J D Mason

Yoga gets a bit of a bad rep. When we see the classic trope of basic-privileged-bitch, she’s usually fresh from a yoga class with an expensive flat white in hand (oat milk, obvs), probably talking about her gap yah. Yoga is just a little bit pretentious, and is probably nothing more than stretching and chanting. 

That’s how I saw it at least. Instagram #fitspo is filled with girls with six packs doing yoga in the middle of the forest, scarcely breaking a sweat. It seemed superficial and totally intertwined with the commercialised and inaccessible image of ‘wellness’ as spearheaded by figures like Gwenyth Paltrow. It is almost always accompanied by a mysterious green juice and £100 yoga pants.

And there is a truth to the stereotype. Whether devout yogis agree with it or not, yoga as a practice has been adopted by this aestheticised and instagrammable version of wellness which is almost entirely divorced from its origins. 

I therefore started yoga in December with scepticism. I’d been convinced to go by podcasters like Ella Mills (Deliciously Ella) and Dr Rupy Aujla (The Doctor’s Kitchen), who both extolled the virtues of yoga as an antidote to the chaos and stress that seems to characterise 21st century life. They emphasised that it’s about mindfulness, not about how good you are or how you look.

This did sound somewhat promising. As someone who has a real complex about sport, yoga sounded like it maybe could be like not as horrific as hockey, and might actually have some psychological benefits. 

That being said, I was still sceptical. I turned up to my first class in a baggy t shirt and an old pair of leggings, not really knowing what to expect. Off the bat I felt I didn’t ‘look like a yoga person.’ But I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was wearing old tops and leggings. Not a single six pack in sight so far. Phew.

"Yoga won’t work if you try to be perfect, or if you spend the hour comparing yourself to others"

The first session was painful. Turns out, yoga isn’t just stretching, and is actually quite a difficult practice that requires physical strength, flexibility, and focus. Who knew?! I wasn’t brilliant at it. In fact, my form was quite terrible and I couldn't hold a position without very gracefully toppling over. Instead of actually embracing the practice, I was way too focused on how difficult it was and how everyone seemed to be so much bendier. 

But as I kept going to classes, it started to make sense (I’m going to embrace my inner guru now - forgive me). Yoga won’t work if you try to be perfect, or if you spend the hour comparing yourself to others. It’s about getting into a headspace where you connect physical movements with deep breathing - a type of breath that we don’t really do in our everyday lives.

Western thought has promoted a kind of dualism - the idea that your body and your mind are two entirely separate entities in conflict with one another. The body is often understood as base, irrational, and pleasure-seeking in contrast with the more rational mind. This notion has remained somewhat orthodox, despite research showing that our cognition and our mental health is profoundly intertwined with our physical bodies. Living sedentary lives fuelled by caffeine, alcohol, stress, and processed food has impinges on our ability to think, live, and breathe. We often fail to see that when we neglect our bodies, we neglect our minds in turn. We live in what Matt Haig calls a ‘nervous planet’, and much of this stems from how we neglect to care for our bodies.


Mountain View

How I found joy in exercise

Yoga is a way of nurturing the relationship between the body and mind. The bonuses of getting stronger, fitter, and more flexible as you continue are great, but there's more to it than that. It’s about allowing the mind, body, and the breath to coalesce for an hour. Like all sports (yes - I’m calling it a sport now), it gives us an allotted time where we don’t (and shouldn’t) think about overdue essays, difficult relationships, or whatever it is that might be causing us stress. It’s about inhaling and exhaling in tandem with physical movement. 

If you're thinking about giving it a go I wholeheartedly recommend it. You don't need to be spiritual, or own Lululemon yoga pants - you just need an open mind. It might make you more flexible, it might even make you more smug, but I can guarantee you it'll make you breathe. Something I think we've forgotten how to do.

Getting started:

  • https://www.uniyoga.co.uk - these classes run multiple times during the week at a variety of locations. They're absolutely brilliant.
  • I would strongly recommend doing a few sessions at home before you begin to get well equipped with the yoga jargon. Yoga with Adriene is particularly great.
  • The Deliciously Ella app has some fantastic yoga videos along with plant-based recipes and mindfulness sessions. 
  • If you're a member of a gym, chances are that they'll offer yoga classes. The YMCA gym by Parker's Piece has some particularly good classes (just don't go to Power Yoga when you're still a beginner....terrible, terrible mistake.)

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