Yoga for people who hate yoga

Sunday, December 7, 2014

It’s a bit embarrassing to say I like yoga. Maybe because it’s perceived as being really middle class, and because Russell Brand does it. Maybe because it doesn’t have the same cool shared acceptability as running or cycling – which are, dare I say it, viewed as more masculine activities? I don’t know.

So here’s a confession: I do yoga. I like it.

I like Laurie Penny’s reasons for liking yoga. There’s no dignity (for anyone!) in yoga: like Laurie says, everyone’s bum is in the air.

This post is an attempt to share what I’ve gained from yoga. I think a lot of my stressed-out friends working in tech (who use computers too much) would benefit from yoga but are hesitant to try it. Dear friends: try yoga; it’s not actually a cult.

I tried yoga for the first time in June and have practised every week since then. I’ve kept doing it because I benefit hugely, mostly from stress reduction. I’m much calmer. And did you know there’s so much more to the physical world than interacting with pictures under glass? (I didn’t.) It’s helped me be more aware of my body outside of having ten fingers and a pair of eyes. Apart from this, yoga is connected with mindfulness, which has a bunch of other benefits for your brain and health (here’s a study).

This might sound weird but it’s transformed my relationship with feet. Yoga is done barefoot. Our feet are usually pretty numb being in socks and shoes and surfaces feel the same. Yoga studios often have a no-shoes policy so you’re walking around barefoot and you experience all the different floor textures. It’s a whole new experience. Being barefoot with strangers on floor surfaces can make you feel weirdly vulnerable, in a good way. So now I’m comfortable being barefoot in a room with other people and I even feel a bit regretful that I can’t be barefoot all the time. It probably wouldn’t fly at work. (This may warrant another post about how most shoes are crap and how great it’d be to have spaces where it was acceptable to be barefoot outside of a yoga studio).

Do yoga

I recommend starting yoga by going to an actual class. The idea of going to a yoga class might be intimidating, but there’s no need to feel intimidated. Studios are a safe space. Nobody is watching or judging you. Also: yoga is for everybody, not just for the young and fit. If you have a physical disability or injury, every pose can be adjusted or substituted. A good teacher will ask about injuries before starting the class, and suggest alternative poses for people who need them. A good beginner yoga class will help you learn the basics and prevent you from injuring yourself. Classes will also challenge you, and a good teacher may also advise or adjust you if you perform a pose incorrectly. Once you master the basics and want to save money on classes, I recommend looking into ashtanga yoga (which has a reputation for being the more athletic form of yoga) because it has an emphasis on self-practice. This means you can just learn the poses and do them at home.

The most expensive part of yoga tends to be classes. Classes aren’t cheap: I’ve seen them range from £7 to £15. It’s worth investing in a few classes to begin with so you learn the basics, and from there on you can develop a home practice or follow YouTube videos (there are thousands). There are also free or donation-based classes in London if you look out for them. If you’re looking for a studio, I recommend Triyoga in London — the spaces are good, and the teachers tend to be good, though the prices are on the upper end of the scale.

But that’s it: you don’t need to buy gear. You’re barefoot and technically all you need is a towel. Grass also works. A mat is a good idea if you want to practice at home (so you don’t slide on the floor or get carpet burn), along with a t-shirt and leggings or shorts.

It’s sad that companies like Lululemon are selling yoga gear at exorbitant prices. If you want to buy yoga gear I’d recommend looking at Nike which has better prices and a more introvert-friendly store experience (or just buy online, which sidesteps the whole pesky interfacing-with-humans bit).