An Undisclosed Number of Fairly Unsurprising Benefits to Daily Yoga Practice

Headstand with Eagle Legs I’ll be the first to admit (unless you’ve met anyone who knows me) that I’ve turned into quite the yoga wanker. Assuming that the universally accepted definition of an anything wanker is someone with average ability in a given thing but who does not let that stop them banging on about how transformative and beautiful it is, or how their new superpower is extreme zen, or wears chakra balancing bracelets, or chucks phrases like ‘evangelical about yoga’ on their professional networking bios [For the love of Buddha someone ask me SOMETHING about yoga. LOVE ME]. I digress.

Because I bang on about it incessantly, I’m often asked what’s the point? What’s in it for me? Why should I bother? Does it really count as a workout? Yes mother, it does.

As a long term dabbler, I’ve only really committed to regular (almost) daily practice in the last year or so. The renegade master that I am splits this practice between self guided, good old Adriene and classes at a studio around the corner from my home. It was unintentional for my practice to become daily but it turns out yoga is pretty damn addictive, those days on which I can’t squeeze in even a quick ten minutes, my karma is all kinds of out of kilter.  There are some obvious benefits, some less so and some I’ll leave you to find out for yourself (because a little mystery makes the world go round).

Mind Over Matter Let’s get this one out of the way early on. It’s a pretty powerful one but it’s also the one that makes me sound most like a joss stick wielding, tie dye wearing, age of Aquarius sort.  The acceptance that your mind is your limiting factor rather than your physical ability is a little bit magical. It shouldn’t be particularly revelatory but somehow it is and it takes a while to get ones head around. Acknowledging that your mind will give up long before your body is too tired to carry on is all empowering and has pushed me to achieve things I never would have before. Like levitation*

Crow Pose

Posture As a classic nine to fiver, I’m about six hours away from being Quasimodo at any given time. By strengthening everything around your core and lengthening muscles where it matters, regular practice will encourage you to hold your body properly wherever you spend most of your day. Fewer aches and pains and no hunchbacks – winner.

Stress Relief The focus on the breath/body connection is at the core of yoga practice and being able to drop into your body whenever you need to is quite the game changer. It doesn’t take very long for a habit to form and the more you practice this the more you’ll be able to use it in your day to day life – switching from the thinking brain to the present moment as and when you want to. You may not realise it during the journey but all of a sudden you’ll find yourself breathing through something that may have otherwise thrown you off your game when you’re nowhere near your yoga mat. So yeah….yoga teaches you how to breathe and breathing big and deep reduces stress. Ground breaking.

Muscle Tone No matter where your starting point is, yoga is a full body experience. I am currently the leanest, most toned version of me I’ve ever been and the muscle I’m flashing about the place is 100% down to yoga. Those tiny little abs visible on a new moon when you squint a bit, the bicep I hit a waiter with when flexing for my friend- all yoga. Regardless of whether you think that looks better, feeling strong and healthy is not to be sniffed at.

A Positive Outlook 70% increase in endorphins, 20% reduction in cortisol release 10% zen by osmosis.  Taking time to set an intention for your practice, throwing yourself in fully and realising an hour later that you haven’t spent a single moment of that time ruminating on what happened today or what might happen tomorrow or what happened 16 years ago in the classroom is a beautiful thing. We can talk about the benefits of meditation another day but the ability to spend an hour focused, engaged and entirely in the present is a gift not to be squandered. And who doesn’t want to give themselves a gift every day!? It is hands down (bum up) the kindest thing I’ve done for me.

Downward facing dog

Flexibility Turns out if you bend and stretch more, you generally become bendier and stretchier. SHOCKER.  Whilst that should never be the goal and we all know that comparing ourselves to the most bendy and stretchy insta-bod we know is of the devil, it’s a very nice side effect of pushing your own boundaries as far as you are comfortable with. Increased flexibility and mobility will serve all of us well now, in the very distant future and everything in between.

Perfection is not the goal As true in yoga as in real life, the aim is to move in a way that feels good and appropriately challenging for you. If you can do this physically, it isn’t a huge stretch to engage your thinking brain in this way of operating. Letting go of the need to be perfect and embracing whatever the hell you are is so very freeing. Remove expectation from yourself and those around you and see how much more satisfying your little world becomes.

