It’s been about three years since my journey with yoga began. Three blissful years of yoga every morning. Three years of uniting my body and breath and feeling the results of this bountiful practice. In the ancient Sanskrit language, “yoga” literally means “union” or “connection.” From the first time I stepped on the mat, I understood exactly why.
When I do yoga, I feel a sense of connection to myself and the world around me. I feel overwhelming gratitude flowing through me. Graciousness for my body, for the earth, for all that life has given me. As I flow on the mat, I have an understanding that often escapes me in the every day hustle of life: that everything is exactly as it should be. The past is the past, the future is unknown, and the present moment is all that matters. There’s something about focusing in on my breath, my very life source, and moving in a way that feels good that is incredibly blissful. Yoga gives in abundance, and it has given me the gifts of inspiration and transformation. I’m curious what it has to offer you, and what would happen if more of us committed to taking this time for ourselves?
The general stereotype of someone who practices yoga is either a spaced out hippie, a Buddhist monk, or an upper class suburban mom for whom yoga is just another thing on her To Do List. But I’m here to tell you that this is NOT the real culture of yoga, and whether you choose to be any of these things or not, yoga has profound gifts to offer everyone who is willing to commit to it. It does not matter your religion or body type; there is a pose or style of yoga to supplement every lifestyle.
The Spiritual Benefits
“Spirituality: the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.”
The exact origin of yoga is hard to pin down, and it’s history and philosophy so rich and complex that it could take months or even years of study to fully understand.
Yoga is first mentioned in the earliest ancient Sanskrit texts, the Vedas. These are a collection of religious texts written in India thousands of years ago by ancient sages as divine revelation. The first, The Rig-Veda, where yoga is mentioned, contains mantras for living a peaceful and healthy life. Among the Vedic philosophies, the first primitive forms of yoga emerged; a discipline used to connect to ones higher self and the divine. The practice was formed around concepts such as overcoming suffering through meditation, broadening consciousness and mindfulness, and using yoga as a path to transcendence. As we progress through time, yoga has spread westward and it’s ideas of connecting the body and breath as well as much of its philosophy has gained popularity and merit.
At it’s very core yoga is a practice built on spirituality and living a mindful existence. While it is important to have respect for the religious context behind yoga, anyone of any culture or religion can benefit from yoga practice and its philosophy of reconnecting to the self, nature, and what really matters in life. You are not required to pray or worship anything in yoga, nor are you making a religious commitment by making one to the practice. You are only committing to yourself and doing what’s right for your heart, mind, and body. Most days I say a prayer at the end of my yoga practice, giving thanks for all I have and asking for protection for the ones I love. If you are a spiritual or religious person, yoga is a beautiful tool to explore that path further. Do what feels right for you!
I have also found that yoga has been a therapy to me, helping me slowly but surely conquer severe anxiety and lingering depression. After a yoga session, I feel a burst of joy and energy throughout my body, and I feel thankful to be in my own skin. Moving through the poses, focused on my breath, a peacefulness fills my body and clears my mind. Yoga does not have to be a spiritual experience; but if you are looking to reconnect to yourself, refocus your energy, or let go of anything weighing you down, you might discover exactly what you were looking for on the mat. It could be a spiritual awakening you never expected! I can promise you one thing; yoga will help you realize, heal, and uncover the deepest parts of who you are, making you a brighter, more compassionate version of yourself.
Yoga for Physical Health
When I first started doing yoga, I couldn’t touch my toes. I was a long way from getting into any twists or bends, and my balance wasn’t great either. I weighed twenty pounds more than I do now, and had excess thigh and arm fat. In the poses, I began to notice the difference in tightness between the right and left sides of my body, and I understood how this imbalance could be causing unnecessary tension in my muscles and joints. Both my quality of sleep and energy level improved, and as I began to detoxify my body through a daily practice, my organs just felt better and any issues with digestion dissipated. I could feel my body relaxing, releasing, and refreshing during every flow. Combined with the spiritual and mental benefits, I was totally hooked.
