Olivia's Beginner's Guide to Yoga
Hi! I'm Olivia and I work in Suneeta's Zero Waste shop in Brixton, as well as on Portobello Market and Brick Lane. I wanted to follow Chloe's personal practice blog with an introduction to beginning yoga, as part of our Sunday Self Care series.
Yoga is a practise that comes in many different forms, and includes poses, breathing techniques and meditation. It’s a fantastic way to boost your physical and mental wellbeing, allowing your body to calm down, detoxify, and rejuvenate. It’s also a brilliant way to stay energised, particularly important over the next few weeks. No matter what your fitness level is, yoga is suitable for everyone; all ages, all body shapes, all sizes. It’s fun, straight-forward, has an endless number of life-altering benefits and, best-of-all, it can be easily done at home. All you need are some comfy clothes, a quiet space, and ideally a mat (though a towel will do!).
Like Suneeta’s products, yoga is rooted in the ancient philosophy of Ayurveda, so the two go hand in hand. Ayurveda is a traditional philosophy of medicine originating in India, which is based on the idea that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between mind, body, and spirit. According to the Ayurvedian tradition, practising yoga is a great way to achieve this balance.
Whether you’re brand new to yoga or an experienced yogi, I would highly recommend the YouTube channel ‘Yoga with Adriene’. Adriene is a yoga instructor with hundreds of free videos tailored to all different ages, fitness levels, moods, professions, and circumstances. There really is something for everyone. A few of my favourites are ‘Total Body Yoga – Deep Stretch’, ‘Yoga for Text Neck’ (counteracts the effects of phone and computer use), and ‘12-Minute Bed-Time Wind Down Yoga’.
- Decreases Stress and Anxiety
Yoga is a wonderful way to soothe feelings of stress and anxiety. It has actually been proven to lower the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone. Yoga teaches you the importance of being present in the moment, emphasising the importance of finding a sense of peace and bodily awareness, primarily through breathing deeply and calmly. Yogic breathing techniques (called pranayama) focus on slowing the breath and breathing fully from the pit of your stomach to the top of your lungs. For me, when you’re focusing on breathing, balance, and getting the poses correct – any pre-existing feelings of stress or anxiety always seem to melt away. Since yoga also boosts the overall mind-body connection and increases your serotonin levels, it helps you to deal with negative emotions in everyday life too. It will never cease to amaze me that no matter what mood I’m in going into a yoga practice, I will always come out of it feeling relaxed, energised, and optimistic. This is just one of the many reasons that I love it.
- Improves Physical Health and Fitness
Practising yoga does wonders for your physical health and fitness. Ultimately, since it combines elements of cardio and strength training, yoga offers the same benefits as huffing and puffing away at the gym toddling about with weights and treadmills, but in a soothing, gentle, safe and more holistic way. And the best part about it is that it can be done at your own pace, in your own home. It’s been scientifically proven to have cardiovascular benefits, such as lowering blood pressure in those who have hypertension. It also reduces the risk of heart problems by increasing our blood and oxygen flow and relaxing the blood vessels. Yoga can also help to relieve asthma symptoms, since breathing exercises help to relax the muscles in different parts of our lungs, which tighten and tense up for asthmatics. Last but certainly not least, since it builds muscle and strength, yoga is also a great way to improve bone density and boost your metabolism.
- Improves Strength, Flexibility and Posture
One of my favourite things about yoga is that it allows you to build strength and flexibility in such a peaceful, relaxing and accessible way. Poses such as the plank, for example, simultaneously work on strengthening your arms, legs, shoulders and core. By increasing your flexibility, yoga helps to reduce joint pain, which prevents conditions like arthritis and sciatica, and helps to soothe symptoms for those who have it. By strengthening and stretching the shoulders, chest, back and abdominals, yoga is brilliant for your posture. It helps you to stand and walk taller, sit up straighter (particularly good for those needing to sit for prolonged periods of time) and, in turn, it helps to relieve any pain or discomfort that stems from bad posture.
- Reduces Muscle Tension and Pain
Since yoga is centered around stretching and improving our range of motion, it’s very effective for relieving muscle aches and pains, by relaxing tense muscles and building up our strength. Practicing yoga for even a few minutes a day can help you gain more awareness of your body. It helps you notice where you’re holding tension, and where you have imbalances. You can use this awareness to realign and rebalance, adjusting how you hold yourself. Common aches and pains caused by incorrect body posture can also be alleviated. I used to suffer from chronic lower back pain, but after a few weeks of first practising yoga, I noticed such a significant improvement.
- Glowing Skin
In addition to improving your mental and physical health, practicing yoga works wonders for your skin. It helps to reduce inflammation and improve the overall appearance of tone and complexion, leading to healthier and more radiant skin. Though we can all experience troublesome skin for lots of different reasons, the main reasons are increased toxin levels and a disturbed hormonal balance. However, since a yoga session can increase your sweat production levels, it can be an excellent way of drawing out all the residue toxins from your body. Not only does sweating regulate your body temperature, but it also opens up the pores and allows for much better detoxification. As we know, yoga is a wonderful tool to help you relax. When we’re relaxed, the blood flows more freely and can nourish the skin better. Enhanced blood flow ensures the skin receives all the oxygen it needs, which helps it stay elastic, supple, and evenly toned. Finally, acne outbreaks are often caused by the stress hormone called cortisol. And since we know yoga reduces the production of cortisol, you know what that means…yoga = reduced stress = better skin. I needn’t say more, but I’m going to anyway.
- Improved Sleep
How on earth can yoga have benefits for our health, stress levels, skin, strength and flexibility, pain management AND help us sleep better I hear you cry? Well, when people with insomnia incorporate a mindful yoga practice into their regular routine, they fall asleep faster, sleep for longer, and find it much easier to fall asleep when waking up in the night. Since I started practising yoga almost a year ago, I have noticed a world of difference to the quality of my sleep. Incorporating yoga into your bedtime routine can prove extremely useful, particularly if you’re going through a stressful time (like the one we’re all experiencing now!). As mentioned earlier, Adriene has a wonderful ‘12 Minute Bed Time Yoga’ video you can follow. Since certain yoga poses can be energising (thus not helping you to wind down), it’s important to do the right kind to prepare your body for sleep. Here are a few of my favourite relaxing asana poses I like to practise before bed:
Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Reclining Butterfly Pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)
- Increased Energy Levels
Since yoga can improve your sleep quality, it is also a fantastic means of rejuvenating the body; boosting your energy levels, keeping you active throughout the day, sharpening your concentration, and your ability to focus. Yoga increases 'prana' - that is, life force energy in the body, by removing blockages along the spinal cord and smoothening the energy flow. Some particularly useful energy-boosting poses are those that extend the spine, such as tree pose (vrksasana), allowing energy to circulate throughout the whole body, and poses that open the chest, like cobra pose (Bhujangasana), which encourages the intake of breath.
The long and short of it is, yoga makes you feel better. Practising postures, breathing, and meditation, even for a few minutes a day, makes you a healthier, happier and emotionally stronger person. And there’s no better time to start than now.