Many people turn to yoga in times of difficulty. Maybe they’ve heard of its stress-relieving benefits, that it can help build strength safely after an injury, or any of the many more perks of a regular yoga practice.
My relationship with yoga began a little differently. Having a mom whose shelves were always filled with workout DVDs, I dabbled in yoga since my early teens. Yoga was a constant companion through high school, college, and beyond, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it’s changed my life completely, from the inside out.
I learned to work with my body, not against it.
If you’ve ever been to a punishing gym class, hitting a yoga studio is a bafflingly different experience. Instead of urging you to push for one more rep (even though your arm feels like it might fall off) yoga teachers will encourage you to listen to your body and never do anything you’re not comfortable with.
By moving gently through a workout, I found I was able to push myself further than I ever would in more sweat-inducing sessions. I quit blaming my body for what it couldn’t yet do and started appreciating all the wonderful things it could.
I became comfortable in my own skin.
Because yoga is a progressive workout, there’s no base level of strength or flexibility needed to get started and no judgement if you can’t get your fingers as close to your toes as the person next to you. That image that springs to mind when you hear the word yoga – you know, the room of tanned quasi-gymnasts chanting in unison – is totally false. As virtually any yoga class features modifications for the beginner, it can meet your body where it’s at. This is all made easier by the fact that, in my experience, yoga communities are some of the friendliest on the web and out in the real world, and they will welcome you regardless of what brought you to them.
This non-judgemental, non-competitive way of working out has completely changed my relationship with my body. Growing up, I’d fear eating unhealthy foods, worried they would make me fat, and would punish poor food choices with grueling workouts. Nowadays, I choose the right foods because I want to nourish my body for my yoga practice – I know it’s going to be difficult getting into wheel pose on a ridiculously full stomach!
Yoga helps me to look inwards.
You’d have to have been living under a rock for the past year not to have heard of the benefits of meditation to help destress and boost productivity. In my experience, though, the idea of sitting in silence and clearing your mind is easier said than done.
If you asked me now to sit and meditate for five minutes, I’m pretty sure I’d fail, but I’ve frequently come to the end of hour-long yoga classes and realized that my mind has been focused on nothing but my breathing. The flow from one pose, or asana, to the next, requires steady concentration, whether it’s stretching a little further into a pose or focusing on balance in standing postures. It feels like my negative thoughts start seeping away from me the moment I step into a studio filled with calming music.
My love for yoga borders on corny at times, but I can honestly say that it’s impact has been life-changing. I’m genuinely motivated to stick with an exercise regimen, and I come away from each class feeling better than when I started.
Yoga has given me the mental clarity I need in my day-to-day life and has taught me to love and work with my body. I feel more at ease in my relationships, because yoga has taught me the self-acceptance that allows me to truly be myself, without worrying about how I look or whether I can ever be good enough. Studying for exams as a student and now juggling the demands of a busy working life, my yoga practice is a time for me to stop and take a breath, no matter what’s been happening beyond the studio door. Yoga has given me a greater awareness of my physical health, but off the mat, it’s changed my life.
Originally published on January 9, 2018.