Since its origins in ancient India, the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga have been well documented. Indeed across the centuries, women in particular have enjoyed these benefits. However, although women’s bodies have not really changed shape in the interim, the demands on both body and mind of the modern woman appear to hold … well, more stress than ever it seems. So how can yoga help to hold off the worst effects of women’s busy, 21st century lives?
Unwind from the grind
Since equality has been given a green light and that glass ceiling has (at least in some industries) started to shatter, women have been working harder and longer, not only to establish female roles within industries which were traditionally male-dominated, but also to keep up with modern ideals that hail successful career women who run businesses, as well as homes and families, as being the desired measure of attainable competence and success.
However, maintaining success in just one of these areas can be a major achievement and, even with a partner who takes an active role, trying hard to juggle career, home and children takes a major toll on any woman which can only be ignored for so long without a burn-out.
Yoga can help women to regain a sense of balance, both figuratively and literally within their lives. Taking the time out to join a yoga class can be a positive step in its own right, whilst the instruction of a good yoga teacher will help to create an exercise regime which is not just body firming, but life affirming, at a time when busy-ness makes it easy to forget what life should actually be about.
Stretching body and mind
Along with the physical burn-out from that daily grind, comes the brain fog and mind muddle that signifies an overloaded mind which, left unchecked, could lead to depression and mental exhaustion. Yoga can play a part in keeping your body and mind connected in a positive way, whilst giving your mind safe space in which to just ‘be’. Whilst your body is gently occupied with the yoga exercises, the mind is both focused and free at the same time: some exercises require such concentration that you can easily block out troublesome worries and mental to-do lists, whilst other relaxation-based exercises allow the mind to freely wander and relax.
The optimum exercise for burn-out, without the burn!
Many women shy away from traditional exercise classes for several reasons including, but not exclusively, four which offer women the biggest sense of being fit to fail:
· Poor body image
· Physical ailments which make high-impact exercise difficult
· Non-engagement with the competitive nature of some classes
Yoga is one of the few forms of regular exercise for which these reasons just don’t count; instead it can easily benefit all of these areas.
· Poor body image:
Yoga gently exercises every muscle in the body and can offer physical benefits to the bones, organs and of course the mind too. One rule of thumb says that within 10 sessions you start to feel the benefits within yourself, within 20 sessions you start to see the benefits in your body and within 30 sessions, others will be able to see that something positive is going on, all of which is empowering and motivating to women with a poor body image.
With the right yoga teacher, fatigue should not be a factor which prevents you attending a yoga class. Thorough, dedicated yoga instructors will ask about medical issues and tailor sessions to include exercises which target areas of physical and mental stress, such as tiredness and tension. Many exercises have their own specific purposes, such as being restorative or simulative, so making time in an already exhausting schedule to go to a yoga class could actually relieve some of that fatigue.
· Physical ailments which make high-impact exercise difficult:
As above, a properly trained yoga teacher will never allow anyone to take part in a class without checking on injuries. Even major problem areas such as spine, neck and joints which make high-impact exercise classes impossible can benefit from gentle and progressive yoga instructor training. The instructor will always identify when an exercise could be particularly beneficial or should be avoided and there’s no shame in sitting an exercise out, by reflecting quietly on your mat and watching the rest of the class achieve their stretches.
· Non-engagement with the competitive nature of higher-impact exercise classes:
Most women find that yoga classes offer a true sense of bonding which just doesn’t occur in those competitive high-impact exercise classes. Take the sitting out example above: when someone does this in a yoga class, there’s a perception that this is all part of caring for one’s body, for one’s self, which is all part of the broader yoga purpose. When someone sits out due to injury or takes a breather in a high-impact class, often the perception is that they have ‘wimped’ out or ‘can’t stand the pace’- something which is more alienating than bonding.
With that in mind, women’s yoga in the 21st century really does seem to offer something more in keeping with reducing the daily grind, rather than adding to it!