The Real-life Great Thing About Yoga (aka Applied Yoga)
Updated: Feb 8
Everyone who reads this already knows that yoga is good for us. There is enough evidence in terms of research and tons of anecdotal evidence, too.
As a studio owner, this year has been incredibly tough. It's a little bit like yoga laughing me in the face, screaming: "APPLY ME! APPLY ME!!!". Truth is, being able to teach and practice, being able to navigate this time with yoga teachers and students has been a lifesaver, it has kept me away from an edge that I like to stay away from.
Many years ago, I started yoga purely for the physical benefits, and because I really, really do not like gyms. But the thing is, once you start yoga, something magical happens. You begin to get to know your body, maybe for the first time in your life. A good teacher will ask you to go inside and listen to what your body is telling you. Sounds cliché? Hear me out!
Listening to your body allows you to get to know your triggers, initially just for any physical sensations, but then yoga takes you further. You learn to listen to your mind triggers (what distracts, scares, stresses you), your emotional triggers (some yoga styles flush out emotions and we have students in the studio that have big releases during or after a class, yoga can be incredibly cathartic). Get to know your soul triggers. Being able to find your soul's calling is probably the most powerful thing you can do - the meaning of life. You begin to take yoga off the mat, and into your day to day life. You find ways to apply the yogic principles that your teachers convey to you with passion and knowledge - and after a while, you begin to start becoming the best person you could be. It takes different lengths of times for each of us, but most of us, who stick with the practice, get to that point.
Yoga can teach us how to become the best person we can be in a holistic way. Let's take a step away from yoga, and consider the eight dimensions of wellbeing:
These dimensions do not need to be equally balanced, but they all need to be addressed as over time, ignoring one will affect the health of the others. You can find the balance that works best for you, your own wellbeing harmony that is authentically you.
Alas, how do you begin?
Well, there is the question of all questions. Many of us arrive at this point...at some point. Some call it midlife crisis :) Fed up with how we are going through life. Maybe exhausted and tired, mentally drained, physically in pain, spiritually empty, too busy or just fed up to maintain meaningful relationships, we have come to the conclusion that SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE.
This is the point where many head over to amazon and start buying some self-help books (I like reading a self-help book here and there myself!). Or you can start by asking yourself "Am I going to accept myself, or expect more from myself?". We often read the motivational quotes along the lines of "you are great as you are" or "accept as you are" - and I agree with those if your potential, circumstances and fate right now don't allow you to consider growth. But then ask yourself this "Are you going to accept the present, or consider the future?". Expecting more from yourself does not have to be an unhealthy addiction to perfectionism, but it is asking you to keep a growth mindset. If you aren't there, then you aren't there YET. If you can't do something, you cannot do it YET.
The choices you make today shape your future, but every day allows you to make new choices. Don't worry about getting it perfect, just get it going.
What does this have to do with yoga?
Holistically integrating physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing means nourishing the body, engaging the mind, and nurturing the spirit (Stoewen, Debbie: Dimensions of wellness, CVJ, VOL 58, Aug 2017) and yoga addresses those dimensions every time you step on the mat (and as mentioned above, eventually off the mat, too).
Striving for physical health is almost always one of our goals and maybe an easy one to start with, but it is more than that. It is about living life fully, and is creating habits for a lifestyle that "(...) allows you to become the best kind of person that your potentials, circumstances, and fate will allow.” (Ardell, DB: Definition of Wellness. Ardell Wellness Report, 1999).
I personally took that first step into changing my life with yoga. When I arrived at the point of "something has to change", it was more curiosity (and the dislike of gyms) that made me try yoga. When yoga began to filter into virtually all the dimensions mentioned above (and I am not saying it will do this for all of you), I realised its transformational power on my life.
Now, at 46 years old, I am in better shape than I was at 26. I am not one of the super-flexible, contortionist yoga crowd, I am also miles away from the deep spiritual enlightenment that many yogis have already found - but I am on my way. I am just not there YET - and the journey is more important than the destination in this case! Having a healthy range of motion, a strong and lean body, a calm mind, finding ways to build purpose and meaning, have strategies to deal with stressful days, a desire to nourish my body, gain and share knowledge, enable and share meaningful connections, and demonstrate commitment to our Mother Earth - those are all things that I have already gained and my life is fulfilling and happy because of them.
As a business Unwind Yoga Studio offers yoga classes - those address mostly the physical dimension, sometimes the emotional and spiritual dimensions, too. When I started writing the menopause programme, I realised that I wanted to address more dimensions. I noticed how important, how fundamentally needed the "social" dimension is. Community is everything, and in the current times, building one is very difficult. People are shying away from people when they crave connection the most. The menopause programme is such a lovely community of women that has shown me that we heal when we come together. We have more patience, confidence, strength, acceptance, and grace. When we embody these qualities, it has a ripple effect on everything around us, and we can move forward, together.
Adding educational components to future programmes that allow you to explore yoga as a philosophy will address the intellectual component, yoga is a comprehensive system of personal development for those who want it!
I truly believe that yoga enhances all aspects of our wellbeing. And where it does not give direct guidance, it opens our minds to:
the idea of nourishing plant-based food (there is a yogic principle of do no harm, which includes not harming animals AND plant-based food is good for our physical bodies, complementing yoga harmoniously)
the concept of becoming happier and consider flourishing
practicing gratitude and positive thinking
investing in social connections
living in the present
taking care of your body and soul (yes, yes, even if you are not religious, your soul needs a spiritual component to sing)
savouring life's joys
(many taken from Sonya Lyubomirsky: The How of Happiness)
All of the above are concepts of happiness and part of positive psychology (aka the science of how to "find ways to deal with the shit life throws at you, so you remain hopeful, find balance, meaning and purpose, possibly even thrive" (M. Norris, MAPP 2020 Bucks New Uni), "support us on our journey to fulfilment, understanding and compassion" (D. Perry, MAPP 2020, Bucks New Uni), or "science behind the practice of happiness and wellbeing" (S. Connolly-Hogan, MAPP 2020, Bucks New Uni)), which is the component that I bring to the business that makes Unwind unique.
Unwind is not just yoga. Unwind is your door to designing and living a life in a way that allows you to become the best kind of person that your potential, circumstances, and fate will allow. Change your habits, change your life. We are ready when you are.
PS: We are always working with market-leading experts in the wellbeing industry to develop programmes that are for you when your head is telling you "SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE", and they may include: Yoga, Meditation, Breath, Nutrition & Supplements, Natural Complementary Therapies, Sleep, Positive Attitude and Connection - all in a one stop shop! Curious? Email me to find out more.
(Unwind Yoga Studio is located in Cookham, Maidenhead, in Berkshire)