Many people think of yoga as dealing with the physical realm. To many others it is so much more, engaging your body, mind and spirit. Whatever your view on this, you will still through your yoga practice begin to learn about three very important relationships. Relationships that transcend your yoga practice or any other physical activity. Relationships that greatly impact and even determine your quality of life.

1. Your relationship with your body

There are very few of us who can, without a shadow of hesitation, say: ‘I love my body and wouldn’t change anything about it. It’s perfect as it is.’ Being able to say something like that would be so freeing! No more diets, no more scrambling to find the right outfit because nothing looks good, no more restrictions on where and what we eat, no more poking and prodding ourselves to look and feel better. How much energy do you expend on a daily basis, just trying to do things to yourself and your lifestyle to help you feel better about how you look?

Women spend (over an average lifespan of 67 years) 355 days counting calories and worrying about appearance – that is 21 minutes out of every day dedicated to thinking of diets alone. Those 21 minutes is not including the amount of time spent worrying about what to wear to hide less desirable areas on your body, feeling inferior looking at neighbours, colleagues, or worse yet, models in magazines!
Looking at the amount of time and energy expended one begins to wonder. Is this an obsession? Is this obsession the ‘illness’ of our generation? Do our poor body images border on self-hatred? What is this self-hatred, poor relationship and poor body image based on? Where do these ideas come from? Fair enough the media and ideal body image hype out there would influence most people, but what are the exact messages you have internalised? Do we even know what exactly those beliefs and messages that drive us to the measures we take to try to feel just a tiny little bit better in our bodies every day.

During your yoga practice you begin to become aware of your body in a whole different way. Seeing your body as something other than ‘weight’ and ‘shape’ is probably the biggest breakthrough you will ever make. Becoming aware of the miracle that your body is, how it functions and shows up for you every day, how it heals you/itself, allows you to do all the things you like to do, (despite the things you do to it or the negative feedback it constantly gets) and how it IS YOU – there from the beginning- there till the end – that really is when you unpack what your relationship with your body really is about. Your practice will highlight to you what comes up when you’re invited to connect with how your body is feeling. What goes through your mind when you’re encouraged to ‘listen to your body’ and respond to what your body needs. Do you even know how your body is feeling on any given day in any given moment? Do you know how to be kind to your body?

Yoga will show you up and put you on a different path where it’s no longer about being skinny, but about being healthy…no longer about being beautiful, but about being you.

Think of it this way….once you become free of the obsessions with weight and appearance you free up 355 days of your life to do things that you love.

“Where are the men in yoga?”. A question that has plagued yoga studios the world over and has come up strongly for me since opening my studio in Port Elizabeth. You certainly don’t open a yoga studio to meet men – even though the proposition of being proposed to on one hand rather than one knee is enticing. But to have a space such devoid of male energy is just scary. Yes – women tend to find yoga more accessible – they tend to have more flexibility and less tension (aka strength). Men are built differently, are much stronger and way more challenged in range of motion. Add to that the very strong sporting culture in South Africa (and PE) and many men avidly enjoying running, cycling or other repetitive motion sports – and bam – the flexibility of the male population drops even further. With that the balance in male bodies become even more disrupted which in turn – you guessed it – renders yoga even more of a necessity than something to simply try out or even worse ignore. Your body needs strength AND flexibility. It needs yin AND yang energy. It needs this balance to keep you strong, healthy, active, injury free, and happy.

Why would men even think about joining a yoga class?

1. The Amazing way in which it Compliments most Sports

Yoga makes you better, faster, stronger. So whether your passion is in running, cycling, swimming, golf, or even weightlifting – yoga can add to your performance and success in sport. Yoga will make you less injury prone, speed up you recovery, reduce stress and lengthen muscles to give a longer more powerful stride.

So if you’re a cyclist, yogic breathing will provide you with a whole different way of dealing with pain. Yoga poses will strengthen your shoulders to prepare you for the perfect crash, and it will lengthen your muscles putting less pressure on your joints – such as your knees. Opening your hips will prevent Iliotibial band friction syndrome, one of the most common causes of knee pain in cyclists.

Runners will be benefiting from the same speedier recovery and injury prevention through yoga as cyclists will. They will further benefit from full body strength – rather than just legs. Yoga gives runners increased agility and pain free running by giving you increased strength and flexibility.

Hitting longer drives, staying focused on the course and lowering your score are just some of the benefits Yogi Golfers report. “Swing power is generated from the lower body to the hips, the trunk, the shoulders, the arms, and out to the club,” says Katherine Roberts, founder of Yoga for Golfers and fitness expert for the Golf channel. “A lot of yoga postures are very good at getting deep into the connective tissue and musculature of the hips. The hips initiate the downswing, so having mobility in the hips and strong glutes is really critical for generating power.”