You don’t have to take my word for it, though. There is more mounting scientific research every day backing the positive affects of yoga on physical health. Yoga has been shown to increase flexibility, reduce chronic pain, detoxify the kidneys and liver, and even boost your immune system. It can help increase muscle strength and range of motion, keeping your bones and joints healthy. Yoga is basically magic for your body; cleansing, strengthening, toning, and soothing.
In this article from Yoga Journal, 38 ways that yoga can help keep you healthy are highlighted. While long-term conclusive research on yoga is still needed, it is undeniable that there are countless ways that this practice acts as a supplement for the body.
Getting Into the Practice
There seems to be this idea that practicing yoga or being a “yogi” requires you to spend all your free time at your local studio, which can be intimidating. While going to a public class has great benefits, I’ve discovered that an at-home yoga practice is extremely rewarding as well! In my personal opinion, I find it important to do both to continue growing and improving your practice. You may prefer to look up a beginners class near you and jump in that way, or try it out at home first and then find a studio you like! Yoga is all about taking time for yourself, so make it whatever you want it to be.
Every morning, I get up and have a cup of tea. Then I go to my little yoga and meditation space and roll out my mat. I light up some incense; sometimes I light some sage or a candle too. Then I take a minute to breath and settle in to the day. What are my plans? What are my goals for the day? How am I feeling? Is there anything weighing on me in the moment that I need to let go of?
Now that I’m a more experienced yogi, once in a while I like to turn on a peaceful yoga playlist and let it flow, whatever feels right. More often than not, I follow a Youtube video from one of my two favorites: Yoga with Adriene or BohoBeautiful. The latter is a little more advanced, but I love both of these women and their styles of teaching so much. They both have beginners yoga videos, as well as more challenging flows. What’s nice about this is you can choose to do a relaxing yoga session for an hour on your day off or just fifteen minutes if you’re in a rush for work. You don’t have to try to fit in a class or modify your schedule; yoga will come to you! You can also find videos for any type of ailment or emotion or need you can think of; yoga for back pain, yoga for PMS, yoga for after a run, yoga for a full moon, yoga for abs, yoga for depression, yoga for heartache, yoga for Christmas. It’s all there. Seriously. Just find what you need and trust. When I’m done, I say my little prayer and meditate if I have the time, allowing it all to soak in.
It is important to remember two things in yoga: patience and the breath. Yoga is nothing if you’re not focusing on your breath and uniting body and spirit. It is often said in yoga that “the breath does the work for you.” That’s because getting fresh oxygen into your blood while moving through the poses allows you to cleanse the body, loosen tension, and experience the full benefits of yoga. After all, yoga and meditation go hand in hand. Remembering to have patience with your body is also incredibly important. It can take months or years for the stored up tension to release out of your muscles, allowing you to get into all those crazy twists and bends you see in yoga. Do not rush and never push too hard; just enjoy the journey. As Adriene always says, Find What Feels Good. That’s what’s really matters.
As you progress through that journey you may discover what types of yoga you like best, but I think they are all important to finding balance in the body. If you’re looking for more relaxing yoga, you may try Yin or Hatha styles. If you want to get your heart racing or improve strength, Ashtanga or Vinyasa might be a good place to start.
Obviously, I could talk about this subject endlessly. My love and passion from yoga has grown and stemmed from a desire to connect to myself and calm my mind. I found what I needed in yoga, and I truly believe there is something within the practice that everyone can benefit from. As I move forward, I’m hoping to get my certification to teach yoga and inspire love of the practice in others like my friend Kari did for me, when she took me to my first class three years ago. Could we create a chain of compassion and mindfulness through yoga, meditation, and finding peace within?
I’m here to support and encourage you in your yoga journey so we can create a loving universal yoga community! Please feel free to send me any questions or comments @ SkylerBreanne23@gmail.com.