How yoga became a gateway to fitness for me

SUP Yoga retreat North Yorkshire at Raithwaite Estate - partner yoga tree pose

Yoga is a bit misrepresented as a form of exercise. It goes one of two ways: A. people think you can only do it if you’re already really flexible, or B. people think it’s a lot of laying on the floor not doing a lot. And let me tell you, I can disprove both of those. Although sometimes yoga does include a lot of B… ;D

I took up yoga because I didn’t really do any other exercise and wanted to do something. For me, yoga felt like an easy way to get into exercise, and it really was. I tweeted the other day about how I used to be an exercise-despising person because I really, truly was. I mean, it’s not like I’m shouting from the rooftops about how fantastic exercise is nowadays, I enjoy it as much as every other person, which for most of us is not that much. But I can get through workouts without feeling like I want to die and that I’ll never set foot in a gym again, which is a huge improvement for me.
Let me be clear though, this doesn’t apply to yoga. I LOVE yoga. I could do yoga for every minute of every day, and this is how I’ve managed to get more into exercise and working out in general.

When I got into doing yoga last year, I was apprehensive. I wasn’t a flexible person and I didn’t like exercise. My friends and family will tell you how I was never picked for teams and I tried to avoid sports at all costs. I think in my head, all exercise became linked to the team sports and games teachers that I disliked so much. I also couldn’t touch my toes – not even close. I was a good foot away from touching the ground this time last year.

Within about a month, I was consistently brushing the floor with my fingertips, and now almost a year later, after warming up I can get my palms flat on the floor and my head to my knees. I’m still shocked every time I feel the ground beneath me!
And even better, I’m doing additional exercise and I’m sticking to it. Let me explain.

Yoga isn’t necessarily as easy as people think it is. You might feel a little bit lost during your first few sessions – all the names and shapes go flying past you and you’re left floundering with legs in the air, arms twisted in shapes they’ve never been before and the blood rushing to your head. Once you’ve got a grasp of those names and shapes, you manage to get into a flow; things start to get easier and you find yourself enjoying what you’re doing.
Then you reach a point where you realise that the shapes you’re creating in the poses aren’t “ideal” – you might catch a glance of yourself in the mirror or see a photo of yourself doing yoga and realise that your back isn’t as flat as it feels or that you’re twisting in a slightly off way. A good instructor will ensure that you’re doing things correctly so you don’t hurt yourself, but you’ll realise that you don’t look like those yoga goddesses and gurus on Instagram, however much you might feel like them.

This happened to me – I got Ben to take a photo of me doing downward facing dog so I could see how close my heels were to the ground, but I realised I was doing it so wrong! All I cared about was those heels touching the floor and hadn’t stopped to consider the fact that the pose was supposed to be stretching out my upper body and back – they were as rounded as a wheel! Sure, I’d heard people talking about how your back should be in downward dog and not to worry about how close your heels were to the ground, but that made me think about them even more, so they were my focus. Woops!

SUP Yoga retreat Raithwaite Estate

Once I stopped thinking about pushing to be “the best” at the poses, and started enjoying them and how they were working, things started to come together more. And a weird thing happened: yoga got harder. In a good way, of course, but it was definitely more difficult. I found that I was using more muscles to retain a more correct shape and alignment, and that I was slowly, slowly getting better at them with more practice and by not collapsing into them to “cheat”, which is a common thing in yoga. When you stop “cheating” (even if you don’t realise you were doing it, like me!), you find that you understand what yoga’s all about.

And so I realised that yoga actually isn’t as easy as replicating the poses you’re seeing – there’s a lot of hard work and stamina that goes into creating the poses correctly. That’s when I realised that I needed to do a bit extra rather than just the yoga to get better results in yoga. I needed stronger muscles in some places to be able to hold a pose or move into it better; I needed to work on my cardio in order to keep up with sun salutations. Like I said, I had a really low level of fitness before starting yoga so some things were quite difficult for me to do.

Now I’m working out in the gym every few days on various muscles groups and I tend to do a short run (around 1-2km) to warm up before doing yoga. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s better than doing nothing. Just 10 minutes of jogging gets me away from my desk and my heart rate going. We’ve had a personal trainer at work who gave us all a programme to work with, so he’s recommended some different running techniques (2 mins on, 1 min off), for example, and which machines and exercises I can use to reach where I want to be.
And finally, I’m now doing Crossfit once a week with a team at work – they’re doing a Tough Mudder – ha! I’m not; I don’t like mud. I joined in with the group…for fun?! And this is my point precisely. I hated exercise before. Like honestly, truly hated it. I wouldn’t run a mile for love nor money. But I willingly joined the Crossfit group (and it’s crazy hard sometimes!) because I wanted to. We’ve now completed our sixth session and the intensity is upping every week.
These workouts are leaving me feeling stronger and fitter – I can get through fastpaced yoga sessions more easily and work into poses better, and I’m progressing daily with yoga as a result. In fact, even the fact that I can do daily yoga is testament to how much fitter and stronger I am. It’s had a huge impact on my body image and confidence too, but I’ll save that for another post.

Let me just leave you at that though – the fact that little old me, who despised exercise with a passion, is now doing weekly Crossfit sessions and, dare I say it, enjoying them. Thanks to yoga.

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