You’re trying to live a healthy and productive lifestyle. You’re exercising daily, eating healthy, working hard and maintaining realtionships with friends, family and (possibly) your significant other. You’re quite happy.
You feel hasty, somewhat stressed, and maybe even experience some discomfort in several parts of your body – lower back pain, cramped muscles, tight shoulders…
You’re not alone. I’ve been there. I’ve suffered from lower back pain for many years, experienced overtraining, dealt with insomnia, and felt restless throughout the day. But I found a way to improve my quality of life significantly.
As you’ll have guessed from the title, this way is by doing yoga.
I know, getting into a habit – daily or at all – may seem intimidating. Many of us have an all-or-nothing-mindset, which prevents us from starting a new habit because we’re afraid we can’t live up to our own ideals or expectations.
The thing is, you need to start small. You don’t need to take it from zero to a hundred immediately. You don’t have to start practising the habit you’re looking to develop for an hour every single day. But you do need to start somewhere.
For years, a ‘zen’ activity such as yoga was way out of my comfort zone. And as a restless teenager, I might not have been mentally ready for it. But counter to my expectations, I started loving it.
Let me tell you how it started for me and, more importantly, why you should give it a try.
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Resistance training is the first form of exercise I would recommend for those wanting to become fitter, lose weight, or feel better in their own skin in general.
Especially as we get older, it is extremely important that we keep working our muscles in order to stay healthy, something that’s not necessarily self-evident with many of us working desk jobs for most of the day. Muscle itself, once we’ve gained it, burns calories for us (even when sleeping) and helps us perform daily tasks more comfortably.
However, there needs to be a balance.
Not only in the different skills and types of movement we practice, but also in our mind and body in general. Being and feeling balanced allows us to move – both figuratively and literally – through our day.
To me, balance means feeling in tune with my body so that I can try and steer my actions and thoughts in a way that best supports me.
Here’s where the habit of practising yoga comes in.
How I started
About a year and a half ago, while I was working on my master’s thesis, my lower back pain started to become even worse than usual. Which was not surprising.
Not only was I sedentary for most of the day, I was working on my laptop in a not so back-friendly position on the couch. While this was comfortable at first, it was not optimal for my body overall.
I did work out at the gym most days, so at least I was moving every day, but some muscles (especially the glutes) had started to cramp. Not only during exercise, but during daily activities as well.
In order to incorporate a little more movement into my day, apart from walking daily which was beneficial to my back pain, I started doing some stretching. I noticed that gaining flexibility in my glutes and hamstrings made it easier to move without having to bend my lower back, resulting in a lot less pain.
I wondered what else would improve if I made stretching a daily habit.
So I started following along with yoga workouts on YouTube and learning about movement combinations. Soon, I felt comfortable enough to decide which poses and stretches I benefited most from, and created a flow for myself to do in the mornings.
Turns out, I experienced many more benefits than reduced lower back pain.
Checking in with my body and its needs for the day
Before starting to do yoga every morning, I would get up and feel pretty fine. But throughout the day I started to experience more and more back pain or other discomfort, without knowing directly where it came from.
Later, beginning every day checking in with myself, both with individual body parts and with my body as a whole as well as with my mindset that morning, I noticed I could identify more easily where I needed some extra love and attention that day.
I can now predict quite well what kind of discomfort I can expect on a given day based on what my body felt like in the morning. For instance, if my abs or glutes aretight or sore, I know that my back was going to hurt more than usual. And tight shoulders meant chances of developing headaches throughout the day.
I also pay attention to my energy and thoughts first thing in the morning. Am I feeling anxious, stressed, or relaxed?
With this knowledge, I can take my body’s needs into account throughout the day. For example, by making an effort to stretch a bit during the day, carefully choose my workplace for the day (a quality chair or standing desk instead of the couch), or even do an extra yoga session, if I am feeling specifically tight. Or by doing some breathing exercises or schedule some alone-time when feeling anxious.
The good thing is: you don’t need to do all kinds of complicated movements or stretches to experience this benefit. Just take a moment to truly pay attention and use your senses to get an idea of your state of being for the day.
It is very relieving to be up to date on where your body’s at and it feels good to be able to give it what it needs. This alone will greatly improve your quality of life, which is why I highly recommend it.
In line with the previous benefit of analysing the state of your boyd and mind in the morning, I could adapt my behaviour so that I would experience minimal discomfort throughout the rest of the day, and the days after.
