Why I love yoga (alternate title: I survived Bikram yoga!)

Yoga essentials: a mat, a towel (if it's hot yoga) and water.

Yoga essentials: a mat, a towel (if it’s hot yoga) and water.

I’ve come to realise that yoga is one of the most misunderstood yet most beneficial types of exercise you can do, for both your body and your mind. Prior to starting my own yoga practice, I’m embarrassed to admit I had my tent firmly (and ignorantly) pitched in the camp called Yoga Is For People Who Don’t Actually Want To Work Out. Over the last year, I’ve realised how very wrong I was. Not only is yoga a fantastic way to sculpt your muscles, and make yourself stronger and more flexible, it is also a great way to both de-stress and stop the constant chatter of your mind.

Yoga is all about creating space, both mentally and physically. It is about gently pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and about learning to trust your body.

Yoga gives you a good insight into where your head and body are currently at. It meets you exactly where are. If you have had an scattered and messy day, your practice will feel scattered and messy. Conversely, if you are feeling pretty balanced and light, your practice will reflect that. It brings you back to the present moment and helps you to identify areas of your life where you are feeling unbalanced.

I realised very early on in my practice that the poses I resist the most (back bend, I’m looking at you) are the ones I really need to do. The back bend is one of the most vulnerable poses because your heart and throat are completely exposed. My natural instinct is to protect these parts of my body. I’ll often put my arms up over my chest unconsciously if I am feeling vulnerable or touch my throat if I am unsure that I am saying the right thing. To have my heart and throat so exposed makes me really uncomfortable. The first time I did a back bend, I had to fight the urge to break the position because a huge jolt of anxiety ran through me. Thankfully, it was right at that point that the instructor reminded us to just breath through any discomfort that we were experiencing and trust our bodies. The back bend is still very low on my list of favourite poses, but I have come to appreciate what it gives me: trust in my body and in my heart’s messages to me.

After having practised Ashtanga Vinyasa (a fast-flowing form of yoga where you move quickly through poses) for a few months, I decided last night that I was ready to take on a new challenge in the form of Bikram yoga. For anyone who has been living under a rock, Bikram is a style of yoga that Bikram Choudhury created in the ’70s and it is based on traditional hatha yoga techniques. It consists of 26 postures and two breathing exercise, and it is conducted in a room that is heated to a whopping 39 degrees. And boy is it tough. After only 10 minutes into the 90-minute class, I was battling my urge to run out of the room and never come back. I had to stop on a number of occasions, lie down and just breath. If the temperature alone wasn’t enough to make me feel like I was simultaneously going to vomit and pass out, the intense poses sure were.

It wasn’t all bad though. In fact, I actually got a lot out of it and learned that I can push my body a lot further than my mind thinks I can, which is sort of yoga is all about: learning more about yourself. I also neither vomited or passed out, so that’s nice.

The benefits of yoga are available to everyone. You can get as much or as little out of it as you want. For some, it is purely a physical release. For others, it is a tool for helping them to grow spiritually. Wherever you are at in life, I cannot recommend yoga highly enough! If you haven’t already done so, try it. I know you won’t regret it.