hypnobirthing teacher I talk to women in my workshops about the benefits of good breathing but I've rarely given it a thought outside of the birthing room. Slow, deep breathing triggers a cascade of positive changes within the body, the opposite to the 'fight or flight' response our bodies are more familiar with as we cope with everyday stresses of life. My yoga teacher reminds me to breathe so loudly I drown out my thoughts, so all there is in that moment is my breath. It is always available as a tool to calm me, to energise me, to get me through. When I am seeking clarity, stillness or stability, through my practice, I am reminded: breathe.
In yoga, you are constantly making adjustments and become aware of how the tiniest of changes can make a big difference. My teacher often asks us to reflect. Does this feel good? Can you go deeper? Do you need to come out of a pose and return to it? If something doesn't work for you, then change it. She says the best yogis always modify. It will be different each time you practice. Don't give up, modify. This mindset has created an awareness and a certainty that I didn't have before. Across my life, I find myself stopping to think: Is this working for me? What can I learn from this? What changes can I make to improve this? Using positive language gets you further than constantly berating oneself with negative words. Vasisthasana - side plank pose - has many variations. A challenging one involves raising your foot to the sky so you look like a star with only one hand and foot on the earth. Sounds easy. Looks easy. Not. Easy. I concluded this pose just wasn't happening. But, using affirming words, my teacher nudges us a little further each time. 'Just an inch', she says. 'Try going a little higher than last time', she says. 'If you fall, you can try again', she says. Over time, my leg was indeed rising, each time a little higher than before. Progress. In life, if something isn't working for me, I reassess. The choices I make change my outlook and vice versa. As in yoga, it doesn't have to be a monumental change that makes the difference. Through my practice, I am reminded: adjust.
Persevere, I am worth it.
Inspirational and motivational quotes often resonated with me. I'd share those bad boys all over twitter and instagram but they wouldn't permeate and take effect. My practice has evoked a gradual enlightenment. Day by day, the principles of yoga, mindfulness and wellbeing manifest in my life. I see I am worth the investment of the time I take for myself, the space to grow. I've surprised myself physically: twisted into pretty impressive knots, held 'bird of paradise' and 'crow', practiced hot yoga in 40 degree heat and 40% humidity - a genuine, real life Sweaty Betty. More than this, yoga has taken me to new levels of awareness. I've let go of fears and hang ups of the past. I am physically stronger and emotionally more resilient. In life, and in yoga practice, sometimes I nail it, often I don't. I still lose it more often than I'd like to admit. I am imperfect and that is ok. This is ongoing. Through my practice, I am reminded: persevere. I am worth it.
Seek the time to invest in yourself. It will radiate across your life. Find a yoga style and teacher that suits you, or get a dvd and practice at home. And when you do: persevere, you are worth it. Namaste.
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Elizabeth practices power yoga with Niki Perry and hot yoga at Lano.