I didn’t fall head over heels in love with yoga at first sight. It’s been a slow and steady progression. I took my first yoga class in college in 2002, but like many, I was turned off by the “breath of fire” and chanting. “This isn’t a workout! What the heck is this?” I thought. My second experience with yoga was at a gym. This generic “power yoga” piqued my interest because I was sweaty afterwards and felt relaxed. But it wasn’t until 2005 when I started practicing somewhat regularly. I moved to Boston and lived with my then boyfriend’s sister, now sister-in-law. She had these awesome 20-minute yoga DVDs. We were both super busy and woke up early to practice yoga together.
Fast forward five years and I’m now training to be a yoga teacher. I sometimes wonder, “what the heck am I doing?!” But as learn more about yoga, I fall deeper and deeper in love and want everyone to learn about its benefits. It bugs me when I hear people say they don’t do yoga because “it’s not a good-enough workout.” I was a Division I athlete in college and I recently told someone that I feel stronger now than I ever did back then! And it’s a different type of strength. Yoga works all the little internal muscles that support and stabilize bones, prevent injury, and help you balance. You may not affect these muscles with weight training alone. I had 10 extra pounds of muscle on me in college, but I doubt I would ever be able to hold a proper backbend, crane pose, or a handstand back then. Working these muscles makes me a better runner, or any other sport or activity I do.
It also bugs me when people say they don’t do yoga because they’re not flexible or they can’t quiet their mind. That’s like saying I don’t take guitar lessons because I don’t know how to play guitar! You’re there to become more flexible and learn how to quiet your mind! You WILL learn to turn off that to-do list running through your head. You may never learn to do the splits, but you WILL gain flexibility. And for the majority of us who sit all day and have a tight psoas (the deep muscle that connects the lower spine to the femur), yoga does wonders for mitigating the effects of a desk job. The psoas affects pretty much everything we do, but that’s another post entirely.
Yoga’s lack of competitiveness also bothers some people. Maybe it was all those years as a competitive athlete, but I relish yoga’s lack of competitiveness! For the first time in my life, I don’t have to get a grade, pass a test, make a time cut-off, or run a certain speed. There is no pressure. I can go to yoga class and not worry at all about the person next to me. It’s my time to focus on me and my practice. “Getting better” at yoga is relative. Anytime you practice you get better. Yoga’s lack of competitiveness can also be described as lack of judgment. Being non-judgmental of yourself and others is something to practice both in class and in life.
People talk about the “mind benefits” of yoga and some may wonder how proper breathing and doing these poses affect the mind. While I am still learning about the mental effects of yoga, I can tell you this: yoga focuses on being in the present moment. Anxiety, worry, sadness, and fear all live in the past and future. Only the present moment actually exists. Whoa, right?! Sorry to get all Keanu on you, but it really puts things in perspective for me at least. I can be an anxious, emotional person and I find that focusing on the present helps me deal with negative emotions. These negative emotions are like living ‘what if’; life is what is.
I can’t think of a single other activity that increases strength, flexibility, lung capacity, energy, composure, and self-awareness while decreasing aches, pains, and injury like yoga can. Pardon my exuberance, but I just want everyone in on it!