Yoga may be viewed by some as merely a dynamic sequence of stretches, but as anyone who undertakes it daily will tell you, it is so much more. Apart from improving your flexibility, it creates a harmony between your body and mind, and allows you to focus, as well as de-stress.
“What I’ve found through studying yoga therapy is that people who have a daily practice have effortlessly and automatically changed their lifestyle. They eat better, sleep better, their lifestyle is more regulated,” says vascular surgeon Dilip Sarkar, who became a yoga teacher and clinical researcher on the practice.
It’s not just reportedly embraced by celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Sting and Russell Brand it’s increasingly used by athletes and entrepreneurs because of the transferrable benefits. LeBron James credits it with improving his stamina, while footballer Lionel Messi says it helps to rejuvenate his mind.
Here, we talk to four people who credit their yoga teachers with teaching them more than just a downward dog.
Angela Ashworth, 56, Accountant
Running a business can be stressful like many jobs and I’ve found my yoga teacher has really helped me get a grip on my work/life balance. The practice itself helps me switch off from work (and of course, I can’t use my phone), but my teacher Kirsten Agar Ward was instrumental in my turning point.
Mentally I can relax and sleep much better. I used to find it very difficult to get to sleep, but now, I wake up feeling more energetic. I am not getting out of bed feeling so tired and exhausted which I did for a few years, and because the quality of my sleep is much improved, my temper is more even as a result.
But the biggest impact has been around awareness. I am much more aware of how our mental and physical health are closely connected with each having a direct impact on the other.
In terms of work I feel more aware of my employees’ physical and mental health and as a business we try to be supportive as far as possible.
Alice-May Purkiss, 29, Writer
I had been doing yoga for some time, but was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 26. After finishing my treatment, I went looking for a new teacher and met Charlotte Taylor.
For me, yoga and Charlotte have been an instrumental part of my recovery from my breast cancer experience.
It’s always nerve-wracking joining a new exercise class after going through cancer (because you usually have to declare it and there’s no time when saying “I’ve had breast cancer” isn’t awkward) but she has helped me come to terms with my new body, what it does and how it does it while embracing all of the emotional and mental baggage that comes with getting cancer at a young age.
I’ve undergone ten surgeries in the past three years and every time I’ve gone back to Charlotte’s class she has welcomed me with a kindness and a gentleness that I haven’t really found in other places. Her classes are a perfect place to just “be” - to sit with my experience – and it has had a resounding impact on the rest of my life.
Ayesha Aleem, 31, Journalist
I had moved to Mumbai at the time for a new job and my employer offered a free weekly yoga class. I didn’t expect to love yoga as much as I did and Hema played a big role. At a primary level, Mumbai’s pace can be relentless. At the end of a long day sitting at my desk, I looked forward to an hour of not thinking about anything else and just doing yoga. But a good teacher makes a world of difference and I’m not sure I would have continued with yoga if it hadn’t been for her.
She has a tough love approach - she won’t let you be lazy in class but she also emphasised how important mindfulness is - being present in the moment and carrying that approach into other parts of your life.
I love what it’s done for my mind and it changed the way I eat. I sleep better. The physical movements are just the beginning of much deeper reasons why yoga is so great.
My greatest takeaway from Hema was the value of mindfulness. She would tell us how and why we needed to spend more energy focusing on what we’re doing at the moment. This makes our interactions with people better, our relationships richer and helps cut down so much unnecessary work stress. Because instead of thinking about ten things, you can just think of the one you’re working on.
Mindfulness has helped with daily tasks like checking that the stove is turned off and locking doors before leaving the house, for example, so that you aren’t constantly thinking about it. Or even packing bags before a trip when I can just take a minute to think of what I need instead of going around in circles.
It might sound silly and kind of obvious but it was important to train my mind to just stay present when all it wanted to do was either race into the future or occasionally live in the past.
Sharon Gill, 30, Yoga Therapist
I first practiced yoga when I was 14 years old at school and found it deeply calming. After a break from it, I returned to it again in my twenties, practicing yoga and meditation because I had anxiety and IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome).
I read online that IBS is linked to high levels of anxiety, and I knew that yoga and meditation are good for calming the mind.
I decided to immerse myself further by going on a yoga retreat in Bali in summer 2014 with my sister, which is where I met Adele.
Apart from the fact that Adele has a really unique way of teaching yoga – she uses beautiful language that makes you think about your own life – she’s also deeply inspirational. She survived cancer at the age of 25.
She helped me to think bigger about my own life. I didn’t realise how limited I was in my thinking, until I remember her sitting me down after class to ask how I was going to honour myself. I had never really thought about it like that before. I had just seen it as an exercise to reduce anxiety. It was an empowering revelation, that I could gift myself peace - that I’m in control, not the anxiety.
Once I began honouring and taking care of myself, things began to get better by themselves. The daily routine helped me cultivate awareness and stopped me from being so passive in my own life. I met my future husband the month after the Bali trip, because I was more playful yet more confident about the type of man I want in my life. There were still ups and downs, but it made me realise: I can take action in my own life.
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