Wellness | 16 August 2019
Create space to stretch and relax.
Hilary Wilson our in-house yogi advises on how anyone of any age, shape and level of experience can create a space to stretch and relax.
The UK’s National Health Service says that stretching or strength and flexibility exercises will help you increase muscle strength, maintain bone density, improve balance and reduce joint pain. Increasing flexibility is an important factor of fitness and can also improve your posture, reduce stress and body aches, and more. For those of us who sit down all day it’s essential, and ideally we should be doing it daily. Yoga with its focus on good breathing and mindfulness is a great and highly accessible (there is a style to suit everyone) way to begin.
Many yoga practitioners will tell you that stepping onto their yoga mat feels like coming home, bringing an immediate sense of calm and clarity; a feeling of safety and belonging. You may even hear it expressed as “coming home to oneself.”
This may not appeal to everyone; it may even make you cringe!? However, there’s no denying that as humans we seek that sense of connectedness and belonging. We want to find our tribe. The other thing is you don’t even need a yoga mat. A blanket or a towel to cushion you a little from the floor would work. Likewise if you have less mobility you can use a chair. A yoga mat has the advantage of being non-slip and softly cushioned. They are also fairly inexpensive to buy so it may be worth investing in one.
“The most important pieces of equipment you need for doing yoga are your body and your mind.”
Rodney Yee, Yoga Instructor
While yoga is really about the individual, many people like to attend classes, I certainly find that yoga at home requires more self-discipline, and I struggle with that sometimes… Often, we’re better motivated when practicing in a group environment, spurring each other on to work that little bit harder. We can also learn from and share with one another as we immerse ourselves in a collective mindset, a refuge from day to day life.
Classes aren’t available to everyone, of course, and perhaps they simply aren’t your thing. The brilliant thing about yoga is that it can be practiced anywhere, outdoors, indoors, at work, at home — wherever you find yourself!
As it can be hard to find the discipline to get yourself to do it at home, it helps to have a dedicated place where you can shut off and spend some time just for you. It’s not necessary to have anything special. You don’t need a studio or area complete with incense, candles, deity statues and the like (although that’s cool if it’s for you!). Ideally, you want space where you can get away from the outside world — either by closing the door or by letting the rest of the household know that you’re having some down time.
It can be tough to find calm in a space that is cluttered, so giving the area a quick tidy before your settle down to your practice is a good idea. Though if you end up practicing next to some shoes that have been tossed aside and a few bits of home clutter, it’s no big deal. Your yoga space can be anywhere in the home, from a corner of the kitchen to a garden shed. The most important things are that the area is a quality space for you, and that you can move 360 degrees. The best way to test this it to stand upright with your arms outstretched a turn around a full 360 degrees to ensure you don’t hit anything.
For most people, a home yoga space will be used for other things as well — cooking, eating, watching TV, sleeping etc. If this is the case, try and have a few items to hand that you set out when it’s time to practice. This could be a blanket, candle, flowers, or perhaps an image — anything that reminds you that “it’s my time.” Or perhaps inspiring music will help you to feel prepared? If music is your thing it definitely doesn’t have to be of the relaxing new age variety — my favourite yoga class was taught against a backdrop of 90s hip hop. If your neighbours don’t mind, I say blast the tunes and go for it!
The ideal is to cultivate a feeling of “coming home” when you step into your space everything should feel just right. For me, this is a feeling of safety, comfort and familiarity. When most people think of home, they think of it as a sanctuary, a spot just for them, away from the outside would. What would you need to create a small, pop up space that evokes these feelings? If the feeling of home is a different vibe for you try different things to find what works best. What we’re aiming for is to create a space that is peaceful, calm and safe. A personal oasis in a desert of noise and demands.
Once you’ve got your space sorted, you’re good to go. It’s as simple as that.
“I bend so I don't break.”
I love yoga and have been practicing for many years now, however I still often find myself worrying about mundane things before I head to class: What will I wear, where is my mat, will I get there on time, do I need to eat first? I have to remind myself to just go. Honestly, just get yourself onto the mat, into the chair — wherever it is you practice and just do it! You may end up just sitting or lying in savasana (also known as corpse pose — where you lie flat on you back, completely relaxed… not as easy as it sounds!). If you do that’s all good! Do what your body needs.
I’m not much for routines, but I recognise that many people find them helpful. Creating a routine around your yoga practice may help you, too. Find some tips on creating a yoga habit here. There are lots of free classes you can stream online for all levels and abilities. Please check out the resources below.
Finally, and most importantly, yoga is for everyone. Please don’t let the constant stream of perfectly lithe and serene yoga poses on Instagram fool you! Although these images can be beautiful and inspirational, it’s a good idea to remember that everyone started somewhere. And looking ‘perfect’ in a pose is not the end goal — yoga is a lifelong practice and the end goal is feeling great. It’s fun to share the results of hard work on social media, but often people don’t post the endless hours spent building strength and flexibility.
It really doesn’t matter whether you can kiss your kneecaps or if you sweat just trying to touch your knees, both are the perfect pose! Nor does it matter what you look like or where you’re doing your yoga. Yoga is for you.
Find out more…
New to yoga? Check out this yoga guide on the NY Times, with info on all things related to starting a practice. Keep scrolling — there’s loads of info!
There is a lot of choice when it comes to choosing a type of yoga to try — find a great breakdown of the most popular ones here.
For an endless stream of free, awesome classes for all levels and interests, free at home workshops and free yoga challenges, check out Yoga with Adriene. She’s amazing.