I was living in London at the end of the 90's and I decided I wanted to get fit. My local sports centre was offering 'keep fit step aerobics' or 'yoga' classes. I didn't really know which to pick as I didn't know much about either. I'm so glad I chose yoga, it was the best decision of my life. The first few classes felt weird and with all the lying around, I questioned how fit I could actually get! But as I got more used to what we were doing I noticed something was happening that I didn't expect...I was starting to feel nice. After the class I would float home feeling less anxious, less worried and more on top of my life. Looking back now, I realise that I was struggling with anxiety and self-esteem issues, but I didn't know that then. It was only when I found a way of feeling good that I realised I was actually feeling bad. Yoga became a staple in my life.
My career as a yoga teacher began when I moved to Ireland in 2000. I found that I loved teaching and had a natural ability to help people feel the same feelings that first drew me to yoga. I still struggled with practicing yoga at home. I felt like a fraud, telling other people to go and get on their mats, when I couldn't do it myself. Working through childhood problems with my therapist helped me to see that I didn't know how to take care of myself and spending quiet, intimate moments alone felt really painful. It was no wonder that I struggled to establish a regular yoga practice. You see yoga is designed to connect you with yourself at a deep physical, mental and emotional level.
What are the benefits of yoga?
Yoga is an amazing tool that when used regularly will offer you long term physical and mental health benefits. The focus on your breath and body regulates all your systems and mind, clearing the backlog of old, ingrained habits and problems and supporting you as you grow and age. If you do practice and keep practicing, the support and joy it will bring you is like nothing else.
The Yoga Sutras
The 'Yama's' are the 'Laws of Life' from a book called 'The Yoga Sutras' which is considered one of the oldest and most important texts in this ancient eastern practice. There are five laws and the first two are 'Ahimsa' which means Non-Violence and 'Satya' which means 'truthfulness'. If you can set out on your personal yoga journey with these two principals firmly lodged in your pack, you'll be ok. We are so hard on ourselves and we tend to pick up on the tiniest mistakes and flaws that we have. This is where the practice of 'Ahimsa' non-violence comes in. It is a question of whether we can we be kind and gentle to ourselves?
The second Yama, the practice of truthfulness is essential because you have to stand back from yourself every day and honestly see the thoughts in your head and the way they affect you. If you don't truthfully notice your thoughts, you can’t do anything about them. Try catching your critical thoughts and pausing for a breath and thinking...how would it sound if I said that out loud to someone else?...
" I'm useless at this, I can't get it right at all and I look ridiculous".
Catch the thought, think or say it in the third person...
" Jessica is useless at this, she can't get it right at all and she looks ridiculous".
If we have these sorts of thoughts as a sound track in our subconscious every time we try and practice then it's no wonder that we would find an excuse not to practice. Being honest about how you speak to yourself, and making a commitment to be kinder as you're learning something new can really help you to keep going through the challenges and struggles you'll encounter.
Excuses, excuses and more excuses
The other thing that's going to trip you up at first are all the excuses and important other jobs that you think should come first. You are the only person who can take real care of you. Actually you are the only person who should take care of you. Your health and happiness are your responsibility and putting them first is a gift to everyone else. There will always be jobs to do, houses to clean, emails to send. But I promise you (because I've tried) getting all the jobs finished will not fill that empty space inside you.
We try and fill that space with improvements, experiences, alcohol or food, but it won't fill up or go away, because it's meant to be there. That space where we find painful feelings inside of us is also the place where we hold our joy and contentment. The only way to feel at one with yourself is to find ways to go into that painful place of feelings and be able to stay there long enough for the pain to pass. When it does, the reward is a sense that life is ok, it always has been and it always will be.
Yoga offers you the tools to learn to do this, and the tools really work. This is why people have been turning to yoga for thousands of years (longer than step aerobics btw). So in the next few short videos and blogs, my aim is to give you some simple instructions on how yoga is much more than keeping fit. We'll cover a variety of topics including breathing and how to manage stress and anxiety.
Life is a stormy sea and what yoga offers you is a way of safely and joyfully navigating through the storms. With your body as your vessel, your breath as your map and your heart as a compass, let's set sail!
Our yoga blog posts will be published the first week of every month. Visit Jessica's website where you will find a full list of guided meditations to help you with your practice.