I’ve always felt the benefits of a bit of yoga. And I’ve practiced for a variety of reasons.
Yoga is a way of getting to know a fascinating person: yourself.Nina Klein
I used to do it to lose weight and become that perfect 10 (before the days of size ‘0’). A close relative of that was to shift cellulite. Yoga was just one card in my extensive hand of lose-weight/get-fit obsessions, slotted somewhere in between Jane Fonda Workouts (yep… a long time ago) and the Cindy Crawford Shape Your Body programme (it hurt a lot!).
I enjoyed yoga because it was less aerobic (basically, it hurt less) than say… aerobics. Plus, manipulating your body into a variety of shapes was kind of a fun challenge, a bit like gymnastics. But the very fact that it did hurt less, in those bygone days of ‘no pain, no gain’, had me believe that it was a bit of a cop out.
And when I used to set the exercise video tapes rollling (you know kids, a video tape was a forerunner of the DVD… What? What’s a DVD?), there were no funky vibes to get down and sweaty to in the Barbara Currie Yoga series. She was more panpipes and shiny leotards than the pulsing rap of a Marky Mark Workout (yup – I really did!).
Thankfully, things have changed. And not just my taste in ‘music’.
My values and body image have evolved in the last few years and now I love yoga for many reasons which go deeper than tightening up any wobbly bits. Which is a good job because as I’m getting older, naturally, I’m also becoming wobblier.
Here are just a few benefits of yoga
- You feel younger.
- You are more supple. If a few days go by without showing up ‘on the mat’, you really feel the difference when you try to touch your toes.
- You feel taller, as though there is an invisible thread pulling you up from the top of your head. So you move better.
- It helps focus on your breathing. Almost spontaneously these days, I sometimes just refocus on how I’m breathing, and take a few conscious inhales. So you’re far more in touch with your body.
If you concentrate on how your body feels at a particular moment – through your breath – you lose track of everything else. And you can do this at any time throughout the day.
In other words, it can help you live a more mindful life.
Society seems to be changing, with the holistic therapy movement growing. Yoga is gaining popularity at lightning speed. Or is it just what I choose to tune in to? I don’t think so. Everyone’s at it! Now when I catch up with friends I’ve not seen for a while, we’re just as likely to compare the benefits of yoga as our ‘I’m so busy’ badges of honour.
Recently, I was very kindly offered a session of yoga therapy – a sort of ‘healing yoga’ – by a friend called Nina Klein.
Nina is a yoga teacher and after three years of study she qualified as a yoga therapist. She is German and told me that yoga is officially recognised in Germany as beneficial to your health.
On her website, she introduces the practice as ‘spending some quality time with yourself!’ And there she asks the following questions.
- Do you feel your life is speeding up while you are getting left behind?
Um, I’ve certainly felt like that in the past. Less so now… but I would love to practice anything to help stave off that feeling when it sometimes creeps back and threatens to overwhelm once again.
- Would you like to do something about aching muscles, back pain and tension?
Hopefully I’m okay on the first two fronts, but a bit of tension relief would be fantastic. I feel it particularly in my shoulders and jaw, and I really don’t know how to ease it.
- Do you want to feel lighter and more at ease with yourself?
Oooh, yes please!
- Do you aspire to greater physical and mental flexibility?
Definitely for the physical flexibility. I hadn’t considered the term ‘mental flexibility’ but it sounds appealing.
Nina then invites you to…
‘Take a step towards yourself’Nina Klein
And so my session of yoga therapy began
First there was a little introduction. Nina showed me two books written by her teacher, Dr NC (‘his name is too long and unspeakable! so he shortened it’), who himself worked for 10 years with T.K.V. Desikachar, son of one of the main yogi gurus, T. Krishnamacharya, who made yoga available to women (as it used to be practiced only by the highest caste in India), among other things. Dr NC is also a medical doctor and so very knowledgeable about the standard medicine system – including anatomy and physiology.
She asked me some questions about my health and what I was hoping to gain from the session. I mentioned migraines, sinuses, and some minor stomach complaints before talking about mental health. I’d like more focus, to be able to quiet the busyness in my head and stop those thoughts from endlessly competing for space.
A lot to ask?
It’s all about energy
Nina explained that yoga is all about energy. We are all surrounded by energy. It is everywhere. It is within us and all we need to do to have the energy we need is to unblock, within ourselves, any obstacle that may be in its way.
She drew a squiggly line with deep troughs and highs to represent the working of our mind. It is completely normal that we all have these ups and downs, but what we are aiming for with yoga, is a line that is still wavy, but a little more regular.
Nina took my pulses (yes, both, because we are usually not symmetrical), observed my body, and asked me to do some gentle stretches and movements so she could see if there was anything I might have difficulty with. I was pleased to learn that I am pretty fit and flexible.
She didn’t add ‘for your age’.
Then the hard work started.
Well actually, it didn’t. I lay down on the yoga mat, covered with a blanket, and had a little snooze. I mean, worked on my breath. Meanwhile, Nina sat at the table writing out a personalised yoga plan for me.
When it was time to get up, there it was: My personalised daily yoga plan. Nina had drawn stick men diagrams with written instructions. On the sheet of A4, it looked clear and simple to follow.
Daily yoga benefits
She advised me to do 20 minutes every morning – with a quite dynamic set of movements.
In the evening, there is a 10- to 15-minute session of easy moves, amongst them twists to massage my organs and aid the digestion fire in my stomach (I learnt that according to yoga, you have a digestion fire), and to help with relaxation. Apparently for me, the evening one is king.
Nina took me through the moves.
We started with Nina showing me how to breathe. I know, right? I’ve been doing it all my life… Seriously though, I was surprised at how little I knew about it. I’d thought I’d become an expert breather lately, but it seems I’m still shallow breathing.
We chanted (a first, for me) to aid diaphragmatic breathing. At every exhale I chanted ‘hram, hrim, hrum’.
I hadn’t done any yoga for a couple of weeks as I’d had flu, and it felt good to be stretching out once again.
For the evening session I lay down on the yoga mat again, with a blanket and a scarf covering my eyes. After some stretches and twists together with breathing exercises, there was visualisation work, concentrating on joints, energy and chakras (I looked up chakras after the sessions, as I didn’t really know where they were. There’s an article I like about chakras, here.)
What does energy look like? How do you visualise it? It’s something else that takes practice. I see energy as swirls and stars, intense colours, and sometimes, light.
The entire session took three hours rather than the two we’d expected. I was absolutely exhausted afterwards – mentally. Perhaps because I did the evening (bedtime) session at the end. Or it could have been due to a bit of that pesky flu still in my system. But it was a ‘good’ feeling of tiredness.
At the end, Nina reminded me of the benefits of a daily yoga benefits, and then we scheduled a follow-up session, where Nina checks my progress and see what needs refining.
Just before I left, I asked, ‘Do you think I needed to be healed?’
‘Well,’ Nina replied, ‘I don’t want to sound negative, but I think we all need healing, on various levels. Health for me is an active thing, it is keeping the balance, and that involves movement. Yoga helps us to fight death every day, by letting our energy flow freely – also on the level of our mind, where it helps us to fight the fear of death.’
Reason enough to cultivate a daily yoga practice?
It’s good enough for me 🙂
Do you practice yoga? Are you a late starter or an old-timer? What are your reasons and what benefits do you notice?