Did you know that there are so many more benefits to yoga than just moving your body? Yoga incorporates physical, mental and spiritual practices and can improve strength, flexibility and even sleep! We’ve asked Christian Ralston, a yoga instructor, to tell us all about how yoga can help improve sleep and to share advice for those starting yoga for the first time.
Yoga has been proven to have many wonderful benefits. It works with your own body weight to lengthen and strengthen muscles and get joints moving. Add in a focus on deep breathing to calm the mind and you have yourself an extremely effective tool for overall health and wellbeing.
Stretching muscles and breathing can help relieve stress and tension being carried around in the body. Relief of some of this tension is one of the main reasons why you can feel great after yoga. It can feel like some weight has been lifted, it's possible to feel “lighter”.
A small change in tension levels can benefit you in so many ways, including better quality sleep. A survey carried out in the U.S found that 55% of people who began practicing yoga reported improved sleep, and over 85% found that it helped reduce their stress levels.
If you struggle to get a good night's sleep, maybe it’s time to try incorporating yoga into your daily routine. Keep in mind that some styles of yoga, such as vinyasa, are quite energising, so if you want to practise yoga before you sleep try looking into restorative styles such as nidra or hatha.
Finding a local yoga studio and heading to a class is a great first step in introducing yourself to yoga and learning the basics.
Here are 5 tips to make your first few sessions smooth and enjoyable.
1. Arrive early. You want plenty of time to acquaint yourself with the studio and be able to find a spot in the yoga room where you can clearly see the teacher. Classes often start right on time. If you are late, sometimes even by just a minute you may get locked out, as setting up during the practice can disrupt everyone else in the class.
2. Find the teacher. Most often they are checking in the class. Introduce yourself to the teacher and tell them you are new. A good teacher will look after you and check up on you. Remember they are there to help you and they want you to do well and come back.
3. Commit to attending between eight and ten sessions and try and go every three or four days. This gives you time to learn the basics of yoga and also helps you build momentum. If you leave it too long between sessions it can feel like you are starting from scratch.
4. Be ready. The yoga class could be WAY more difficult than you first expect. Welcome the challenge with open arms. See it as an invitation to improve rather than a shortcoming. It won't take long for you to feel like you are improving, and when you nail that pose remember to be proud of yourself. You are making a great, positive change in your life.
5. Make friends with your fellow students. Just a small nod, a smile, a hello to one or two people is all that is needed to help build some rapport with those around you. This can help you feel more comfortable and feel like you belong. You never know, you may be next to somebody who is also there for the first time.
Are you already practising yoga but are finding it quite challenging? Here are 5 tips for you to work towards better practice.
1. Be consistent with turning up. The benefits of yoga have a cumulative effect. In each class you will make small amounts of progress. When you are consistent you build on improving from the previous class and slowly but surely you will see change.
2. Go to class more often. If you currently go to class twice a week, why not step it up and try for four times? This ties in with the tip above; by doubling how often you practise, you should start seeing improvements twice as fast, which can be exciting and motivate you to keep at it.
3. Keep your chin up and persevere. If you are finding yoga challenging there is a good reason for that. It is challenging. It’s designed to challenge your body and your mind. This is important to understand; it’s not supposed to be easy. Embrace the challenge with your chin up and with a steely determination that you can do it. Your progress comes purely from meeting the challenge. It’s also important to find a teacher who challenges you and helps you when you need it, as this will help you improve.
4. Go with a friend. Having a friend attend the class with you will help keep you accountable and therefore less likely to skip a class. This also ties back to the first point of staying consistent and building momentum. Consistency is key to any kind of success. Having a friend there can also be great moral support when yoga feels too challenging. A sense of camaraderie with a friend can make poses seem more doable, plus you can always have a laugh about it afterwards. You can also turn it into a social gathering and go for a coffee or meal after, so you’ve got two reasons not to cancel.
5. Find a spot near somebody who knows what they are doing. If you have a good visual example of some of the moves to accompany the instructions from the teacher you can improve quickly. You are also likely to try a little harder when you are next to somebody who really does well.
Christian Ralston is a yoga teacher based in Sydney, Australia. He combines his love for yoga and passion for electronic music (he’s also a DJ) to create challenging classes accompanied by killer soundtracks, teaching both online and in studios across Sydney.