It took me a while to remember my first yoga class, not because I'm a phenomenal yogi that was chaturanga'ing with the best of them before her 12th birthday, but because I tucked it far, far away, in the oft-ignored section of my brain generally reserved for things like the taste of sour milk and the smell of my dentist's office.
It was just over four years ago, in Boston. Rather than moving home to Missouri after my freshman year of college, I went to live with my sister in Beantown.
She dragged me to a Vinyasa class for beginners. She also had to drag me out 60 minutes later, after I'd collapsed in a pile of defeat on my mat. It was just...my feet! They were so far from my hands! And my shoulders -- is that pop normal? Are my hips supposed to be this uneven? How the f*ck is that girl balancing on the tip of her nose like that?!
“Breathe,” the teacher said. “In and out,” she urged.
It was miserable. But it was also good for me, and at the time, I'd do just about anything purportedly "good for me" (which, ironically, is not good for you at all).
So, I went to yoga regularly for the rest of the summer. When I returned to college, I tried every Bikram, Vinyasa and Ashtanga studio within reasonable driving distance, pushing, pulling and jamming my body further into every pose. I'd find my head tucked under my arm and wrapped around my leg -- red-faced from minimal oxygen -- and would (smugly) think about how much I'd improved.
Then, I found a little studio that sat above a little grocery store and a yogi named Bonnie. She taught me to be kind to my body, to be gentle with my joints and forgiving with my failures. She taught me to hold, to relax my jaw, release my tension and stop competing with the mats next to me.
And, finally, Bonnie taught me to breathe -- in and out, and in and out again -- with my shoulders as much as my soul.
I swear I went every day.
Eventually, I graduated and moved from North Carolina to New York. I bid Bonnie, but not yoga, a very sad farewell. I've experimented with other teachers, new studios and a variety of styles since my arrival. It has been the most humbling of humbling journeys.
There are days that I jump into ‘crow’ and pop my legs back into ‘chaturanga’ like I've been doing it my whole life. There are also days when I break, lose focus, fall to my mat and just, you know, breathe.
It's in those profoundly frustrating moments that I'm most aware of what yoga has taught me. Here’s what I’ve learned, and what you will learn, should you begin practicing yoga:
Acceptance Is The Key To Finding Peace
Is there one thing true yogis all share in common? Fantastic shoulders, you say? No! We aren't all built to have defined arms!
The answer is acceptance, most specifically in regards to a yogi’s own self. Yogis accept their bodies; they accept their lives. They see the things they have the power to change, and in the face of the things they can't change, they -- yes, you guessed it -- breathe. Yogis accept. They find peace.
The healing powers of yoga extend well beyond the body, digging deeper into matters of the mind. Any pent-up stress, tension or negative emotion you are experiencing leads to an unhealthy state of mind and body. Practicing yoga calms the soul and eases the body, healing any detrimental ailment you may be facing.
Inversions Are Better For Our Bodies Than An Expensive Juice Cleanse
What happens, physically, when we age? Things, um, sag; they droop and they wrinkle…you get it. Would it be ignorant to assume gravity does not take a toll on our insides as much as our outsides? (Answer: it would).
Luckily, practicing yoga points us in the right direction and that direction is upside down.
Our lymphatic system is key in keeping us healthy. Lymph moves through our bodies, picking up toxins along the way (which our lymph nodes will later clear), according to muscle contractions and gravity.
So, turning upside down allows lymph to travel more easily into our respiratory systems, where many toxins enter our bodies. This means inversions are more effective (also less miserable) than any cleanse at ridding our bodies of toxins.
Flexibility Is Mental
What is the number one reason that people give as to why they could never -- “OMG, NEVER! I'd be so bad at it! No, really! I can't!” -- practice yoga?
People believe they are too "inflexible" to practice yoga. In reality, the state of a person’s hamstrings is hardly the issue; a tight IT band is rarely what halts one’s ability to shift further into a pose.
Rather, it's the mental inflexibility that holds us back. Our minds are afraid of falling on our face, onto our neighbor's mat, against the wall, or into the mirror.
A warning signal sent to our brains causes our bodies to tense up, catch our breath, and halt any progression. Yoga is a matter of stretching your muscles to release tension and any built-up negative emotion. Once you allow your body to assume the positions you want it to, you will feel the healing effects of yoga.
Calming the mind, with that oh-so-precious breath, solves a whole myriad of problems, both in class and out of class. That’s why I practice yoga: the calming, soothing effects. I have a ways to go in all that there is to learn from yoga, I'm certain. And I definitely have a long road to becoming as advanced as my life-saving yogi, Bonnie, but surely -- most surely -- I'm only a few, deep breaths away from accepting that truth.
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