The writing’s on the wall – if you’re serious about sports – and practicing your sport for years to come – you have got to get on the mat!

2. The Benefits of Calming the Mind

It’s a well-known fact that men don’t always disclose their feelings or discuss their sources of stress or concern. Sucking it up is the norm. Women find it easier to direct the noise that stress brings in their mind outward – to their friends, partners – in fact anyone willing to listen, whereas men internalize and hope to find other ways of channeling the ‘noise’ – perhaps through sports, and perhaps through other less constructive means. Men often pay the price in their bodies – for years of ignoring, sucking up both emotional and physical pain – through illness and injury. Enter Yoga – the fix it for everything. Once men settle into a regular yoga routine, they begin to experience a freeing of the mind from al the thoughts, concerns, ideas

3. Get stronger than ever before

Men who do yoga report feeling stronger in their body than ever before. This is not the type of strong you get with weightlifting in a gym. It’s a strength permeating your physical body as well as your emotional and spiritual body. There comes a sense of control and connectedness with this body in which you live. Movement becomes easy – you can do things that seemed to have required great strength with much more ease – because you GET how your body functions and moves. The connection with your body helps you get to a place of general health and well-being. No more ignoring signs and symptoms or happily living in bliss of what your lifestyle does to your body. You can begin to tune in to what your body needs now and you can have the will-power and motivation to respond….avoiding the doctors a way further down the road.

4. Competition

Men are competitive. A sense of drive comes from getting better, faster, stronger, compared to others. In yoga you will meet your fiercest competitor yet. You will find a new sense of competition such as one you probably haven’t encountered before. This competitor is also known as your soul. You will face challenges you haven’t come across before and the journey will be your own. Take the challenge – it will be the most rewarding yet.

If you’re still in doubt here are two testimonials from men who recently started gracing us with their presence at Heal. Love. Yoga.

“On the days that I have done yoga my wife has asked if I’m on medication because I am so calm, patient and chilled at home and with my children.” DK

“My back issues are now a distant memory. My body is my own again. I can do all the things I wasn’t able to do while completely bogged down with back pain” WT

“(my wife) & I started Yoga with you at Heal.Love.Yoga about two months ago (not too sure, but it feels like just the other day we started). Yoga is not really seen as a “guy” thing, but I can say that they don’t know what they are missing out on. The progress in terms of strength and flexibility that I have experienced is beyond my expectations. Each class tests the boundaries of so many area’s of ones body, that it is never boring and I am still waking up muscles in my body in every class. My back op is now a thing of the past, as my core muscles are now stronger than ever before and this helps compliment my trail running. I am hooked and I know (my wife) is as well. We are here to stay!!!” GF

And lastly:

Yoga classes consists of 90% women. A yoga studio is definitely a place where you can meet women.

This weekend, on the first day of Spring, almost 10 000 PE people threw themselves into the happiest 5k on the planet with more enthusiasm and energy than we’ve seen in a while. Just about every one of the almost 10 000 people wore big smiles on their faces for the duration of the event and it got me thinking…The Colour Run aims to promote being healthy and being happy: probably the two most important things we ultimately want in life. While it was evident that the organising of such an event was a huge task, the outcome was simple – people came with family and friends, they ran, walked and some rolled through 5 km’s – add a bit of laughter and splashed a bit of colour on that, and voila! It became one of the highlights of the year in PE. People feeling healthy and happy indeed. If such a simple thing as gathering your friends and family around, running or walking a measly 5km and okay – we can’t forget about the colour – brought so much vibrancy, life, and positive energy to a city – why is it that there are so many unhappy and unhealthy people around? How is it that we need big events like this to remind us of how much fun working at being healthy and being happy can be? And how many of those 10 000 people who experienced the first Colour Run on The Continent will still be happy and healthy by the end of this week? What is it about our day-to-day lives that keep us from living a life of effortlessness, laughter, inspiration and all round health?

As we enter into the season of new beginnings, is now the best time to begin to get rid of the things that prevent us from being as healthy and happy and dare I add, as inspired, as we should be? How can we create space for those things we actually want to have more of in life?

Use the momentum created by The Colour Run…and run with it. Here are a few tips to setting up and maintaining a healthier and happier lifestyle.

1. Taking time to be still  
I’m not talking the typical few minutes before the clock strikes twelve on new years eve – setting a few new years resolutions and forgetting them by the time you wake up, tired and a little hung over on the 1st of January. I’m referring to cultivating an attitude and creating space for regular moments of stillness.

