By Indira Das-Gupta
This year we are all going to be slimmer, more attractive, richer, more popular, more successful and generally just get an A* for all round awesomeness. At least that is what we tell ourselves on the 1st January. By the end of the month, we’re already cursing having forked out for a gym membership, our Nutribullet still hasn’t been taken out of the packaging and the only time we’ve worn on our new Sweaty Betty leggings is to take up residence on the sofa.
When we set the kind of unrealistic goals for ourself, that even as we set them, we know we have no hope of actually sticking to them, we are basically setting ourselves up for failure. Is being slimmer and richer what we really aspire to in any case? Or is it just society and social media that tells us these are the things we should be seeking to achieve? Even if we did attain those goals, would we really be happier? Isn’t that really what we all want, to just feel a bit better within ourselves, basically to be happier and get along better with people?
I’ll be the first to admit that Yoga is not a panacea. If your marriage is in trouble, I can’t promise that Yoga will save it. Although it’s not implausible that it could actually help improve your relationship with your other half. I really do believe that doing Yoga regularly will at the very least improve your relationship with yourself and isn’t this the most important relationship any of us will ever have? Get that bit right and the rest is more likely to follow.
This may sound like the usual new year woo woo wellness claptrap, but think about it: if you were to make time for yourself each day to do something that helped you to breathe better, sleep better, feel more relaxed and want to look after yourself - how could that not help you feel better about, well everything? If you are stressed it makes you irritable, and can affect your sleep, which makes you even more irritable and grumpy which in turn affects your relationships. Yoga is proven to help reduce stress, so how could doing it not improve our outlook on life?
Maybe you’ve seen pictures of model types doing handstands and sun salutations in the Maldives with #yoga and #blessed in the captions and thought, that Yoga could help you shift a few pounds and feel more attractive. Yoga can help you tone up for sure, but if you only approach it as a work out then frankly you’re probably better off checking out your nearest “legs, bums and tums” class.
Yoga is the full package. It works on your body, mind and spirit. Last year was pretty stressful for just about everyone, particularly all the uncertainty which we are still having to live with. Practicing mindful breathing, like we do in Yoga, can really help us to manage stress levels before they escalate. Just taking some time out from all your day to day worries to focus on yourself can make the world of difference.
Whilst you might recognise the mental health benefits of doing Yoga, what about all this spirit business? Isn’t that just more ning nag nongery for the GP (Gwyneth Paltrow) brigade? Hear me out. Whether you are religious or not, the chances are that you believe in something which is greater than just the individual. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s about the importance of connection. When we feel isolated from others it really has a detrimental affect on our sense of well being. That’s why many people flouted the rules during lockdown, they were simply lonely and depressed.
Obviously going to a Yoga class and being around other people can help you feel more connected but even doing Yoga at home on your own or online can heighten our sense of connection. Yoga actually means union, this can mean union between body mind, and yes our old friend spirit, or union with others. Research shows that Yoga can improve the function of the vagus nerve, a key nerve in stress resilience. To put it another way, when your vagus nerve doesn’t function well, you are likely to feel more easily overwhelmed by stressful situations. But as well as affecting our ability to deal with stress, the function of the vagus nerve also impacts on our sense of connection. A meditation exercise that I often practice with my students is the Loving Kindness Meditation in which we actively cultivate kindness and forgiveness towards others.
Another huge benefit of Yoga is that it teaches us how to be more present and in the moment. This not only helps us to feel more relaxed and less anxious but also improves our relationships and sense of connection. A lot of the time when we are with other people we are not really all there, our minds are elsewhere, maybe we are on our phones, we might not even be listening properly. But if we can really learn to be in the moment and give people our full attention it can only enhance our capacity for empathy and understanding.
So yes, Yoga can give you great arms and teach you to balance, but I honestly believe it also encourages us to try and be nicer to ourselves and others. It’s not a magic wand, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work and stick to it, but when you do, the benefits are nothing short or life changing. So if you only make one new year’s resolution this year - take up Yoga.