For years I’ve been to the gym four times a week – and loved it. But after four months in lockdown, I’m here to tell you that I’m not going back.
This isn’t an issue of hand sanitiser and appropriate PPE – although of course the health implications have crossed my mind.
I’m not going back because of yoga.
Remember when life was normal and we could all hug each other? Back then I was in the gym most days of the week and practising yoga maybe once, when I remembered. If I didn’t go and use the weights, treadmill, and TRX straps, I was miserable.
And there is science behind this; Kelly McGonigal, author of The Joy of Movement, explains that exercise ‘increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid’. These are often referred to as ‘happy hormones’ because they increase confidence, decrease anxiety and stress, and can even help reduce physical pain. If I didn’t go to the gym, I felt unhappy, grouchy, and anxious.
On the 23rd of March, lockdown started and, selfishly, one of my biggest worries was how I was going to exercise. It wasn’t because I was worried about gaining weight or losing strength, but because I was worried about how my mental health would be affected.
I began by using resistance bands, old milk bottles filled with water, and pushing all my living room furniture to the walls. It wasn’t the same and it didn’t work. The weights weren’t heavy enough, my go-to exercises were inaccessible. I tried HIIT YouTube classes but they were either too easy, or designed for the Hulk.
And then came Blessed Yoga’s Sunday Sanctuary. It was a godsend. Although I’d done yoga before, for me it was a complementary practice, the classic one being surfing then yoga. That was how I’d used it – if my muscles felt a little tight from lifting weights, I’d bring out Niki Perry’s DVD and do a 20-minute flow. By the end of that class on Sunday I was knackered, worn-out, lying on my mat and grinning. I felt happy and energised for the rest of the day.
Yoga became my daily norm. With university over and furloughed from work, the classes provided routine, discipline, and my dose of happy hormones. I began to notice a physical change too. As a 22-year-old woman and student, my focus, very ‘un-feministly’, tends to be the lower body. I blame Instagram and Love Island.
Yoga focuses on every muscle in the body – I started to see proper abs, defined muscles in my arms, and back muscles I didn’t even know existed started appearing. Plus, yoga continued to work the lower body too. The difference is the exercise is more balanced, which is healthier especially in the long term.
The oldest body-builder, Jim Arrington, is 80 years-old. An amazing feat, don’t get me wrong. But compare that to Tao Porchon-Lynch – she taught and practised yoga until a couple of days before she passed away, aged 101. You can’t help but consider the differences between their chosen regimes. Any exercise system has positives and negatives (except yoga, which is honestly all positive), and I am in no way saying that going to the gym is bad for you.
But yoga has extra benefits. For example, I know many people who go to the gym and focus on the treadmill, bike, and cross trainer. Cardio does improve your cardio vascular health, aids sleep, and lowers blood pressure. However, this exercise can leave people feeling deflated as it doesn’t always achieve the desired aesthetic effect, whether this is weight loss or muscle gain. This is due to the differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise.
Some people focus on weight lifting, gaining tone and strength, but potentially neglecting cool-down routines, including stretches. Stretching improves flexibility and range of motion, as well as circulation. It reduces muscle soreness and back pain, prevents injuries, speeds up rehabilitation, decreases stress and aids sleep, improves posture and coordination, enhances athletic and sexual performance, and reduces age-related declines in physical fitness.
And we all know that gyms can be intimidating places – towers of complex equipment, rows of heavy weights, stacked people pushing themselves until their skin tone resembles beetroot. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed or out of place.
Yoga covers all of the above, making it a multi-purpose alternative. Blessed Yoga’s signature class is Energise, inspired by Baptiste Power Yoga. The fast-flowing movement gets your heart rate up, improving cardio vascular health. Holding and repeating positions improves muscle tone and sculpts your body. Reaching, twisting, and folding stretches your body and increases flexibility – I couldn’t touch my toes a month ago and now I can lay my hands flat on the floor.
For me though, one of the unique elements of yoga is how it influences your whole life, even off the mat. It’s the meditative practice – setting an intention, Ujjayi breath, listening to your body, fully focusing on the present moment – that is my main reason for championing yoga. On top of the happy hormones, improved fitness, strength, and flexibility, I feel calmer and more together in my mind and thoughts.
There are many misconceptions about yoga and in my experience, most are myths. You can turn up in your pyjamas if you so choose, you don’t need multi-coloured matching lycra. Taking a modification doesn’t make you better or worse at yoga, but means that you are listening to your body. Yoga is for everyone – the people who bend into strange shapes and those who can’t reach their toes, people with any goal or intention, old and young, women and men (men actually invented it, despite the majority of those practising today being women).
So, before you return to the gym, try yoga. With Blessed Home online classes, you can practice anywhere with a Wi-Fi connection. If you prefer being taught in person, Blessed Yoga is slowly and safely starting to open its Cowshed studio doors once again.
The gym might help you achieve one or two goals, but yoga will change your life for ever.
For more information about our re-opening please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.