Taking time out creates the natural pause you need to sometimes see that the things you are keeping busy with are not the things that make you feel happy and fulfilled. 

You don’t need to think about what you need to become still about or achieve in that time. Become completely free from thoughts, noise and tension. A place where you have nothing to think about and nothing to do. You will be amazed at how healing that can be – and how taking a pause – not just running over from one thought, action, plan, movement into the next – slows you down and gives you perspective. 

Becoming still in your body, noticing tension and just how your body is feeling at any given point in time, gives you an opportunity to take stock and notice how much pressure your body is under. You have an opportunity to step in and give your body a well-deserved break. If you never stop you will never notice. Until your body has to MAKE you stop, which will often mean much more serious messages of ill health existing in your body. Yoga and meditation is a great way to quiet yourself, your body and your mind down. It also creates a beautiful space for becoming more tuned in to your body and how your body is doing. Being tuned in to your body allows you to feel tension as it arises and gives you the opportunity to dissolve it before it sits and festers in your body – resulting in disease. Yoga might not be what you are looking for – but whatever you do – create space to become still.

2. Taking stock
With stillness a new perspective will come and you will be in a better place to take stock of where you’re really at with your health and happiness. Set time aside to think about, or even better yet , write down the things that make you feel really happy. Think about those moments when you feel relaxed, content, overjoyed and even invincible. Recognise how much time you spend in those moments. 

Then think of just one way in which you can cut down on time spent with the mundane and create more space doing what you love. What can you spend less time on or even cut out completely? Can you delegate, engage the family to help – so you feel less bogged down freed up to do what inspires you?

Can’t think of happy moments? What would those happy moments look like if they did exist? Who would you be with and what would you be doing? How would you be feeling in those moments? How can you invite and create that in your life right now?

Also take stock of your body and your health. How is your body feeling? Have you had niggling concerns about your weight, your diet, your energy levels, potential food intolerances or allergies? Are there things that have required medical attention that you just haven’t gotten round to. Or is it as simple as you just needing to be a bit more proactive in taking a small step towards healthier living. Can you introduce even one day of healthy eating a week – or even better yet, three, or four or more? Similarly in regards to getting some exercise. Is there one activity in which you could get involved – albeit on a social level – such as rounding up the family one day on a weekend for a long walk on one of the beautiful beaches in PE or engaging in family tennis tournaments? There is something that you can enjoy AND that can get your body active and moving. You don’t have to train like a demon and run the Comrades next year. Do an activity that you enjoy and just be happy to start where you are at right now. Enjoy your exercise and healthy lifestyle, and you’re more likely to make it a lifestyle change rather than a fad or stage unlikely to last more than a few days or weeks..

3. De-clutter
The biggest barrier to doing more of what we love and living a healthy lifestyle is time or a lack thereof. We use that excuse ad infinitum. It’s a very real issue in modern days and hence the need for regular and persistent de-cluttering exercises. Clutter occupies your space and your mind and prevents you form inviting and receiving the things you want in life. A cluttered life robs you of your time and saps you of your energy. 

De-clutter your physical environment, your digital world, and your emotional home. It’s not called a ‘spring clean’ for nothing. Set up a family day to clear out all the clutter out of your home. Pack up what you don’t need and prepare to recycle, donate, sell or store. Create space so there is physical room for the new things you want to invite into your life. 

So much of our time is taken up in our digital world– time on social networking sites, emails, and many files being created, stored, processed and filed. Clear out here as well. Back up your computer so you can clear your desktop of distracting thumbnails and shortcuts to documents on your hard drive. Get ting your hard drive clean and clear will also speed your system up dramatically (say hello to extra time for yourself and what you love). Set time aside for social networking, emails and working and avoid flitting from one to the next without really getting anything done properly. Have digital free time in your home and around your family.

Clean up your emotional home as well. Are there conversations that need to be had for the air to be cleared and for you to feel free from a difficult situation? Do you need to forgive, let go, speak your mind in order to become more open to invite in what it is you want more of emotionally? Just like your body deserves a break from tension, so too does your mind and heart. Clear the air. Let it go. Set yourself free.

4. Boundaries
Once you have established some healthy routine that suits you and your family – however small the changes are – be protective of that space. Don’t allow work, life, the mundane, the clutter or an absent mind to take it away from you again. Stay alert, stay present. Know what it is that you want to achieve and why it is that you’re doing it. Acknowledge the rewards and reinforce the behaviour in every way possible. 

All your work, your interests, the important things that keep you busy during the day will mean nothing if you didn’t have your health and you weren’t happy. So hold your health and happiness as sacred in your life – your very first priority. What else really matters more than that?