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The unexpected benefits of yoga


Yoga is said to be the cure for all. As someone who never naturally felt inclined to do yoga, I was very sceptical. My doctor first suggested that I try yoga to help reduce chronic pain. Back in the day, I was living off a cocktail of pain relief to make sure I could get out of bed and caffeine to get me through my workday. It wasn’t sustainable, and I went to the doctor as a very last resort. To hear her suggest yoga left me feeling empty - like western medicine had failed me. How was this possible? How could a class made for people who found it easy to touch their toes benefit me, someone who had to sit down to tie up her trainers? It just didn't make sense. I struggled with that for a long time.

When I eventually came to yoga, it was nothing like I had expected. It wasn’t easy. It was the single most painful and uncomfortable experience I had ever encountered. How could all these 70-year-olds bend like that and look like they were enjoying it? Every position was a battle. Looking back, I now know that the battle wasn’t with my body (as I had first anticipated) rather, with my mind. Once again, it was another concept that felt alien to me. My students often advise that I should never go into sales because I describe yoga exactly how I experienced it - uncomfortable, not that pleasant, and a real battleground of commitment, but one where the white flag is raised at the end, and you feel a lot better for it. So which pain do you prefer? The chronic pain of not practising yoga versus the ephemeral pain of doing yoga? The first gives you no hope for relief - grasping onto the hope that western medicine can finally put an end to your misery. The second gives you a roadmap to getting out of bed without the feeling that you’re going to throw up if you move your head. So which pain do you want? I chose the pain of yoga, and on my journey, here is what I discovered:

1. Yoga is hard, but if you keep turning up, eventually that hard becomes enjoyable.

2. Just because yogis make it look easy doesn’t mean it is easy.

3. Yoga will make you more supple, increase your strength and endurance, as well as improve your coordination and balance.

4. Yoga improves your confidence as you learn to explore the boundaries of what you think is possible.

5. Yoga challenges your mindset from ‘I can’t’ to ‘what if I could’.

6. Yoga makes you more aware - of your body, emotions, the space around you, and other people.

7. Yoga teaches you how to connect with yourself and others.

8. Yoga teaches you how to breathe correctly.

9. Breathing correctly helps you regulate your central nervous system.

10. Breathing correctly helps you alter your emotional state.

11. Learning how to breathe is like finding a roadmap on how to better deal with stress.

12. Yoga teaches you to be humble and reminds you that we are all imperfectly human.

13. Yoga helps you make friends.

14. Yoga takes you on your own personal journey of growth and development.

15. Yoga looks different to everyone.

16. Some yoga you will love and some you will hate. If you found one that you hate, move on and don’t be put off. The right kind is out there for you.

Written by Claire Buonaquisti - yoga/reformer Pilates instructor and health practitioner at Salus.

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