Regular practice will also make you more relaxed, a little bit kinder and at least 79% better in the sack. Probably. Are you a zen master or a newbie yogi? I’d love to know about your journey.

Namaste bitches. 

*not levitation but I can run a lot further than I ever could and hills are a lot easier these days.

Follow:

Go Out and Play

Inversely correlated with the rise of The Fear (you know, the thing that makes you dry heave at the top of a death slide age 16 in front of your mum and first real boyfriend – for shame) is the fall of ‘The Silliness’. It’s a sad demise: the silliness is the thing that keeps us playful and light, that stokes our creativity and resourcefulness, the thing that prompts us to sit on the floor with a four year old discussing the merits of cacti in all their spiky weirdness for two hours straight.  The silliness – playfulness, spiritedness, vivacity whatever you want to call it – is the thing that helps us embrace life, to find the joy and help us through the bloody serious business of adulting.

Because if you aren’t relentlessly juggling your responsibilities, workload, promotions, pay rises, council tax, getting series 2 of the Santa Clarita Diet nailed, personal development, halting middle aged spread, pension provision, relationships, parenting, crows feet, the impact of inflation, your impact on the environment, achy knees ad infinitum are you even really adulting right?

Most of it is non-negotiable, we have to tackle the mundanity of adulthood – and the achy knees – but to do it all without setting aside time for fun is a bit like self flagellation. And that’s entirely optional.

Too often we discard the inherent silliness of childhood in favour of The Fear and the deliciously uncomfortable inhibition we’re so very good at. We lose sight of the value of embracing playfulness as an absolute necessary part of life, we forget the beauty of just letting go – it is precisely because so very much of life is inescapably serious that we should give ourselves over to play as a priority.

That’s not to say we should knob about with blatant disregard for the rules and responsibilities our respective lives present more that we should seek opportunities to create fun in the spaces in between, that we commit real time to understanding what makes us belly laugh or feel good and free and happy and then do more of those things.

I’m heading firmly into ‘preach it sister’ territory but finding the joy is important and if any of that waffle resonates, try to set aside some time for play in your every day. I’m definitely not a pro at this yet, I don’t know anyone who is – all of life is one big ongoing opportunity for learning and self-discovery and every new thing we learn that floats our respective boats is an absolute gift, discuss – but committing to at least trying to make space for fun is a huge step in the right direction. And it’s helped me through some monstrous stuff.

It is too easy to just keep putting one foot in front of the other to get from one hard moment to the next instead of pausing to enjoy the ridiculously pure pleasure that comes from dancing around the kitchen without inhibition or bellowing out some old Whitney whilst driving to work or making your body do something you didn’t think it ever could because you’re relaxed and having fun *cough* crow pose, no regrets *cough*.

Make time for tree climbing, being outside, chasing sunrises, crying with laughter, using your imagination, running around the garden with children (or puppies), painting, stomping through the snow, turning your desk into a fort, feeding your soul, making new friends, spending time with old ones, eating the cake, smiling at strangers, prank calling your husband, skidding your way around Sainsbury’s clinging to the trolley for dear life. Be strict about it because aside from just feeling really bloody nice, prioritising silliness keeps you young and creative and less stressed. It makes us more connected and open. It increases our energy levels and makes us more curious about the world. All of which can *only* enhance our experience of life: no-one gets to their death bed life recap and wishes they’d spent less time playing.

Science agrees. Or at least this TED talk by Stuart Brown does https://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital

The human condition is full of ordinary moments and tough moments and everything in between, it is the greatest of gifts to be able to prioritise being a bit daft amidst it all.

Starting to talk about the human condition and getting more than a little bit patronising feels like a good place to end this. Go, be weird, be eccentric. Just have more fun. Let me know how that goes.

Peace out.

Follow:

Wonderful Wednesday 2018

Wonderful Wednesday Writing those words ^^ felt a bit like cosying up with an old friend with a bucket of wine. The kind of old friend that knows all of your dirty little secrets and still laughs about that time you puked in her mums kitchen bin after the tequila episode of 2001. Hashtag mis-spent youth.

