This month I have started practising yoga every day, and sometimes more than once a day! I am doing Yoga with Adriene’s Revolution – 31 Days of Yoga programme and I am also learning a lot about yoga thanks to Cat Meffan’s #Yoganuary videos. I first started yoga about 2 years ago, but last year I got a bit distracted with fitness and tennis and I let my practice slip. I am going to try and be more disciplined this year, as I know that practising yoga will be important for my tennis progress. So here are 5 things I have learned about yoga which I will use as a reminder to encourage myself to stay committed, and cultivate Tapas (which translates as ‘discipline, austerity, burning enthusiasm, fire/heat’ as Adriene taught us on Day 23).
1. You don’t have to go to a yoga class
Living in Italy, I didn’t really want to go to a yoga class as I wanted to practice in English (I do speak fluent Italian, but I just felt that I would connect better with yoga if it was in my mother tongue). I first started after I downloaded an app on my iPad called Yoga Studio. Although it was very easy to follow, with a voice over explaining the postures (asanas) shown on the screen, and I certainly learned a lot, I did feel it was a bit dry and not very personal. I then discovered the Yoga with Adriene YouTube videos. Adriene teaches us (in her own personal and unconventional style) that we don’t have to be ‘yoga robots’, but we can introduce movement into the postures, and ultimately ‘find what feels good’ to each of us. There are hundreds of other great yoga videos on YouTube, and you can find videos of yoga for bedtime, yoga for runners, yoga for healing, yoga for weight loss, and even yoga for tennis players (more on that at the end of this post).
2. Stretching is much less boring when it is part of a yoga flow
We all know how important it is to stretch to avoid injury (especially for older tennis players like myself), but it can be a bit of a chore to work through a set of stretches every day. When these are part of a yoga flow, it can make them a bit more challenging and I find this keeps my mind active and I am more likely to return to the mat.
3. Yoga teaches you how to breath properly
A few years ago I was stressed at work and I held a lot of tension in my neck and shoulders. Apparently I also developed a tick that I wasn’t even aware I had – I found that very disturbing! I’ve been told that I am much better now, and I think this is both due to my increased physical activity and improved breathing. Yoga teaches you to focus on diaphragmatic breathing so that you no longer take shallow breaths but fill your belly with elongated inhalations and exhalations.
4. It requires a lot of strength and flexibility, but also helps you to develop it
I still remember the amount my body shook those first few times I tried yoga and I was shocked by how difficult I found it to hold a simple warrior pose like the one at the top of this post. Even though I am a lot stronger this year than I used to be, I am still noticing improvements in my strength from my daily practice. Yesterday, during one of our fitness trainings, I discovered that I was able to hold a side plank with my leg raised for much longer than my partner. I haven’t focused enough on my flexibility over the past year, however, and so I am excited to see the improvements I will make this year from consistent practice. You shouldn’t be worried about not being strong or flexible enough for yoga, as most of the more difficult asanas can be adapted for beginners.
5. By committing to consistent practice, it forces you to carve a space in your life to focus on your well-being
I have a much more relaxed life nowadays and I find it easy to introduce daily yoga into my routine, but I wish I had known all of the above 5 years ago when I was working 7 days a week and travelling around the world. It is when we are experiencing the most stressful periods of our lives when we need yoga the most, and so my advice to anyone who thinks they don’t have time for yoga is to put it in your agenda and give it the same importance you would to work meetings or emails. Even just 15-30 minutes a day before going to bed with some ‘yoga for bedtime’ videos will allow you to quietly meditate, switch off, relax, and turn your thoughts inwards.
If I still haven’t convinced you to practice yoga regularly, but you are interested in stretching and preparing your body for playing tennis, then take a look at this yoga for tennis practice YouTube video by Yoga with Olga. I like this video because Olga wears a tennis skirt (way to go Olga!) and you don’t need a mat (as they are all standing exercises) and so you can do the routine (or parts of it) on the court before a match. I’ll be on the lookout for more YouTube yoga flows that are good for tennis players, and I’ll keep you updated in future posts.