This post is about how I tricked myself into joining a yoga class. And changed my life!
It all happened one fateful day when I was going about my business as usual when an unexplained, random thought popped into my head: “I should join a yoga class!” I can’t explain what prompted this brief lapse of sanity, and under normal circumstances the thought would have passed out of my mind uneventfully and as quickly as it had come. Impulses like this usually result in a quick mental process whereby my brain assesses the merit of the thought along the following lines. “Yoga is exercise. You are Monique. Monique does not do exercise.” Case closed. However, on this occasion I happened to be sitting at my computer when I had the weird yoga thought. Although the rest of my body is a blob, my fingers are supremely fit, and when they have access to a keyboard they are capable of moving much faster than my brain. Consequently, before I was able to engage in the logic outlined above, my fingers had typed “yoga teacher somerset west” into Google. Oops! The profile of Domenique Hendricks popped up, I quickly read it, accidentally filled in her contact form and clicked submit! She sent a prompt, pleasant reply, and to cut a long story short I somehow convinced myself to try out a class.
At this point a bit of my personal background is relevant. Healthy eating is not a foreign concept to me. I was raised by an extremely health conscious mother who taught me to cook and to eat right. She also raised me a vegetarian and I have never eaten meat in my life and never plan to. I absolve her of any and all responsibility for the fact that I became a “junk food vegetarian”, because never did a mother try harder and face greater resistance than mine did with me! However, when I eventually decided to stop being a brat and eat like a grownup I had plenty of healthy diet information and cooking skills to fall back on. What’s more, I actually like healthy food on condition that I eat it to the degree that I have no space left for junk food. Once the addictive junk food eating takes over for some reason the veggies I adore taste “yucky” and they remain untouched and go rotten in my fridge. Exercise, however, is a whole other story. I was extremely uncoordinated as a child and horribly bad at sport. Always last in a school-yard pick. The sports field or the gym were places of intense humiliation for me. In the classroom however, I reigned supreme and took my revenge on the jocks who spurned me at recess and during physical education class. I excelled at academics and inevitably felt good about myself when engaging in intellectual activities. It is no surprise then, that I ultimately opted for a sedentary lifestyle and avoided exercise as much as possible, particularly in group situations. I have no positive history with exercise from my early development to return to, unlike the rich heritage of healthy eating that is currently serving me so well.
But enough with the autobiography and back to the yoga class. How I ended up there is still something of a mystery to me, but perhaps on some level I knew that if I wanted to get somewhere I have never been, I would need to do something I had never done. I was so ignorant of what yoga entailed that I wasn’t sure if I was meant to wear shoes or go barefoot. So arrived wearing a pair of trainers just to be safe and quickly discovered my mistake when I stepped across the threshold and was greeted by the instruction “no shoes in the yoga studio!” Also, although Domenique was welcoming, she clearly had serious concerns about my general state of health and my ability to do yoga – for very good reason. I felt the old feelings of embarrassment rising and tried not to let myself think too much about how this felt like high school all over again. However, Domenique encouraged me to try a class and also informed me that yoga was non-competitive, we all worked at our own pace and ideally the whole class was done with your eyes closed. Phew! So not like high school after all! I was particularly relieved to learn that while I would be watching to learn the yoga postures (asanas) the experienced members of the class would keep their eyes closed and not look at me. If only my gym teacher had a rule like that things would have turned out very different for me! 🙂
When I joined the class I had made myself one promise: No matter how tough it was, I would keep coming back until it felt better. So I did. I was a bit sore after the first class, but other than that have had none of the DOMS (stiffness or “delayed onset muscle soreness”) I have with other high impact workouts. I certainly found it strenuous and struggled through the first few classes, but it was doable. I put this largely down to the fact that Domenique is an excellent, extremely experienced teacher who knows how to work with people at different levels within the same group. She modifies exercises for me, and forces me to work within myself. She also does this in such a way that I do not feel I am disrupting the rest of the class too much.
So now let’s get to how yoga is changing my life:
- For almost as long as I can remember I have suffered from regular, severe headaches. I was getting tension headaches almost every day and severe migraines every few weeks. This is debilitating, to say the least. In order to function at all, I was taking a codeine-based painkiller pretty much like a chronic medication. This made me feel lousy and I knew this was terrible for my health so I really wanted to get off the drug. The doctor thought my problem was rebound headaches as a result of addiction to the painkiller, and while this almost certainly was going on, it was not the whole story and she wasn’t giving me any workable alternative. It is probably the headaches more than anything that made me consider taking yoga in the first place. I have other health issues related to diet, but I firmly believe that my headaches are caused by stress and lack of exercise. I noticed a marked improvement in my headaches within the first week of starting yoga and today they have almost disappeared and when I do get one it is much milder and more manageable.
- Yoga has helped me to reconnect with my body. It frightens me when I realize how much I was trying to live my life like some sort of disembodied consciousness hoping somehow that my body would look after itself and leave me alone! Starting yoga was literally like flicking on a switch, or reconnecting a lose wire. Simply by exercising with your eyes closed, your awareness automatically shifts inwards. In addition, yoga focuses very much on breathing, meditation and relaxation which greatly improves your sense of connection to your body. This is particularly helpful for someone trying to lose weight because you find that you naturally become more aware of signals of hunger, thirst, tiredness, stress and anxiety and can take corrective action before they become a huge problem.
- Yoga is one of the best strategies for stress management I have ever come across. At the end of a class you feel profoundly relaxed, even more so than if you had had a full body massage or taken a sedative! This is critical for losing weight because high stress levels push up cortisol, which signals the body to eat more and store fat.
- I find that I am better co-ordinated, more agile and generally able to get through normal daily tasks more easily since starting yoga. I have also found that I care more about what I do to my body and am much less inclined to abuse it by eating the wrong things!
One thing that did concern me when I started was that although the internet is full of articles discussing the benefits of yoga, there are quite a few stating that it is not particularly helpful for weight loss. However, these articles are based on the assumption that the primary goal of exercise for weight loss is to burn calories. Since it is believed that you don’t burn as many calories from an hour of yoga as you would from, say, an hour of running, it is not considered the best choice if your main aim is to shed body fat. Well, as my new bff, Dr Lustig, points out, calorie burning is actually the least compelling reason to exercise. In “Sugar – The Bitter Truth” he states:
- It’s not the Calorie Burn. You’d have to work-out too many hours to burn off the calories from a candy bar, juice, or dessert.
However, exercise is extremely beneficial for:
- Toned Muscles. Exercise improves skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity–because insulin works better in strong lean muscle.
- Stress Reduction. Exercise reduces stress and the release of the stress hormone cortisol–appetite goes down when stress goes down.
- Detoxifies Fructose. Exercise makes the body’s “Citric Acid Cycle” run faster, which detoxifies fructose, improving liver insulin sensitivity–and preventing fructose from turning into fat.
You can’t beat yoga for strength training and muscle toning, stress reduction and detoxing! Which means that yoga is a fantastic form of exercise, not only for all it’s other well known benefits, but for weight loss as well! It is has definitely made a massive difference in my life, and I am convinced that it is one of the key reasons why I am succeeding this time where I have failed in the past.
If you are trying to lose weight, get healthy or just generally feel better, I highly recommend finding a good yoga class with an experienced teacher. If you happen to live in Somerset West, South Africa, look no further than World’s View Yoga Studio. If not, there is bound to be a good teacher near you. Come on! If I can do it, so can you!