I got used to the way my body was actually supposed to feel.
Crazy, right? We’re so used to feeling the way that we do, and we think that being tired and experiencing headaches or other types of pain are just how it is – we can’t do much about it.
But we can. and we should.
By modifying my day to day actions, I find that I don’t suffer as much from lower back pain and my neck and shoulers aren’t as tight, which in turn results in fewer headaches and more energy.
I learned that being in pain or discomfort is not normal, and that we owe it to ourselves to treat our bodies with the love that it deserves so that we can move through life as comfortably as we can. Because life is hard enough as it is, isn’t it?
Feeling of being in control of my day
With my habit of practising yoga in the mornings came the habit of starting a slow-paced morning routine that allowed me to calm my mind before jumping into the hectic of the day. I made it a habit to not check my phone for the first hour after getting up. After yoga, I started making tea and reading a bit before finally looking at my phone.
Starting the day with newly received messages, requests, and responsibilities is a great way to make sure you’re feeling rushed from the moment you get out of bed.
When I do this, not only do I feel hasty and anxious in the morning, I’m also more likely to forget checking in with myself throughout the day. So when things finally become too much for me, it is already too late.
However, now that I’m able to start my day quietly and on my won terms, I notice that I feel a lot more in control of my day. I know what I need to pay special attention to for that day, which reminds me to check in throughout the day to see how it’s going.
This way, I’m able to make better decisions and I feel like I’m a nicer and calmer person overall, since I get stressed a lot less easily.
Progress in the gym
Practising yoga has even helped me improve on other health and strength goals, and for several reasons.
For one, my muscles started recovering better and don’t cramp up as easily. Better recovery means that I can train the same muscle more frequently (and possibly inherently better muscle growth as well).
Secondly, I was able to increase my range of motion on certain movements because of increased mobility, which allows me to perform exercises better with a lower risk of injury, in turn beneficial for hyperthrophy (≈muscle gain) and building strength.
Finally, the better decision-making I mentioned, also applied to making food-related choices. Making healthy choices became easier, as well as intermittent fasting (=eating within a given timeframe each day and fasting during the rest of it). This is probably because I tend to eat when bored or stressed, which I now had other, better ways to cope with.
Lastly, as a result of the relaxing effects of yoga, of my being in control of my food decisions more, and of specific yoga movements, I noticed that my digestion improved.
For instance, when I practise yoga regularly, I feel less bloated and I can handle certain foods more easily. I also get back on track more easily when I’ve eaten too much or when I have consumed alcohol.
Adaptations along the way
Admittedly, for a few months I’ve been a lot less consistent with my morning yoga. But, this has only reminded me of why I need to stick to it.
It is easy to take for granted our state of being when things are going well, and to neglect doing those things that got us there in the first place.
That is why I’ve started to reincorporate yoga into my daily routine recently, and I’m already starting to notice the benefits. This only proves to my how much of a difference it actually makes in how I’mm feeling day to day.
Since starting my yoga journey, I’ve also made some changes to my routine. Currently, I basically have to flows/routines that I choose from each morning, based on how I’m feeling.
For both, I start in a seated position, loosening up the nack and shoulders and doing some movements to stimulate digestion. Afterwards, I do either of these:
- A flow based on the sun salutation, incorporating stretches that I know will make me feel good throughout the day. I try to prioritise this flow over the other, as it allows me to better tune in with my body, feel where it’s tight or tired, and gets me moving.
- A set of stretches while lying down, in order to improve digestion and hamstring & glute flexibility. I did this one a lot when just getting back into yoga, and on days where I’m especially tired or sore. It’s a good way to tune in with my body at least somewhat, and start my day quietly, while not feeling overwhelmed or discouraged by the idea of needing to do a more elaborate flow.
If you’re looking for suggestions, my favourite channel on YouTube – especially if you’re just starting out – is Yoga With Adriene. She has a few great 30-day challenges (that you don’t necessarily need to do 30 days in a row, obviously), which are fantastic to get familiar with (different kinds of) yoga.
The most important thing is to find what feels good, as Adriene likes to say. That is, find out what works for you and what makes you feel and perform your best, not just physically but mentally. Because that is what I wish for you, too.
Have you tried to do yoga yet or are you planning to?
What benefits have you experienced?
See you next time!