The idea of yoga for non-yogis might have you running in the opposite direction, wondering how you’ll ever twist and contort into a certain position.
But one woman believes even beginners can find their inner zen with the ancient practice, and it will open the mind to a place of relaxation that can avoid burnout.
Libby Stevenson, a former banker turned yoga teacher, says that by getting a little bendy every now and then not only improves physical and mental health, but also productivity.
In particular, she focuses on menopause, pregnancy and postnatal, believing she can help fight stigma by encouraging women to accept their changing and ageing bodies.
Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Libby revealed her goal is based on her own lived experience of journeying through those stages without support, advice and knowledge.
Libby said: “I give clients a community of women just like them who are all experiencing the same things. This normalises their experience and they learn from each other.
“The way a woman feels about herself as she approaches the menopause is influenced by society’s views on ageing, her culture and whether or not she has support.”
Libby continued: “By coming to a yoga class, which specifically addresses her physical symptoms and helps to ease them, she leaves the class feeling relaxed, supported by the other women in the class and gains a better understanding of what is happening to her.
“For a woman to have a safe space where she is heard and seen, is very powerful. Knowing you are not alone as you journey through this stage of life is cathartic.”
Libby believes that with pregnancy and postnatal, there are also deep-rooted issues with body image as pregnancy takes over and the body enlarges to make space for the baby.
She explained: “This can be challenging for women who pride themselves on their physical appearance and identify themselves with it.
“After giving birth, the issue is missing the life the woman lived before pregnancy and not being able to go back to that.
“They may get the body they had before pregnancy, but their life is forever changed because now they are a mother with a child to think about.”
As well as learning to embrace their changing bodies, Libby says the opportunity for new mums to gather during her sessions and share their experiences is invaluable as many new mums don’t have friends with babies, so the class offers them the opportunity to socialise.
Libby also believes that by understanding our minds and bodies are intrinsically linked can benefit us, despite medical professionals often casting them as two separate entities.
She said: “Have you ever been in a situation where something happens, and you feel it in the pit of your stomach? Or you are about to give a speech and you start to sweat or you feel nauseous? These are examples of mind and body connection.
“Yoga trains us to connect mind and body by being still and quiet in a pose. It’s the focus that allows us to notice sensations in the body.”
Why does this matter? Libby states that when situations around us start causing stress or anxiety, by learning to recognise the sensation in our body we can then step in and break the cycle from escalating. It is this early recognition of how the body responds to a situation – such as a change in breathing pattern or a particular physical sensation – that allows us to recognise when we are about to tip over into full-blown anxiety unless we take action.
Libby continued: “The more you are aware of the sensations in your body, the quicker you can step in, do something about it and stop it from escalating to a point of no return.”
Having turned to yoga as a result of hitting midlife and realising her kids were flying the nest, Libby is familiar to needing an outlet to prevent the monotony and loneliness of life.
She is also familiar with what it feels like to be a lone ranger, having arrived in the UK from the USA while expecting her child and realising there was nothing for pregnant women in terms of safe exercise, nor any way to meet other mums-to-be.
Libby said: “I thought back to my experience as a pregnant woman in a foreign city with no friends nor family nearby. When I was pregnant, I would have loved a place where I could have engaged in a safe form of exercise and meet other expectant mums.
“Pregnancy is a life-transforming experience and no woman should have to journey through it on her own with no information and advice.”
Libby is now an expert at teaching first-timers and helps beginners by adapting the poses to their body shape, ability and limitations.
She said: “I would say to anyone who would like to try yoga but thinks they are not bendy enough: neither am I and I teach yoga! A good teacher will adapt the pose to YOU.
“Start in a beginner class or a Level 1 hatha yoga class. Try different teachers. There are so many of us out there. You are bound to find one you like.”
Libby believes that we all can all benefit from yoga’s calming and relaxing effect, as the exercise is not only gentle but it provides a holistic approach to wellbeing.
She added: “In a pose, we are using the whole body and not just one part of the body. There are no mindless repetitive movements.
“The focus and stillness in the pose as well as the pose itself combined with the breathing, resets the nervous system with the result of feeling calmer and relaxed but also uplifted and just better about ourselves in general.”
Chatting about how she would like to see yoga evolve within society, for example, by becoming mandatory in schools or offices, Libby said she is delighted that there is a growing tend in the western world to be more accepting and inclusive of yoga and eastern wellbeing.
She concluded: “The benefits of yoga to school age children is becoming more popular. I currently teach yoga to kids in a primary school in central London, but I used to teach two-year-olds.
“This is a great age to start because many yoga poses are based on animals and nature – two things children understand and love!”
For more info, click here: Libby Stevenson