What yoga has taught me... so far

On hearing I was moving home for a period after a particularly tough struggle with my mental health, a friend of my dad's offered a gift I had no idea would have as much impact as it did.

She's training to be a yoga instructor, and suggested to my dad that she spend a little time with me, if I wanted to, to start learning a bit about yoga.

I jumped at the offer, having been told so many times it would be 'good for me', but was unsure what to expect having dabbled in it before and not been hit by the love for it others claim to have.

Like any practice though, it takes time, effort and learning to reach that place where yoga begins to truly impact your life.

The biggest thing I learned is that it's so much more than nice poses... in fact, mastering the positions was one of the least important parts of the lessons I learned.

Week after week, she gave up her time to visit me at home and spend about an hour to an hour and a half doing one-on-one yoga sessions with me. Each week, it would be adapted to the mood I was in, or what I was struggling with or needed help on, and every session would end with 10 minutes of quiet meditation.

The biggest thing I learned was that the true impact of yoga was felt outside of these sessions.

Yes, I loved the sessions. They made me feel strong and centred and calm.

But the most important lessons I was learning were those I didn't even realise I was learning.

This friend - we'll call her S because I didn't check whether she wanted to be named - is the type of person you can't help wanting to be around. She radiates positivity, health and calm.

She's full of wisdom and would spend time mulling over certain situations with me, helping me to view things from a new perspective.

I think the easiest way to explain the impact of our time together is to give two examples of my changing mindset.

Firstly, the fact that you cannot change the things that happen around you, or the actions of others. You can only change the way you react to these things. I've heard this time and again, but when spoken about alongside the other concepts within yoga something clicked.

I was more often able to step away from a situation and assess my own reaction to it. I was more often able to pause and breathe.

Secondly, we spoke a lot about my trait of constantly comparing myself to others, and never feeling good enough. S helped me to realise that the comparisons don't matter; it's about listening to your own body and mind.

When we went to a public yoga class, I felt able to listen to my own body, and only go as far as felt right. When some of the class moved to headstands, I was perfectly fine dong the moderated version of the move, knowing I was not yet ready for those poses. There would have been a time where I would have judged myself as a failure in that situation, or felt like I should push myself to match others, at the risk of injury. Instead, I worked to my own pace and I felt calm.

During the time I was doing yoga with S, I also learned to run. I say 'learned' because I have never before been a runner. In April I could barely run for 30 seconds. I attempted a run with a local group for 'all abilities' and found myself in tears as everyone else disappeared into the distance. Even though I had never really been on a run before, I was trying to compare myself to people who ran very regularly and had spent years building up their speed and technique.

The next week, I joined a group doing a couch to 5k programme together, and I slowly built up my own running. Eight weeks later, I was running a full 5k twice a week. At some point during that period, I stopped comparing myself to the other runners. I didn't mind that I wasn't the fastest. I didn't go too quickly to try and keep up then end up having to walk. I went at my pace, and enjoyed feeling my body getting stronger. I was doing it for me and me alone.

Yes, yoga can be incredibly elegant and beautiful and a great way to connect to your body and breath, but I've learned it's about so much more than that.

The quiet lessons I learned from S during our six months of weekly sessions are lessons I will carry forwards for a very long time.


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