I’m not your typical yogi. I know yogi’s will tell you that there is no “typical”- no specific body shape, no gender, no personality type. Yoga is for everyone. I mean, they’re not lying, exactly; but some people are just naturals, aren’t they? Yoga pants and the poses they’re associated with were made for their lithe bodies and not the chunky, dimpled thunder thighs that I possess.
I have dabbled in yoga for a couple of years; dipping in my toe in but never fully dunking myself into that world. Honestly, I started it mainly as a weight loss and strengthening exercise. It’s only recently that I’ve actually turned to yoga as a way of calming my mind- a kind of therapy, if you will. I’ve tried all manners of therapy for my anxiety, from learning to crochet to trying my hand at upcycling old furniture. They’ve all been great fun and have certainly helped with my mental health, but they’re not always easy to maintain. You try pulling out a giant blanket on the plane when you’re feeling a little on edge and not irritating the person sat next to you, as they have yarn spilling over into their seat or a crochet needle poking into their leg. They ain’t gonna be happy.
That’s where yoga comes in.
A good friend had been attending a number of yoga classes at a gorgeously tranquil studio not too far from my house. So, one weekend, I agreed to go along. I had done a few classes before and indulged myself in some sessions in my living room led by Youtube, though often getting distracted by my phone or, more likely, the fridge. Thus, I decided to ease myself into it gently; I was still a complete beginner technically. I started with a yoga nidra class. I gave yoga nidra a quick Google, to see what I was letting myself in for.
Yoga nidra (or yogic sleep) is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed, and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of verbal instructions.
Erm, pretty sure I can manage that.
Off I went, yoga mat in hand, and embarked on the beginning of my yoga journey. Yoga nidra, though similar to meditation, is more about focusing on consciousness whilst in a deep state of relaxation. Let me tell you, it was pretty bloody relaxing. I left that studio feeling like a new woman- a new, zen, husky voiced, herbal tea drinking woman. Alright, alright, it wasn’t that extreme, but I was hooked.
Aforementioned friend encouraged me to join her for a number of weekly yoga sessions, before we both finally plucked up the courage to set off on a weekend yoga retreat in the desert. After stopping for a quick quarter pounder (with a side of 6 nuggets) from Maccy D’s to fuel us for the weekend, we were on our way to something that was completely new to me and way out of my comfort zone. I felt a little self conscious, aware that I was a graceless rhino amongst a flock of majestic unicorns on this trip, but that was quickly forgotten when we got down and dirty on our mats.
When you’re practising yoga, you literally couldn’t give a shit what anyone around you is doing. Whether they’re struggling with a pose, or are evidently so at ease with downward dog (who the f**k ever finds that pose relaxing?!), it really doesn’t matter. You’re all focusing on your own breathing, on your own poses, on finding your balance on the mat. I’m so wrapped up in my own thoughts and focus that I wouldn’t even notice if a fellow yogi farted. At least, I’m really hoping this is the case and that people don’t notice when, hypothetically, someone does fart. Anyway, yeah, you’re all so caught up in what you’re doing yourself. That weekend, we practised sun gazing (forgot my Ray Bans in the tent, dammit), sun salutations, campfire meditation and chanting, and sunrise yoga. It was the calmest and most clear headed that I had felt in a long, long time.
Gone was my anxious laboured breathing. Gone were the cloud of negative thoughts fogging up my mind. Gone were my sweaty palms and fastened heart rate. I was totally at ease. That was the weekend I promised to myself that I would make this a part of my life from here on in.
It’s been a little difficult, with that age old excuse of “life gets in the way” always coming to mind. I’ve made time for it where I can though and have been trying to increase this; I have even recently set up private yoga classes at my house every week (with an instructor teaching me, obviously. I’ve not suddenly decided that I am definitely capable or licensed to teach anybody else yoga). You know what? My mind is doing all the better for it. Had a bit of a shitty day today and was a touch aggy all afternoon, but after going to my yoga class tonight, my whole mood shifted. I actually pranced out of that class and on my merry way. Pranced.
Finding ways to cope with anxiety isn’t an easy venture, and for me there is a number of things I cling to when I start to feel out of my depth. Whipping out my crochet needle and yarn to start yet another project which will never get finished, finding an old bit of furniture to paint or decoupage, attacking a canvas with paint to muster up some sort of excuse of a painting, writing down how I’m feeling or the thoughts in my head, or getting limber (ish) on my yoga mat. These are all my coping mechanisms, and if I make time for myself and put my self care as a priority, then they all equate to a mentally happy me.