Yeah, I know it sounds dramatic but it's true. I don't know where I'd be right now if I hadn't clung onto yoga for dear life.
I've had a rough 18 months. I was a bright, happy and outgoing human being until depression hit me like a tonne of bricks and changed everything. I'm in no way saying yoga alone can cure mental health issues, those bitches take a whole lot of work. What I am saying is that yoga gave me something to focus on and I benefited in more ways that I ever expected.
Here are 11 things that have made a massive difference to my life thanks to yoga!
1: It's all about me
I'm struggling to think of many activities that are just for you. Where you aren't competing, being watched or trying to prove yourself to others. In yoga everything you do is for yourself and no one cares what anyone else is doing.
I spent many months trying to compete with other yogis. I tried to stretch further, move faster and breathe louder. I worried that others were watching me and judging my abilities or looking at my dodgy toes. I eventually realised that no one cares, they are too busy with themselves.
Now I wholeheartedly embrace that my toes are ugly, my feet are often dirty (flip flop wearer!) and I can't balance AT ALL. I don't give a shit. No one does. Yoga is all about me. During a time when I haven't been keen on myself it's been the little bit of self love that I've desperately needed.
2: A change in my body
I was really into running and the gym when I started yoga so I thought my body was in pretty good shape. Yoga couldn't be that hard could it? Just a bit of stretching and stuff. Turns out I had absolutely zero core strength or control and my body wasn't anywhere near as powerful as I thought.
The change in my body, especially my arms, over 18 months has been a pleasant surprise. I'm stronger, more toned and feel balanced in myself. It sound vain but I feel better when I'm happier with my body so this unexpected little self confidence boost has done me wonders.
3: Calming my mind
When I started yoga I was pretending to do yoga. I did the poses but my mind was racing and I held my breath so I could concentrate. Granted this was better than drinking a bottle of wine instead of yoga but it wasn't helping much. Things settled a little but the pivotal moment came when a really special (and sweary) yoga teacher summed it up for me in two statements.
I was holding my breath whilst desperately trying to hold Warrier 2 and she said 'let all that shit go' and 'just fucking breathe'. Well, that sums yoga up pretty well. For the duration that you're on your mat you can leave all your worries behind and just breathe. It might not be perfect ujjaji breathing but you're doing it and that's all that matters.
Now if I find myself stressing in any situation I repeat those two statements and they make me smile, remind me to take a deep breath and get me back on track.
4: No pressure
It took me a long time to realise that when the teacher says you can 'take child's pose anytime you need' or 'do whatever feels right' that they genuinely mean it. I initially tried to do everything to the extreme in class. Even when it felt like my spine was about to snap or my hamstring were going to ping off. Now I'm starting to listen to my body when it says something doesn't feel good. As someone who insists on pushing myself beyond the limit with everything this was refreshing. Sometimes you just have to step back and take a break.
5: Anything goes
In my mind all yogis were slim, flexible and gorgeous with expensive workout gear. Or they were super earthy, hairy and eco obsessed vegans with dreads and a lot of hemp clothing. Yeah I deserve a telling off for being such a bitch about stereotypes.
In reality yoga is everyone. It's every shape, size, gender and background. No one gives a shit what you look like, what you are wearing or whether you fit the stereotype. I love that. I wear things I wouldn't have dreamed of wearing before and I love them. I feel empowered and cool. I don't worry about my lumps and bumps in leggings. I wear leg warmers because I wanna. Hell I even whip out the odd crop top because I can and no one is judging me. I feel more empowered to be who I want to be.
We have been breathing since the second we were born, yet for the most part we take it for granted. I'm naturally pretty flexible so found most yoga asanas (poses) fairly easy but it was the conscious breathing that I struggled with. I thought all breathing practices were stupid and just wanted to get to the good stuff.
Then one day it clicked. Somehow my breaths aligned with my movement and it felt like I had released a whole new level of energy. Now I bloody love breathing. If I'm stressed, anxious, angry or feeling like shit, I can try and shift it with some deep breaths and take back control.
If you had asked me a few years ago if I fancied a yoga retreat I would have laughed in your face. What? A holiday with a bunch of self righteous, vegetarian, hippies doing a load of chanting and bullshit? Hell no!
I 100% retract that (and again apologise for my horrible stereotyping). I went on retreat to Spain with my friend last year and it changed our lives. There was an age range of 24 to 70 years old and people from all walks of life. I've never felt closer to bunch of strangers after 5 days. We did yoga, we laughed, we cried, shared stories and supported each other.
Everyone had different stories and advice and the feeling of love and support was overwhelming. I know it sounds ridiculous but that holiday was the perfect tonic for me.
8: New community
Oh God, I'm back to stereotypes again. I thought that yogis would have their own clique and unless you were amazing (and had the right kit) you couldn't call yourself a yogi. Well that's a load of bollocks. The yoga community in classes, on all social media and in day to day life has been so open, supportive and caring. Everyone just wants everyone else to have a great practice and be content. It felt great to feel accepted as part of something bigger. I feel I now have friends all over the world that I haven't even met yet.
9: It's a safe space
A teacher recently said 'just focus on yourself and your little coloured rectangle space' and I liked that. The world is big and scary but all you need to focus on is your little mat and that doesn't feel too overwhelming. Now I feel like my yoga mat is a nice little safe space, even if I'm just sat on it watching TV.
10: You don't have an excuse
I'm great at justifying to myself why I can't do something. Go for a run? Ahhh maybe my leg hurts a bit. Read a book? It's a bit dark I might strain my eyes. With yoga though you have no real excuses. You don't even really need leggings or a mat. Even if it's just a few minutes doing very gentle movements and a bit of breathing you still feel like you've achieved something. On days where everything is overwhelming it's been a bit of yoga that has picked me up.
11: Learning to relax
Shavasana (corpse pose) is the relaxation period at the end of a class. Basically you lie still and calm and relax. Sounds easy huh? Nope. This was the hardest thing for me to get to grips with. Within 3 seconds I'd get an itchy toe, twitchy hands and my mind would go into overdrive. What is the teacher doing? What shall I have for tea? Have I ever drank milk from the same cow twice?
Over time it got easier, I could manage a few seconds or a few minutes of being a relaxed little corpse. I could have a little mental scan of my body, watch the colours behind my eyes or just be blank. Until that moment my body and mind had spent 31 years constantly powered up, even in sleep. Learning to relax and take a break is a mind and body reset for me when everything gets too much.
That's all I can say. If you have never tried yoga then try it, what have you got to lose? If you are already a yogi then I wish you all the lightness, strength and happiness in your practices.
If anyone else has benefited from yoga then I would love to hear about it! Namaste.