Yoga

Yoga for life

katie_poole_stefan_dahl_1

Practising tree, photograph by Stefan Dahl

This weekend my friend Stefan photographed me doing some yoga postures. When I put the pictures on Facebook my friends started commenting about how great I looked and how they’d probably “break forever” if they tried to bend this way.

But I’m not naturally flexible or strong.

Actually, I still struggle in a lot of basic postures – I only posed with the ones I’m most confident in!

However, what I can do is the accumulation of five years of on/off yoga practice. Here’s my story…

Standing bow pulling pose, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Standing bow pulling pose, photograph by Stefan Dahl

My first class

My first-ever yoga class was in September 2007. I’d finally chosen to do something about my body image issues and I’d settled on signing up for my university’s early morning Kundalini yoga sessions. I was hoping to be skinny by Christmas.

I remember getting to class and the teacher lead us in a basic warm up; rolling out the shoulders, wiggling the fingers and other simple things that, honestly, anyone could do. 

Then we go to the postures: cat, crow, frog, cobra… I loved that they were named out of animals, but hated how damned hard they were! When we started doing sun salutations I also learned I couldn’t touch my toes. Actually, I couldn’t even touch my knees.

At the end of term I gave up; I asked for more hours at work and decided yoga just was not for me. That, and my yoga teacher was insane. She told us worrying was not efficient, that we were being silly for stressing out over exams. Like, she was absolutely bonkers; I was paying good money to go to that university, I wasn’t about to fail out!

Standing bow pulling pose, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Standing bow pulling pose, photograph by Stefan Dahl

I owned a yoga mat

But it doesn’t really just stop like that. I did, after all, have to buy a yoga mat for that first class and so I decided to put it to use. At home I would unroll my mat and do my favourite postures for 15 minutes a day, nearly every day for the next year. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or meant to be doing, but I decided that a little bit of stretching was better for me than no stretching.

After about six months of this I was finally able to touch my toes.

Standing head to knee, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Standing head to knee, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Follow along with the DVD

By now it’s January 2009. I’ve just come back from a semester abroad in London and I’ve gotten fat. I’m all sorts of round and I’m not at all proud of my body. I decide to use some of my Christmas money on a yoga DVD.

This time I was practising  Hatha style, and the lady in the DVD demonstrated the postures and talked through how you should be breathing or where your knee should be in relation to your ankle during the warrior postures. She had this creepy and weird peaceful tone of voice, like nothing in the world could bother her. She advocated bringing breath and a sense of humour to stressful situations and I deemed her a mentalist.

I was also still really struggling with the postures. I’d fall and lose balance a whole lot during the 60 minute long video, but I decided that I wouldn’t go to a studio until I was more confident in the postures. I was terrified of embarrassing myself.

Shoulder stand, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Shoulder stand, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Time to get serious

A year and a half later, in September 2010, I moved to London. By now I knew my yoga DVD by heart so I moved without it. I also decided to sign up for classes again.

This time I chose Ashtanga Vinyasa, Iyengar and Hatha. My university’s fitness centre offered all three regularly as drop-in classes for students. They were all rated as beginner/intermediate/advanced, but I decided to ignore this.

For the next year I challenged myself to go 2-3 times each week. I didn’t see much flexibility improvement, but I did notice I was a lot stronger, my muscles were becoming more toned and my balance had improved immensely. I also started learning the inverse postures, such as shoulder stand (pictured right) and the beginning steps for head stand.

I was annoyed that I still couldn’t do locus posture or put my feet behind my head, but I also started to realise that yoga isn’t about being skinny and flexible. It’s about loving your body, working with and respecting it, while also encouraging a happy, healthy relationship with every other aspect of your life.

I started to embrace the “crazy” yoga ideas of being one with yourself, and I found that my life became much, much less stressful. And the only change I made was attending yoga a few times each week.

During summer 2011 my university’s fitness centre closed for remodelling, and I simply couldn’t afford yoga classes – or a gym membership – anywhere else. That stuff is expensive and I was unemployed. I decided to focus on running outdoors to get some fresh air, coupled with yoga at home to stretch out.

Camel, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Camel, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Turning up the heat

About six months ago I decided I didn’t love running as much as I’d hoped. I also realised how much I was missing my regular yoga classes. I’d recently got a job so I looked for drop in studios, but all I could find were Bikram studios.

Bikram yoga is hatha style (which I like)  performed in a heated room (which I wasn’t too crazy about). But still, I wanted to lose more weight and I heard it was great for aiding weight loss and I really, really wanted to get back to my yoga practice.

After six months at two different studios in London I have to say I’m absolutely amazed by the results. I’ve noticed changes in my breathing, in my stress levels, how I handle difficult situations and even a better quality of sleep. That, and I’ve lost 4 inches off my waist in that time, along with much, much more flexibility than I thought my body would ever have.

It’s also an amazing feeling to see improvements in the postures themselves. Earlier this month my foot finally came over my head in standing bow pulling pose, but I’d been slowly watching it come over for four months prior.

The heat is definitely a challenge, as is keeping properly hydrated for classes, and I’m not the biggest fan of always doing the same 26 postures in every single class. I miss the inverted postures and I wish Bikram style allowed for hands-on corrections. To satisfy some of these complaints I blagged my way into an advanced Bikram yoga class. While I did get to do shoulder stand, practice my head stand with a tutor’s advice and get exposed to a whole bunch of new postures, I just didn’t have the strength/flexibility to keep up during the class.

And so, my newest challenge is Bikram twice daily at fewer times each week. I’m also practising lotus posture at home because I still can’t do it.

But then, I’ve got a whole lifetime of practice to master these postures.

Floor bow, photograph by Stefan Dahl

Floor bow, photograph by Stefan Dahl

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