Things I've learned from yoga - it can change your life for the better, but you’ve got to give it time and show up regularly, writes Sarah Fretwell
I first stepped onto a yoga mat about 10 years ago, and a lot has changed since. Both physically and mentally. I’d just bought myself a cheap Adidas mat while I was studying abroad in France, while simultaneously suffering from a prolonged bout of food poisoning I’d caught in Thailand. I was in such a mess physically that I couldn’t face any sort of exercise for months, so my little yoga mat in my teeny tiny room was my saviour at that time. I found Yogaglo and would practice online with different teachers, trying different styles and finding out what I loved the most. I wasn’t really inflexible, I could almost touch my toes, but I definitely wasn’t as flexible as I am now. Or strong. I remember the first time I tried chaturanga and my arms felt like they were going to drop off after one rep.
Fast forward 10 years, and here are some things I've learned from yoga. I hope some of it resonates with you.
It takes time
It takes so much time to develop flexibility, and slightly less time to develop strength. It’s taken me over two years to almost get my splits. That’s two years of pretty regular practice, at least four times a week, for a minimum of 10 minutes per day. That’s a long time, and it can be pretty frustrating at times when stubborn body parts refuse to open up. But know this: they will eventually soften. You’ve just got to give them three things: patience, consistence and trust.
Everyone is at a different place in their lives
There are so many yogis out there…so, so many. And each individual you see in class has a totally different body to you. You don’t know if the most flexible ones in the room used to practice gymnastics or dance in their childhood, which is really common. I definitely used to compare myself to more flexible people in the room and guess how it made me feel? Rubbish. A failure. Everyone is at a different place in their practice to you, so try not to compare yourself to anyone else. But if you have to, do it in a positive way, looking for inspiration in those that are a little stronger or more flexible than you, and take tips from them rather than allowing self-doubt to come creeping in.
You have to be consistent
Consistency is the absolute number one reason why I have been able to get into some of the yoga poses I’ve finally cracked these past two years. Three years ago, my practice consisted of one hour, once per week, and I was seeing no real improvements in my flexibility or strength. It’s only when I committed to stepping onto my mat daily, or at least five times a week, that things started to shift. One of the things I've learned from yoga is this: Do the work, and you’ll reap the benefits.
It will empower you mentally
With every crow hold, chaturanga, and warrior, you’ll grow stronger. Not just physically, but mentally too. I remember the first time that I held pincha mayurasana for only a second. It felt amazing, I was so surprised at myself that I almost nosedived into the sofa. All these little triumphs are part of a much bigger picture - your own self-belief and trust. So keep on practicing, keep on failing, keep on falling. Then get back up and do it all again.
Little and often
It doesn’t need to be an hour every day. Seriously. Ten minutes every day will be way better for your practice, for your strength and flexibility. The body thrives on consistency and movement, so if you only spend one hour a week moving through yoga, you’ll be much tighter in that hour than if you’d practiced every day. Less is definitely more, as I’ve come to learn!
Self practice counts
This is one of the big things I've learned from yoga. Do your own self-practice. Step on your mat, daily if possible, if only for a few minutes. While classes are a fantastic way to learn, exploring what you’ve learned after the class on your own mat is a great way to really absorb everything you’ve learned, and try new things. This was a massive game-changer for me and I’ve really seen my flexibility, creativity on the mat and strength improve as a result.
Find your style
There are so many styles out there that it’s hard not to get confused. Yin, vinyasa, power, dynamic, hatha, ashtanga, kundalini, lyengar...the list goes on. I tried several styles before settling on vinyasa and yin as my two main loves. So when you’re first starting out, go to as many different classes as possible and dip your toes into new styles. You might just find your perfect match.
Find your teachers
A great yoga teacher is a gift who will continue to inspire your practice for a long time. But there are so many not-so-great yoga teachers out there. It’s important to find one that really sees you, offers you the best adjustments and gives the best cues that you actually understand. Try and stick with a couple or three main teachers and give them a chance to see you grow, to watch your journey. If you flitter from one teacher to the next, sure you’ll learn a hell of a lot of new things, but you’ll likely not build a real relationship with your teacher or an understanding, which is so important when you’re learning.
Be kind to yourself
Release the judgement, the fear, the negative self-talk about your body. I’ve come a long way since 10 years ago, where I often powered through yoga classes or exercise that I really didn’t need to do. I’ve since learnt to be kinder to myself, to listen when my body needs to rest. It’s hard, admittedly, but so worth it. As the saying goes, your body is your temple. Look after it, and it will look after you.
Learn to let go
Practicing yoga can start to become addictive, especially with all the posts you see on social media these days of yogis with seemingly never-ending flexibility and strength. I went through a phase of being so determined to conquer a particular pose that I lost sight of what I enjoyed about my practice in the first place: it enables me to let go and move freely. If you get too caught up with a goal and too attached to the outcome, it can start to eat away at you if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you want. So let go of achieving something in a certain time frame, and enjoy the journey.
Find your tribe
Yoga has become a practice of community. There are so many people practicing out there that you can see on social media. Instagram is a huge source of inspiration to me, and I’ve found people that I’ve connected with in the real world through yoga, that inspire me every day on Instagram. Whether it’s the people you meet in a yoga class, or friends you find on your yoga teacher training, hold on to them and let them inspire you, just as you’re probably inspiring them.
Sarah Fretwell is a yoga instructor and writer (sarahfretwellyoga.com)
11 Things I've Learned from Yoga first appeared in the November 2018 issue of OM Yoga & Lifestyle.
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.