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Pros & Cons of Hatha Yoga

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Pros:
Widely spread classes throughout the country
Large price range of classes, some free
Yoga is not about comparisons or judgment. Everything to our own pace.
Gives us a deeper self awareness which can be empowering and wonderful.

Cons:
May need to try out a few teachers/classes before you find one you like
There is a lot of choice in styles, speed and temperature
There is a minimal risk of injury (as with any exercise)
As we explore Yoga, we may experience a deeper side to ourselves, perhaps releasing emotions which could impact our lives outside the studio.

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I can see that hesitant look on your face…… I know full well that a few of you may already be breaking out into a hot sweat at the thought of reading a review on all things yogi and the impending pressure to ‘breathe’ and be at one with the universe BUT, I promise, the less ‘hippy’ and yogi among us can also practice yoga without ending up on some mountain side in the lotus position chanting Om! After the last few months Ive realised it really is an exercise for anyone.

Yoga, in a variety of forms, has become a huge part of my life since my last diagnosis. I remember lying in bed after my surgery last year thinking “I don’t want to feel like this at eighty!’ I was so freaked out by how much I depended on people to help me and how much it hurt to move certain muscles that the realisation hit hard and I had to take action. Old, bent over and frail were not an option for my later years!

Since then, I have become much more familiar with yoga as a practice, and way less intimidated by it. I had dipped in and out over the years but never into a regular practice and now seemed like as good a time as any to prioritise it. Unfortunately I may now need to take out shares in Sweaty Betty, in a bid to ‘blend in’ but at least I have all the gear and SOME idea!

There are so many different descriptions of yoga but basically;

‘Yoga is a system which allows us to deepen our awareness and become more balanced…Yoga is freedom: as we return to the present moment we experience the true nature or our natural mind and a state of complete happiness. …Yoga is a way of livingand is available to everyone.’
– Louise Rogers

My body had never felt like it needed to be stretched more. I needed to feel more flexible and grounded as well as work on the old core but when I looked at all the different yoga classes around me, I was overwhelmed with all the choice there was and didn’t have the energy to investigate how many different styles of downward dog I could get myself into!

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Thankfully, I knew someone who could help me separate an ‘Asana’ from my ‘Prana’ as well as translate all this sanskrit language that I kept coming across. Lou lives in my village and I got in contact to see if we could have a couple of one to ones to see how much I could (or couldn’t) do a few months after my surgery. I was pleasantly surprised and It was a great taster and now, a year on, I do her friday morning class and love every minute of it. (I do other yoga classes to compliment my Hatha but Ill review those separately!)

As a short definition the word ‘yoga’ means “union”, or harmony of body, mind and spirit. The Sanskrit word ‘Hatha’ derives from ‘ha’, meaning ‘sun’ and ‘tha’ meaning moon, symbolising life force and consciousness. Hatha yoga offers specific practices that can purify the body, calm the mind and open the heart, exactly what was needed in my case. I was already pretty much in a prayer position at the end of every day anyway, (isn’t every Mum?!) and if feeling connected to something, anything, meant standing on one leg in tree pose, I was there!

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Hatha yoga is a term used to describe any yoga which incorporates the use of physical postures (asana in Sanskrit). Some popular yoga styles are Vinyasa, Power Yoga, Kundulini, Iyengar and Ashtanga, and there are many more to choose from. The flow of Lou’s class is what I love about it. It isn’t too fast and it isn’t too slow (though everyone is encouraged to do everything at their own pace) and after a few flows of varied Sun Salutations there are postures for balance and core. Like Lou, it makes me feel calm and grounded and gives me a conscious time out, to breathe and be closer to ‘me’.

‘Yoga for me is about developing the tools to navigate who I am in order to live a life which is more comfortable. It’s about acknowledging the experiences and decisions which have shaped us, paying attention to the thoughts and sensations of the moment, in order to respond to life less from patterns of defense but more from integrity.’
– Louise Rogers

Hatha yoga can be really helpful for cancer patients specifically, because it focuses the mind on the body in a healthy, nurturing way and can be tailored to the individual and their own ability so focusing on different areas of need. I would actually visualise the drugs draining out of my cells and my muscles finally felt stimulated. Since it increases blood flow, balances glands and enhances all that lymphatic drainage, it supports the deepest healing processes; clearing toxins, removing blockages and aiding the flow of energy through the body, helping levels feel a little fuller and a little less thin on the ground. I like to imagine it as a refill for my ever decreasing energy canister!

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For me, breath work is so important (cancer cells hate oxygen so my deep breaths have increased ten fold since reading that little nugget!) and this type of yoga really emphasises the focus on the breathe. We practice Ujjayi breathing which is nicknamed the ‘Ocean Breath’. It is a very centring breath and though I often literally forget to breathe during a lot of the flows (inhaling and exhaling at the right time is like trying to keep up with a quick step!) as I have become more familiar with it, I think of it as an anchor that tethers my mind making it less likely to wonder. So, (ignoring the odd little gasps for air during a Sun Salutation), I generally have clarity towards the end of a class and I finish feeling energised, more positive and calm.

Breathing exercises release tension and replenish energy. We learn how to replace poor ineffectual breathing habits with more healthy, life-enhancing ones. Simple breathing exercises can help to deal with the strong emotions that a cancer diagnosis gives rise to: panic, grief, despair. We observe how our emotions affect our breathing, but when we learn to change our breathing patterns we can create more serenity and balance. The breath is the link between body, mind and spirit.
– Louise Rogers

There are a lot of different approaches to yoga so do read around it (there are thousands of books written on Yoga) and any classes you like the look of. I spoke to the lady who runs a Red Hot Yoga near me and she talked me through all the class descriptions but having Lou on hand was perfect and I am very lucky to have her so nearby. If you pluck up the courage and go along to a class for the first time, take time to speak to the teacher and introduce yourself. Tell them your situation so they are aware and the chances of connection with them will be greater if they can give you exactly the type of practice you need. It is, as with most things we do for our well being, an incredibly personal thing. As Lou says;

Many people feel a little apprehensive before taking their first yoga class, whatever their circumstance, but we all begin somewhere! A good teacher will reassure you, explain things in great detail, and show kindness and compassion.
– Louise Rogers

I know how reassuring I find it when we are told we can do ‘adapted’ versions for any postures that feel too strong or intense! When someone says ‘pain is your body telling you its not ok’ I’m not going to argue! Another reason why I love it; you can do it to your own ability and you are not judged or criticised for that. I can see that through practicing yoga I am being encouraged to listen to my intuition and do what feels right within my own body, regardless of whether I achieve a particular shape.

Yoga is a life long practice, and there are wonderful things to continue discovering.Yoga is becoming a hugely popular main stream exercise and lifestyle practice and I can see why. With all these different benefits, it is definitely something that has massively contributed to my healing and my recovery and dare I say it but recently I have been very tempted to go on a few yoga retreats too. Im sure I would find myself sitting on the side of a mountain, though perhaps not in lotus position, chanting Om then, but with all the good its doing me and all the fun Im having, where is the harm in that?

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