Call me a massive twat, but I like hard exercise. There’s something so enjoyably primal about a really difficult workout, like being in a fight. It’s kind of unpleasant and it hurts, but you’re being true to your inner animistic self and there’s something satisfying about that.
I’ve learnt so much about myself through running. It’s during those steep, endless, agonising hills that I’ve had to confront my inner demons – the ones telling me to doubt myself, to give up, to stop and curl up like a suet dumpling and cry, and sometimes I do, but most times I push them aside and plough on through the pain. My resolve is always stronger than my self-doubt. This is why I exercise. Not for vanity – I have the figure of a couch potato anyway – but for mental fortitude, and to know that as long as I keep going, I’ll always have the upper hand over my demons.
The reward of a run is instant. It’s difficult, you sweat, maybe you cry a bit, but eventually you reach the finish line and you get the reward: that rush of euphoria and the knowledge that you did it. But are the rewards always so straightforward with yoga?
Isn’t yoga boring?
A lot of people find yoga a bit boring – this was my overriding feeling when I attended my first class as an overstimulated university student. I simply didn’t slip into the zone. I was self-aware and judgemental of all the spiritual talk. In yoga there is, after all, a pose that actually involves lying sedate on the floor (corpse pose, or savasana in Sanskrit). People who like exercise generally like it for the reasons I mentioned above: the adrenaline, the elevated heart rate, the challenge and euphoria. So lying in a darkened room listening to panpipes and celtic chanting may not immediately appeal.
Yoga isn’t one single type of exercise
What I’ve realised over the years is that yoga comes in many different forms. Fast, slow, relaxing, restorative. If you want to get sweaty and build muscle tone, there’s a flow for that. If you want to calm your mind and soothe your body, there’s a flow for that too. Yoga can be really tough – trust me. You may not be box jumping or squatting sandbags, but holding certain yoga poses can give you the same feeling of wanting it to end imminently. The beauty of yoga is that we learn to control those feelings. We learn to breathe through the discomfort, or transform the discomfort into something else. It’s amazing what your body can do once you’ve got a bit of control over your mind. We tend to create our own blocks and limitations without even realising it, and yoga teaches us to overcome them.
Even during corpse pose, we’re taught to be alert – not fidgety but not asleep either. It helps us become aware of our muscles and the tensions we’re holding onto without realising it.
So is yoga a glorified nap? Sometimes it can be a bit like that, in the sense that you feel like you’ve had a brain reset. But sometimes it’s a sweaty workout that pushes you further than you ever thought you’d be able to go, and it’s certainly made me noticeably stronger, more flexible and less prone to injury over the years.