How Yoga Has Changed My Life
Paul Joseph, co-founder of Health and Fitness Travel talks about how he found yoga and why it's changed his life for the better.
Ten years ago I had a car accident which sent me down a path of holistic health to discover yoga through rehabilitation. I had damaged my lower back and was trying to avoid a back operation by having weekly osteopathy which really helped. I was unable to stand for long periods of time without being in pain and had to give up my favourite sports as well as regular gym sessions.
Before my accident I had always been a gym junkie - working out 6 days a week with weights, never stretching and straining myself. After six months of seeing a good osteopath I was recommended Pilates, although I fully appreciate it's an effective rehabilitation exercise, particularly using the reformer machines, I could only experience the mat work and it just wasn't right for my particular injuries so I tried yoga instead. Even though I was inflexible at the time, I preferred it and within a few months I was hooked and felt my posture and alignment improving.
After one year of continuous yoga practice, my body was stronger and more flexible and I could finally touch my toes with straight legs, which gave me a real sense of accomplishment on how far I had come. Each time I completed a yoga session my pain incrementally became softer and easier to manage, and eventually my whole body stronger. Yoga's given me the tools to tune into what is happening on the inside as well as the outside and the ability to switch off and focus. The endless benefits and learning how to become so calm is more powerful than any gym workout, being able to make clear decisions has improved every area of my life in the last ten years.
I began yoga with an excellent teacher who had taught for 25 years and up until now I've been taught by a range of yoga teachers of various nationalities and experience levels who have all offered a unique perspective. What comes with yoga is a whole new healthy lifestyle, you become more in tune with what's important in life and as a result, I became interested in alternative medicine and other forms of holistic wellness such as herbal remedies, acupuncture and meditation, all which complement yoga and lead to a more spiritual lifestyle.
From 2006 to 2010 I worked long hours in a busy PR and marketing agency in London, but managed to specialise in working with health and well-being clients. I always made time for my yoga practice every week as it helped me to reconnect and de-stress from my job at the time. I also do a lot of resistance and interval training to keep fit such as kickboxing and circuits, as exercise and yoga complement each other well, especially as your muscles get tight so stretching is vital. I would not want to ever be without my yoga in any given week, it more than sustains me and brings about a clear mind and calmness which helps in my daily life of a hectic work schedule, long hours and travel.
I still practise yoga and plan to for the rest of my life, it's a personal journey and my body changes with continuous practice. I'm now very flexible and can do lots of the advanced poses; such as the crow (Kakasana), figure of 8 (Astavakrasana), the wheel (Cakra-asana), arm balances and legs stretched out to the side. I never thought I'd be able to do half the poses I do now, but it just happens one day when you are least expecting it as your body adjusts progressively.
There are many different styles of yoga with Hatha as a starting point. Although I particularly feel challenged by Ashtanga and I do Vinyasa and sometimes Bikram, yoga is a lifetime journey and I have come to appreciate all forms of yoga. There are many styles to embrace and I've now eventually come to enjoy types of yoga that I didn't think I would. Breathing is one of the most important aspects and I've tried a lot of Pranayama which is a powerful deep breathing meditation technique to help calm the mind, balance emotions and reduce stress.
Paul meditating at Kamalaya in Koh Samui, Thailand
I have thought a lot about becoming a yoga teacher over the years but it's something I know I can do any time in my life. I decided to use my experience and interests to create a luxury wellness travel company called Health and Fitness Travel, which I launched with my friend in December 2010. The company specialises in tailor-made healthy holidays worldwide and I now get to travel to the most amazing destinations in the world, and practise yoga with some of the most inspiring teachers.
Working for myself has allowed me to practise more, as well as sell the most amazing yoga holidays which has opened my mind to a new way of healthy living. With many years of regular practice, I have grown as a whole human being and my thought process and appreciation of life and care and sensitivity to people, has enriched me and my lifestyle.
Practising yoga on a regular basis has improved my mental and body awareness, flexibility, concentration levels and complete inner peace. Yoga will always be a part of my lifestyle and I'm so glad I discovered it, even though it wasn't through the best circumstances, it's turned out to have led me down a path of self-discovery and long term happiness with the direction I've taken.
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