If you're looking for some motivation to amp up your yoga practice, or even give it a go for the first time, scroll down and watch the video below straight away. It documents what happened when Shervin Shaikh decided to practice yoga every day for a whole year.
Shervin explains that he was motivated to give it a go after seeing others try similar challenges, but noticed that it was never really men who shared their stories, only women. He was also struggling with lower back pain, exacerbated by spending a lot of time at his desk... an issue many of us can relate to. There are lots of different styles of yoga to choose from, but for this challenge Shervin mainly focused on Vinyasa-based Asana yoga, which is a popular style that's fairly physically demanding.
Shervin is now a yoga instructor, and also runs the YouTube channel Shervin Shares. So what did he find during his year of yoga? Read on for his three main benefits, followed by some tips for getting started with yoga, if this inspires you.
1. Increased flexibility
The most obvious benefit won't surprise you: increased flexibility. It wasn't long before Shervin could touch his toes, and by the end of the challenge he was able to reach right past his feet in a seated forward bend. This is a common effect for those who practice yoga regularly, as a typical yoga practice has lots of poses that help you develop flexibility in your hamstrings.
That said, flexibility improvements will vary from person to person. I do a lot of yoga (although for me it's 2-3 times a week rather than daily), and hamstring flexibility remains a struggle for me. I have, however, found big improvements in the flexibility of my upper torso and my hips. Whatever the specifics of your personal experience, though, you're going to see some positive changes.
Shervin goes on to explain that increased flexibility has knock-on effects in all kinds of areas, from strength training to running. "Life is all about balance, and we need to have a good balance of strength, mobility, flexibility and awareness of our physical bodies," he says.
2. Improved lower back pain
The second benefit for Shervin found was that his lower back pain improved when he was practicing yoga, and came back when he stopped, leading to costly physical therapy sessions. "[The pain came back] probably because I was not strengthening and lengthening my lower back. For me the transformation of just showing up to my mat, going through the movements and developing the strength as well as the length of my physical body, I wouldn't say counteracts the [effects of] me sitting down all day, but it helped alleviate some of the symptoms."
3. Better mental health
Finally, the challenge yielded some benefits that weren't physical. Namely, that it led to Shervin finding a community and making friends within it, which in turn helped with stress and anxiety.
"When you go to a physical space, kind of like a community, where there's other people doing the same activity that you are, and you all have that shared interest in that activity, it's a great way to develop friends and relationships," he says. "I made so many of my recent close friends by just showing up to my mat, going to a yoga studio, and meeting other like-minded people. Having a commonality and a shared interaction with another human being is really powerful."
If you've been considering trying yoga but haven't yet taken the leap, Shervin urges you to give it a go... even if you feel like you're not physically ready. "One of the most common responses when I try and ask a friend to practice yoga with me is, 'I'm not flexible'," he says in the video. "And to them I respond, 'Do you wait to get clean before you take a shower, or do you go take a shower to get clean?'"
Remember too that while Shervin focused on Vinyasa-based Asana yoga, which is quite a physical style, you don't need to go that hard. There are much gentler types of yoga around, and you could even opt for a Nidra practice, which is essentially guided meditation, and which removes the physical side entirely.
His recommendation is to start by getting a taste via a free online class – Yoga with Adriene is a popular choice. Use these to start to familiarise yourself with the key poses, just so you don't feel like you're going in totally blind, then find a local studio or class where you can practice with others. Get yourself in a spot where you're surrounded by other yogis so you can watch what they're doing and adjust your poses to match. "Just showing up to these spaces, trying it out, getting yourself uncomfortable can have an immense impact on how you feel and how your energy is," he explains.
The beauty of yoga is that you don't need much at all to get started. The only real essential is a mat – you'll find a range of options in our best yoga mat guide. If you're not sure that yoga is going to be your thing, an inexpensive PVC foam mat will be perfectly adequate. Stretchy clothing is another must, and again we've got some tried and tested picks in our best yoga pants guide, but realistically you probably have something at home that'll work fine to start with (even if it's PJ bottoms). A yoga brick could also help by adding support in some poses, but it's by no means essential.