What Yoga Has Taught Me – by Jamie Dunleavey

A yoga journey - by Jamie Dunleavey a yoga instructor at The View Studio

My journey into yoga seemed to happen so quickly! After graduating from Napier University in 2013 with a music degree, needless to say, I suddenly felt pretty lost. Thrown into the world of self-employment, I now had some important choices to make, and many responsibilities I had never known before. It was overwhelming, and I secretly didn’t handle it well at all.

Miraculously, I was still managing to get things accomplished — starting my own drum tuition business in Edinburgh, and playing drums for live bands — but that’s only because I was utterly terrified of coming across as a failure to everyone else. I started to develop serious issues with both my self esteem and my body image. Every day became a constant struggle to decide what to wear and to be satisfied with my appearance before leaving the house.

In late 2014, I started practising yoga in my bedroom, watching yoga YouTube videos to help me. In all honesty, I had never taken to yoga before then, as I felt it didn’t produce any dramatic physical changes to my appearance in the same way that weights and squats did, and before
then, I had gone so far down the rabbit hole of terrible self-loathing that I had started to only value my appearance, and focused solely on that aspect of my being. However, I did start to notice the subtle effects that yoga was having on my mental health, as well as being able to gradually make cool shapes with my body that I’d never thought I’d be able to do.

A few months later, I was completing my yoga teacher training and in February 2015, I was teaching my very own yoga classes! It all happened so fast, and I’m very glad it did.

Here are a few things I’d like to share that yoga has taught me:

1- Relaxing into a pose really does improve the efficiency of the stretch.

It took a while for this to click with me, but now that it has, it’s crazy how much deeper I can relax into a pose. Your body wants to naturally protect you from harm, so if you’re stretching, notice when your body starts to tense and your muscles start to clench. Close your eyes, and as you exhale, release a little more tension from those places in your body that are tense. For example, in a Low Lunge, breathe away tension in your glutes, hips, and thighs, and observe how deeper your body goes into the stretch!

2- Using your imagination goes a long way.

This can tie in with the previous point. When you’re “breathing away tension,” use your imagination and picture sending your exhalation to that part of your body that needs to relax. The same goes for meditation — your imagination is essential, especially if you’re a bit apprehensive about the idea of meditating or even simply relaxing. Even if you don’t necessarily believe in the concept of meditation (I was one of those people), if you just close your eyes and get lost in your imagination — a place where no one else but you can see — you might experience something new and transformative.

3- Your breath really is key.

Another aspect of yoga that made me apprehensive as a beginner was the focus on taking slow, deep breaths, as well as trying to constantly sync my movement with my breath. This is just another thing in life that you get better at with practise! It turns out that, like most people, I had developed bad breathing habits, and wasn’t using the full depth of my diaphragm to breathe properly. Yoga teachers don’t emphasise the importance of the breath just to be annoying: breathing properly is an essential part of our wellbeing.

When breathing properly:

  • We keep our heart rate in a healthy range.
  • We properly oxygenate our body and organs which helps them to function optimally.
  • We activate the parasympathetic nervous system which allows us to keep calm and potentially avoid stress, depression and anxiety.
  • We keep levels of cortisol down, which again will keep us level-headed and better able to deal with stressful situations.
  • We strengthen our lungs and diaphragm.

4- Patience is a virtue.

This is one of the main points I’d like to make, especially to those who are frustrated that they’re still sitting at a right angle in a Forward Fold! I’ve been there, so let me promise you this: it gets better. Letting go of that frustration and just accepting the shape that your body makes at this moment in time will help you see your goals ahead. I used to be at a right angle in Forward Folds too; 5 years ago I couldn’t even touch my toes. I was never a flexible person, but with a lot of dedication and patience, I went from a right angle, to 45 degrees and beyond.

5- It’s not about what your body looks like, but what your body can do.

There are endless poses and variations that you can work towards, and it’s a never-ending journey for your body. This really helps you to appreciate that your body is an amazing structure, and the more you care for it during your regular yoga practice, the less you care about its aesthetic properties and more you marvel at the progress your body makes in its strength, flexibility and endurance. You can learn to truly appreciate yourself in making that mind-body connection, and so as a result, you value yourself more, and can potentially eliminate any hindering negative self-judgement.

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