When I was in my twenties I lived with little awareness of what I was doing to my body, or the need to look after it. I guess most young people don’t. Call it ignorance, lack of appreciation or carefree optimism, when we’re young we think that we’re invincible, until we come face to face with a situation where the reality hits that we’re actually not.
In the past, I’ve put my body under a lot of strain: jumping out of aeroplanes every weekend throughout my university years, climbing several mountains over 5000 meters high and running and cycling extreme distances. I don’t regret these experiences one little bit; the things I’ve seen and learned and the people I’ve met in the process make me who I am. But sometimes I look back and wonder what impact such strenuous physical activity will have had on my body in the long term.
It wasn’t until I started practicing yoga that I started to listen to my body and to become aware of its frailty. With a regular yoga practice you become in tune with the sensations in your body; you notice when muscles are tight, or when you feel weak or tired, or when something isn’t quite balanced – both physically and mentally – because you come face to face with it on your mat. And with that mind-body awareness comes the desire to do the right thing for your body –whether it’s eating more healthily, exercising more or less regularly, or simply giving yourself permission to rest. Through your practice you’re investing in the preservation of your physical body and your mental health. And in doing so you’re cultivating a sense of self-awareness and kindness towards yourself.
We often ignore tightness in the body, and as tension builds over time we put up with the pain and discomfort which results, often because we feel helpless, afraid or demotivated to do something about it. Yoga empowers us with the tools to release tension, relieve pain and improve posture and it helps us to appreciate that this form of suffering can be optional. We do have the power to choose what our life looks and feels like. Once we truly connect and start to listen, we can appreciate that we have the power to feel good in our bodies.
In The Times Magazine on 19th December 2015 Caitlin Moran wrote about yoga, and it really struck a chord:
‘And it makes time go backwards, yoga - it f***s with the clocks. Because, previously I feared getting older. I knew my body would get stiffer, and more painful....
But now - now I do yoga - my limbs are getting strong; I can run up stairs. I want to run up stairs. The older I am, the more yoga I will have done, and the better I will feel. Getting older makes me younger.
I realised how foolish I'd been, putting money away for my pension, when I also needed to be putting yoga away, for my physical pension. You need to store up some quiet joy in your muscles, for later. You need to build up that pot of ease and glee. You need to underwrite your spine’
No matter how old you are and what you are experiencing in your body, there’s a mat waiting for you with your name on it.