Today, we’re delighted to be sharing with you an article written by a client of ours, the fabulous Kelly! Kelly is a yoga enthusiast and has kindly offered to share with us some of the reasons why she advocates practising yoga for self-care.
It’s well-documented that there is a strong link between yoga and mental health. So, if you’ve ever considered giving yoga a go, read on. Kelly is sharing how she feels that you could benefit.
Throughout this article are photos of Kelly, taken during her photoshoot with us in May 2019. Since yoga is so important to Kelly, we incorporated yoga poses into her shoot and it was lovely to personalise her portraits in this way.
Related reading: How to inject your personality into your portraits
Yoga for self-care
Hi everyone, I’m Kelly!
I am 41 years old and grew up in Toronto, Canada. I moved to the UK 19 years ago.
My yoga journey started in 2014. At first, I was just looking to try and sort out a shoulder injury. However, it did not take me long to get hooked on yoga and I came to realise that there is so much more to yoga than just the poses. I practice yoga for self-care too.
I have been lucky enough to attend countless yoga workshops and a once-in-a-lifetime yoga retreat in Cambodia. I’ve already completed a 100-hour teacher-training yoga course and I am about to start another – but just a 40-hour long one this time!
Common misconceptions about yoga
When people think about yoga, they assume you need to be really flexible, be a certain age and have the perfect slim body. These are some of the biggest misconceptions about yoga!
Yoga doesn’t care about the size of your leggings, how flexible you are, your age, your sex or your background. Yoga is for everyone.
There are many benefits to practising Yoga.
On the physical side, regular yoga practice will increase flexibility, tone muscles, increase strength and build a stronger core. This is of course fantastic for your body! There is also an amazing sense of accomplishment when you can “nail the pose”.
There are countless psychological and mental health benefits of yoga as well. Yoga practice relaxes the mind, allows you to reconnect with yourself, reduces stress in the body and creates more mental clarity.
If you practice yoga regularly with intention and self-examination, you will see a different side of yourself. It is inevitable that you will boost your sense of self-worth.
Yoga allows us the time to be just ourselves and be fully present in our bodies with no judgement. It gives us the time to be still and care for ourselves deeply – in mind, body and soul.
As the ancient text, the Bhagavad Gita says: “Yoga is the journey of the self through the self to the self”.
Five benefits of yoga for self-care
Physical changes to the body
Improved flexibility is one of the first and most obvious benefits of yoga. In your first class, you may not be able to touch your toes but, after a little while, you will start to feel the gradual loosening of your muscles. The pose that seemed impossible at first will soon become possible.
As you get stronger and more flexible, your posture will improve too. This will help reduce aches and pains (especially in the back and neck). It will also make you appear slimmer as you will be standing “tall”.
Yoga can help address any muscular imbalances, will lengthen tighter areas and build strength in weaker areas.
Yoga helps you sleep better
Yoga helps provide relief from the hustle and bustle of everyday modern life. You will learn to quiet your mind and relax your body. As yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety, it prepares the body (and mind) for a more relaxed and nourishing deep sleep.
Once you start to practice and you begin to notice the aches and pains are easing, this will also help at bedtime as your body will be less agitated.
Good quality sleep has also been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety. It can also increase your metabolism and memory.
Related reading: Nine quick and easy self-care activities for women
Yoga for self-care and mindfulness
Being mindful means paying a bit more attention to everything you do. You become more present and aware of what is going on.
By doing this, you are in a better frame of mind to make better and healthier choices.
With regular yoga practice, you will be focused on the pose (asana) and breath work (pranayama) which can help focus your mind on the present. You will start to cultivate awareness in your physical body along with your emotional, spiritual and mental state.
Mindfulness has been shown to help reduce depression and anxiety, and it is very effective in promoting positive mental health.
Yoga and meditation
Meditation goes hand in hand with yoga. It is about quieting the internal chatter and focussing on your breath.
This does not mean that you need to dedicate two hours a day to meditation as this is an unrealistic goal for most of us! A good way to start is by setting the alarm on your phone for 5 minutes and lying down on your bed, allowing your body and mind to be still and not worrying if thoughts appear.
It is natural for your mind to wander to all sorts of things (a favourite of mine is my shopping list) but with a skilful practice, you will become mindful enough to bring your attention back to your breath and relax the mind.
The benefits of meditation for self-care are endless. They include promoting emotional health, enhancing self-awareness, reducing negative thoughts, sharpening the mind and increasing creativity.
- Yoga improves body image
Unlike some forms of exercise, you do not ‘perform’ yoga. There is no ‘winning’ involved, and you do not need to prove anything to anyone. Your yoga practice is between you and your mat and has often been referred to as a “work in” rather than “work out”.
The poses are personal and each time we try a new pose, work through any discomfort and just give in to the pose, we are connecting with our bodies.
When you start your practice, pay attention (be mindful) to ways your body can surprise you, and how far you have come. Your beautiful body is allowing to you fold forward, twist and backbend.
As yoga helps tone your muscles and improves your posture, your clothes will fit better and will become more comfortable in your own skin.
Related reading: Five tips to boost your confidence and mindset this summer
Why not include yoga in your self-care routine?
It can be daunting to go to your first yoga class, it certainly was for me. My anxiety was on overdrive. I told myself I was not thin enough and that I didn’t know what I was doing. I worried “what if everyone stared at me because I couldn’t do a pose”?
These feelings quickly went away though as I soon realised that everyone was so focused on their own practice to care that I couldn’t stand on one leg!
My yoga journey has been one of self-enquiry, weight loss, changes in self-esteem and how I see myself. I have always been a people pleaser and it didn’t matter if I suffered because of it. Now though, I feel a lot more comfortable in saying no and standing up for myself.
For me, yoga has been life-changing!
Got any questions about yoga for self-care?
I would recommend everyone tries yoga. The link between yoga and mental health is well known, making it the perfect activity if you’d like to feel physically better and could benefit from a bit of a boost!
Is it something that you practice already as part of your self-care routine or something you’ve been considering? I would love to know or to hear from you if you have any questions.
Also, if you have a photoshoot coming up with the fabulous Johanna Elizabeth team and there is a yoga pose you would love to do, but need some stretches to get you there, then let me know. I would be happy to recommend some.
Simply comment below to get in touch.