I’m taking that warm and fuzzy old friend feeling as a sign I shouldn’t yet abandon this weekly dose of the good stuff. This week my old, creative, wordy career and my new touchy feely people career have collided spectacularly (beautifully, satisfyingly, as I always hoped they would) so I don’t have much preamble left in me. What I do have in me is wine – shall we just delve into the Wonderful?

Crowing Yoga Unsurprisingly topping this weeks list (I described myself as ‘evangelical about yoga’ on a professional profile this week. I know, I hate me too). I thought I was doing myself a bit of a favour by vegging out over Christmas and doing no bending or stretching or crowing whatsoever. Turns out that was not quite the self-care I needed. Yoga remains my absolute favourite way to switch off my brain and challenge my body and I really missed it over the break. I’m back in with a vengeance this week and it feels all kinds of beautiful.

Day Dating Husband and I ate cake and watched the sun go down in spectacular style on Sunday afternoon. It was nice to spend a little time shit-chatting and soaking up some winter rays. He’s not too shabby that one, I shall keep him and eat cake with him as long as we both shall scoff. I did lose a pair of  good heels to that sunset trying to navigate a cliff edge in the wind to get to the view. I’m not bitter. Honest.

Post Christmas Christmas Lunch Because finance people be crazy, we don’t like to play by the rules. Sigh. Still, we went French and I got a 2m high inflatable snowman in the secret santa… it’s a good job I work with decent people!

That Snow My particular corner of Devon has it’s own microclimate. It makes for some cracking wild swimming in September and paddleboarding in October but not so much with the snow. As a now legit Devonish, it’s absolutely he law to head for higher ground at the first flutter of the white stuff. We had a whale of a time stomping about, chucking snowballs and quaffing brandy from a hip flask.

What Makes You Happy? I had this conversation with someone this week, there’s something all empowering about being able to articulate the things that make you happy, that feed your soul, that leave you with that almost indescribable feeling of contentment. And then making sure that your life has more of those things. I don’t want to be that ‘you should do this’ woman but you should definitely spend some time this year dedicated entirely to figuring out what makes you tick and doing so very much more of it. You’re only on this planet once, depending on which philosophy you subscribe to, why wouldn’t you want to live your absolute best life? Riddle me that. I feel irritatingly smug that I know precisely what brings me the joy.

‘Alexa…’ We’ve put her to the test this week. Transpires that asking Alexa all manner of revolting questions and conjuring up a reality where she’s cognisant and feels some level of embarrassment is about as much fun as a Wednesday has to offer, besides the Wonderful, obvs.  Oh how we laughed. ‘Alexa, how big is…. ‘

Almost Daffs Out with el poochos this weekend, we stumbled (literally, sorry world) across some almost blooming daffs. It’s felt a little too chilly but hey, if Spring is ready to…spring I’m a-ok with that. Come on you little yellow chaffinches, show your faces and bring the lighter evenings and beach barbecues with you, ok?

Leftovers January, the month of the best freezer fodder, fact. We’ve got quiche and everything.

And that’s it for this week. More Wonderful from the rest of the posse over on Twitter, search #wonderfulwednesday. 

How’s your week been?

Follow:

S’long 2017

2017: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times (apologies Charlie, apparently I have no qualms about bastardizing the greats for my own narcissistic look back at the year).

I absolutely refuse to spend too long ruminating over a year best described as ‘relentless’ but in the interests of posterity and catharsis, my 2017 was sort of a little bit the living embodiment of that Britney circa 2007 meme. NB no heads were shaved. The opposite if anything, this mane is getting more Cousin It by the minute. I digress.

Don’t get me wrong, the peaks have been mountainous – huge professional leaps, the most job satisfaction I have ever enjoyed, reaching a decade of marital whatsit and finding all the zen. The troughs have been chasmic. Those chasmic lows have taught me a whole lot this year – about the kind of woman I am, the strength I can pull from my darkest recesses when needed, the kind of life I want to live, the art of resilience and the unbelievably restorative power of skidding around the kitchen in my socks. I already knew the last one.

