Special Guest Post
Did you know September is National Yoga Awareness month? To help us inform our readers about the many benefits of Yoga we have a special guest blog post this week from Yoga teacher, Caroline Horrocks. You can read more about Caroline at the end of this post or visit her website, Yoga4wellbeing.
What is Yoga anyway?
What is Yoga anyway?
When most people think of Yoga they imagine either lithe people dressed in lycra performing what look like impossible shapes with their bodies or elderly Indians standing by the Ganges on one leg! Both those things are true but Yoga is so much more than postures and is possible for everybody irrespective of age, size, religion, shape or health.
If you can breathe you can do Yoga.
Whatever form of Yoga you choose, they all have something in common, linking breath to movement. When I began my Yoga journey I was a chronic asthmatic. Using large doses of steroid inhalers every day, I struggled to sleep and even small amounts of exercise made me breathless . I was very lucky my first teacher was patient, knowledgable, and happy to adapt the postures to accommodate my breathing issues. Even after my first class I felt different. I slept better, my asthma eased and my body felt stretched and more comfortable. So began my journey to better health. Now I no longer need inhalers (although I carry one from habit just in case!).
Yoga has many forms from gentle, slow restorative classes which use props for support, to strong, flowing physical forms such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga. Whatever physical issues you are dealing with there will be a form which is suited to you. Before beginning a Yoga practice it is worth researching the teacher. What formal training have they had? If you have specific physical issues make sure the teacher is both aware of them before your first class and is happy to modify accordingly. Make sure you choose someone you can connect with. Yoga is a process not a quick fix but practiced consistently can have profound results.
When we think about Yoga it is mainly the physical practice we are aware of. Yoga however is so much more than performing the postures of “asanas”. During a class we learn to reconnect to ourselves. We focus on our breathing; we learn how we breathe, which parts of our chest we use and how those daily breathing habits might lead us into feeling stressed. A short shallow breathing pattern can trigger our body into a stress response. Many of us know this as “fight or flight”. Breathing high up in our chest can trigger our bodies to release stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. We all know the feeling when stress hits. Palms become sweaty, heart rate increases, breathing can be difficult and even our pupils dilate! Poor breathing habits can lead to us feeling stressed even without us being aware of it.
Yoga practice can teach us techniques to help shift our nervous system out of this fight or flight response into the more comfortable rest and digest response. Many of us live with our central nervous systems in a heightened state all the time. Just an hour of deep breathing and focused physical stretching and strengthening can decrease our cortisol levels, reduce our heart rate, and lower blood pressure. Not bad for a system created 5,000 years ago.
Many of us live relatively sedentary lifestyles now and have developed poor posture due to excessive sitting at a desk, driving or using our computer/phone. Over time these sitting patterns (especially if we slump) can create muscular imbalances and in some cases chronic pain patterns. A good Yoga class can help to address these issues and bring us back to a stronger more balanced and comfortable posture. We may discover many ways in which we can change our habits to get us out of daily stiffness or even pain. Do you always carry your bags on the same shoulder? When you lift something do you always use the same hand/arm? Simple changes to how you move can bring relief to long standing pain without medication. We need to pay attention and do the work though. We take years in some cases creating postural patterns so they won’t go away overnight but change is possible over time.
I am privileged to teach people from 18 to 83. Some of my senior class used to use walking sticks for balance and support, now they walk into class unaided. Several of my clients live with Chronic pain/Fibromyalgia and use Yoga to relax them, many not needing as many painkillers for the rest of the day after class. My favourite client though is my Mum. She is 79 and a retired nurse. She thought Yoga was “just silly stretches” and couldn’t understand my passion for what it can do. Until she had intense shoulder pain and was preparing for an operation. In the meantime I asked her to work with me. She reluctantly joined my seniors class. At the end of the first session during relaxation she fell sound asleep!, “I quite enjoyed that” was her reaction. After 6 weeks I asked her how her shoulder felt and she looked at me in surprise and said “ Oooo I’d forgotten, it doesn’t hurt anymore!”. So after 2 years of classes she didn’t have the operation and loves her Yoga, now bringing several friends with her.
So give a gentle Yoga class a try, you may discover a new you or at worst like my Mum have a nice nap at the end!!
About Caroline: My name is Caroline Horrocks and yoga has been part of my life for over 25 years. Little did I know that a visit to a Yoga class one lunch time while I was working in a busy office in the city of London would change my health and lead to my own business! Fast forward and I have now been teaching yoga full time for 15 years and run classes for Seniors, Corporate Clients (including local government), Advanced students and have recently started to offer online programs.
To learn more about Caroline and her classes visit Yoga4wellbeing.
Pictured Left: Caroline with her dog, Finley.