I’ve always been active. At school my weeks were filled with swimming, tennis, athletics or netball depending on the season. Leaving school, exercise continued to be an important part of my daily life, which extended to completing my initial degree in exercise science.
I was living & working in the U.K. in my early 20’s, when years of sport & pounding the pavements caught up with me. I was suffering chronic back pain which was starting to impact my day-to-day quality of life. After waiting 6 months on the NHS waiting list, I was finally able to get into see a back specialist, who’s words of advice at the end of the short 15 minute consultation was ‘everyone has back pain & you will just have to deal with it‘. Helpful not!
As a qualified Exercise Physiologist I knew that my appalling flexibility was certainly not helping the situation (have you ever met a flexible runner??). I was relaying my story to a colleague & she encouraged me to come with her to yoga that week. Whilst I was doubtful that some meditation & gentle stretching (my ignorant view of yoga back then) would really help, I thought what have I got to lose.
I arrived to the Iyengar yoga class that was to be facilitated by a mature lady called Julie, who appeared to be glowing with vitality. I was surprised at how packed the class was filled with men & women of all ages & backgrounds, & squeezed my mat into a spare slot at the back of the class.
The session started with some gentle meditation. My mind was still racing from the day & I was already thinking this isn’t for me. Wasn’t I wrong. Halfway through the class we moved into some poses preparing for headstand, with the final headstand posture completed by the more advanced students in the class. Before I knew it, the lady beside me (who must have 80 plus) gracefully lifted into her headstand position. I was in a trance watching her, & thought, that’s how I want to be at her age. As the saying goes, “it’s not the years in your life that count but the life in your years”. This lady epitomised this, as did my grandmother also.
Needless to say, I was back at the following week’s class, & 15 years later, have only missed a handful of classes. Whilst I walked into that initial class to address my physical ailments (of which I’m happy to report it has alleviated my back issues), I quickly realised the broader holistic benefits that come from regular practice.
This was reflected in a recent study of yoga in Australia conducted by RMIT. Whilst the researchers found that 58% of respondents started yoga to “reduce stress or anxiety”, this increased to 79% as a reason for continuing. Other key findings included:
- 1 in 5 respondents indicated they had a specific health or medical reason for practising yoga.
- More respondents used yoga to address mental health issues (about 36%) than musculoskeletal problems (27%).
- Perceptions of quality of life were also improved by yoga practice.
The authors concluded that regular yoga practice may have a protective effect on health & longevity due to associated lifestyle choices including healthy eating, regular physical activity, vegetarianism, reduced smoking, reduced alcohol consumption, greater spirituality/religiosity, reduced stress & other mental health benefits.
As a workplace health & wellness consultant, I have also seen the benefits that yoga brings to the workplace. Watching stressed out executives turn up to their yoga class, & then floating out the door afterwards, having de-fragged from their busy day, & no doubt sleeping better as a result. When you consider that 3.2 days per worker are lost each year through workplace stress, the benefits for workplace productivity alone are obvious.
For myself, my Saturday morning class is like a turn off switch from the hectic lives we lead, & an amazing ‘leveller’ that keeps me on an even keel both mentally & physically. Whilst I may still continue to struggle with headstands, I’ve no doubt I will continue to reap the benefits as I get older from my yoga practice, hopefully into my 80s & beyond!
To find a yoga instructor near you or your workplace, visit www.yogaaustralia.org.au
- Penman, S. (2008) Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey, School of Health Sciences, RMIT University, Melbourne.