In the interests of thriving in 2018 rather than just surviving (it rhymes, you’re welcome) I’m engineering a year in which:

  • There are no sub-par cups of tea drunk. That kind of self loathing is no longer welcome here.
  • My body continues to be something of a temple. I mean, I won’t be giving up Curly Wurlies or a decent Cotes Du Rhone (hashtag wine wanker) but I have signed up to run my first half marathon in over a decade – gulp – and I’ll make a conscious effort to remove the post yoga lycra before popping the cork on a bottle of red. Balance people, it’s all about balance.
  • The soul feeders take priority – the people who challenge me, make me laugh, are fun to be around. Because why would any sane person choose to give their energy to anyone else?!
  • I am rarely without a book in hand.
  • ‘No’ is not a dirty word.
  • I write.
  • All of the shoes are fabulous.
  • The sea* features heavily. I’d like to never be without sand in all kinds of unsightly places.
  • I explore the world a little more (Vienna, Amsterdam and Norway for starters).
  • The kitchen dance party is a daily ritual rather than a weekly treat.
  • I continue to push my professional limits.
  • I choose happiness. It sounds all kinds of glib and twee but it took a good thirty years for me to figure out what happiness looks like for me, I won’t be letting go of that any time soon.

Whatever your plans for 2018, I hope you find a way to choose happiness in the big stuff and in the tiny little moments in between. Happy New Year. Almost.

*interchangeable with husband/spaniels/step daughters/shed/ sand as appropriate

Follow:

Wonderful Wednesday Sixty Six

Ok, we don’t really need to discuss the hiatus do we? It’s been nothing more sinister than life in all its beautiful, weird and wonderful glory but a huge thank you to each and every one of you who took the time to ask. It was so very much appreciated.

Shall we get on with the particularly superficially wonderful bits of the last week or so and see if it stimulates some of the linguistic athleticism I seem to have misplaced?

Yoga I re-discovered the joy of yoga during the hiatus. My name’s Michelle and I might be a yogaholic. Indoors, outdoors, on the water, anywhere and everywhere I can bend and stretch, I’m doing it. There’s something truly lovely about feeling your body strengthen and elongate and just become its best self. I may be a bit too into it – I hit a waiter in the stomach whilst flexing a newly acquired bicep. Not many regrets because I now have biceps and all the zen. If you can’t find a class near you try a bit of Yoga with Adrienne on The You Tube – I promise nothing bad ever happened as a result of yoga. Probably.

Red Shoes I do love love love a red bit of footwear and I’ve FINALLY found the perfect replacement for the much loved and overworked M&S pair, from New Look of all places. They haven’t been off my feet for the last fortnight. They’re spicing up every outfit I own and making me feel like a walking red dress emoji. I’ll take that.

Green Tea with Jasmine Specifically the Clipper version but M&S do a pretty good Jasmin Green too. It’s refreshing and soothing and a nice way to start or end the day. Before the onslaught of caffeine.

MDWAP It’s going to make every single happy list I make until the day it stops making me cry laughing. I cackled so hard at Ken Dewsbury’s Cellar that I fell off my shoes in the car park. If you’re still not on this bandwagon you really need to be – provided that appallingly written erotica being ripped to shreds by the authors’ son doesn’t offend you. And it might offend you, it’s dreadful!

Sunday Since both of my beautiful step daughters moved out (one to uni and one with a boy – SOB!) I’ve missed our Sunday family roasts. Deep deep joy at being able to roast up a whole chicken last week after which we conked out in front of Moana (yes, the choice of a 21 year old!) Any time spent with my favourite humans is not time wasted. Especially if it also involves The Rock in cartoon form. Singing. Be still my beating heart.

Earphones Because sometimes, when you’re in the office alone, the only option is to find an excellent Spotify playlist and have a one woman silent disco whilst the kettle boils. Yes, I’m that colleague. Sometimes I also lunge.

Sandy Bits The sea features in a lot of my best bits: in it, on it, beside it getting sand in my drawers. Any which way I can get it to be completely honest. There was a very brief window where I craved the rush and stimulation of big city living. Now though, now not a day goes by where my soul isn’t utterly grateful that I get to build a career I enjoy and am good at within sniffing distance of the big blue. Thanks universe.

Belly Laughing. Particularly with friends you’ve known for twenty *cough* years whilst you watch another of them marry their love. A whole day full of head back, tummy hurting cackle is good for anyone’s soul.

And that’s that. I make no apologies for the high level of perkiness, life is good and I have red shoes. How the devil are you?

Follow: