In the last 10 to 15 years, yoga hit the mainstream and to a large extent, became a trend, a fashion statement, a social signature, or worse, something rich skinny girls did. I cringed at anything that seemed to be a result of ‘sheep mentality’ in order to prove one’s belonging to a social group, and that’s what I felt about yoga. I couldn’t understand the hype around it or the sometimes faux spirituality people had when talking about it. I was a kick-boxing, body-pumping, high-intensity exercise type of girl. Yoga was too slow, unchallenging, and was for those who wanted to “exercise” without putting in too much effort.
Well, if you’re a yogi, you might have been shaking your head from the first sentence. Clearly, I was so very wrong.
I’m not an expert, so I won’t even attempt to explain yoga. But what I will share are the effects it had on me—physically and otherwise. So while I had my doubts, my curiosity got the better of me. It couldn’t have gotten this popular all over the world without good reason, not to mention thousands of years of history behind the philosophy.
With an open mind, I decided to give yoga a shot. The very first time I took proper yoga classes in a dedicated yoga studio was in late October 2016. I took the studio’s discovery pass—30 days of unlimited classes. I had no idea what the differences were between ashtanga, vinyasa, hatha, wall yoga, recovery yoga, yin yang, rocket. I tried them all anyway. By May 2017, I was practicing the eight angle pose, the peacock, the lizard and doing daily handstands, albeit with a lot of falling and trying again and again and again.
Here’s what I learned or simply realised:
1. Yoga is challenging and sometimes, really hard. It’s another form of body-weight training requiring strength, a strong core, flexibility, and balance.
Far from being a non-athletic form of training, some yoga classes require a lot of muscle strength and feels like a derivative of gymnastics, acrobatics, ballet and dance. 10 months into yoga, I still can’t do a handstand without a wall, and depending on the day, I still struggle to hold a crow pose, one of the easiest arm balance poses.
When I started incorporating yoga into my weekly routine to complement my BBG workouts and high-intensity training sessions, I got a lot of extra core/ab workout and it showed. For those who are used to a more intense form of exercise, yoga is intense. It may be slower-paced, but it’s just as challenging, if not more. As proof, I’ve seen so many body-building boyfriends join their girlfriends for a yoga class. You can’t miss them: they’re usually the ones with the reddest faces, drenched in sweat, falling flat on their faces and being lovingly teased by the ladies that dragged them to class. 😉
2. Whether I like it or not, my mind clears.
Why? Because all I could think of is, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Breathe. Don’t fall. Breathe.” It started off with this train of thought, and as I continue to progress, I’m slowly able to get into a more meditative mode and focus on the quality of my breathing. I didn’t expect it to help with my overactive mind, but it did.
3. Focusing on the breath and improving the quality of my inhalation over time actually calms me.
It’s not faux spirituality. It’s just the way your body works and influences your mind. Here’s an article from time.com, one of the many medical studies you can read on why deep breathing is used to control anxiety.
4. I eat better and mindfully.
Ever since I started doing yoga almost every day, I got into the habit of being acutely aware of what every part of my body is feeling. When you’re working towards a pose, or holding one, you’re mind is constantly scanning your body—is my core activated, is my spine neutral, is my shoulder going in or out, are my thighs contracting, is my twist deep enough, am I breathing, and then you do it all again. When you’re that much in tune with your body, you learn to listen to it better. When I eat crap, I feel crap. When I’m not hungry anymore, I stop eating. It’s really that simple.
5. I feel both powerful and humbled.
I had no idea my own body was capable of so many mind-boggling poses. When you finally unlock a pose after weeks of trying, you feel in control, anything is possible—you feel powerful. At the same time, those weeks of practice and failing to do a pose teaches you to toss our your ego aside and accept what your body can and wants to do today. You’ll learn to accept failure today simply as another chance to do it again and possibly succeed tomorrow. Again, it’s a simple corelation between body movements, the effects these have on your organs and cells, and subsequently, your brain and mindset.
6. Even my husband prefers days when I’ve done yoga.
He says I’m so much happier (translation: less grumpy) after yoga. For all the reasons above, I think so, too.
Yoga may or may not be for you, but for someone who thought it was a mere fad, I’m a convert. I need yoga every day, even if all I can do are the sun salutations.
There’s a plethora of reading material on everything you need to know about anything in yoga. There are yogis who see it as another form of sport, and other who are more inclined to go deeper into the philosophical side of the practice. To each his/her own, and for me, the most important thing to take away from yoga is being able to practice what we preach. We can’t be talking about mindfulness, kindness, humility and love in yoga class and doing the exact opposite in our daily lives.
So, if you’ve been curious about yoga for some time, I would highly recommend that you give it a try.