A long time ago, I was in a position of great distress. I suffered a lot of intrusive thoughts that made it hard for me to do those things that I needed to do. I went to the gym, joined a hiking group, met with friends, but none of these could calm my mind enough for me to get on with my life.
Finally I started taking some yoga classes, which came free with my gym membership. After the first session, walking back to my car, I felt at peace for the first time in a long time. Not ecstatic, just calm. I was in the moment, thinking only about the cool air around me, the feel of the keys in my hand, not worrying about all the other things in my life.
Yoga gets a bad rap because its main fans tend to be crazy cat ladies. They don’t exercise property or deal with their underlying problems – they just do yoga and expect men, in the generality, to magically fix everything else.
What you’ve got to understand is, those cat ladies would be even crazier if it weren’t for yoga.
If you’re having trouble staying focused, either because you’re going stir crazy in isolation or for some other reason, yoga can be a good exercise for helping you to quiet the jabbering voice in your head and concentrate on the job at hand. It helped me cope with each day when I was in Africa. It is an excellent habit to get into.
Yoga also helps with flexibility – I was unable to do back squats before I started yoga because my arms could not reach back far enough – and its most proven benefit is for alleviating lower back pain. That’s one thing I have a chronic problem with, and yoga manages it better than anything else. In fact, if I ever miss yoga for a week, my back starts playing up. It is a good reminder that I have fallen out of practice.
It’s good to do yoga away from your other exercise. It might seem logical to do it straight after lifting or cardio as a warm-down, but I have found that by then I’m too tired and hungry to do it properly.
I used to work with a lot of older people, and some of them were in extremely good shape for their age. There were people in their sixties and seventies who still went windsurfing. Most older people are starting to get aches and pains everywhere and are losing mobility, but these ones had been doing yoga for decades, which seemed to have a protective effect – alongside regular exercise and a healthy diet. It was inspirational.
I found the two yoga videos below most suitable for beginners if you’d like to give it a go, one short and one long.
Before you start, pro tips:
– Do everything gently. The most dangerous standard posture is upward dog, the one the comely lady in the picture above is doing. Be especially careful with that one. Don’t push it as far as you can.
– Nothing should hurt. Don’t complain to me that something is hurting. If something hurts, ease off until it does not hurt. You should only feel a stretch. If I sound terse, that’s because I’ve had to say this about a thousand times, and the number of times I’ve been listened to is much less than a thousand.
– Keep breathing. Push the stretch further when you exhale, then hold it or ease off while you inhale. The breathing is important.
– Ignore the hippy-dippy stuff about chakras and all that nonsense. Yoga came out of Hinduism, but so what? Australian football was invented to keep cricketers fit during winter, but you don’t have to be a cricketer to play football. Basketball was originally part of a Mesoamerican human sacrifice ritual. Soccer was invented by Celts who kicked enemies’ heads around the field after a battle. Baseball was invented in the Los Alamos Laboratory to bore America’s attackers to death. Just do the exercise part and let the trees hug themselves.
– It is impossible to find an English-speaking yoga instructor who does not have that irritating, Californian-style vocal fry. It is worth learning a second language for this reason.
If you have trouble with the meditation section, here is my guide. It has the distinction of being the least read post on this site.
Of course, not only yoga can offer these benefits. Any gentle exercise that focuses the mind can be of use. I have never tried Pilates, but I assume it is much the same.
I recently gave Tai Chi a go. It’s relaxing and beautiful. I’d like to get good at it so that I can impress the old Chinese ladies in the park. Here are two videos to get you started:
Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there? Stay chilled everyone.