Before I understood the difference between bikram and vinyasa, I was overweight, suffering from what was likely a mild bout of depression, and couldn't kick the horrible state of mind I was constantly struggling with.
After I was introduced to yoga, I shed 70 pounds and felt like a completely new human being.
Suddenly, everything changed, and there was light even in my darkest days.
I felt whole again, as if I had been reattached to the deeper part of my soul that seemed to have been lost for so long.
Who knew such a simple routine of stretching the body could radically transform not only physical health, but one's state of mind? I was immediately blown away by the positive health benefits I received from practicing yoga.
I was working under the owner of a Hot Yoga center for a year, where I would wipe everyone's sweat from sticky mats and clean dirty bathrooms every night.
But, I was able to take classes every day, as many times as I wanted, entirely for free.
For a high school student saving to go to college, that was incredibly important, and allowed me to start practicing yoga for the first time.
Yoga doesn't just make your body more flexible, it stretches the mind too.
Yoga not only made my body more flexible and much healthier, but I could feel that it was changing my spirit, too.
Yoga opens both the body and the mind. Of course gaining flexibility and strength physically is amazing, but yoga also allows you to cultivate mental flexibility and strength. Yoga has a transformative power that manifests an open mind and light hearted approach to life where it is more apparent what is truly important.
And she's right.
When I started practicing yoga regularly, it offered me a unique chance to escape from the world completely in a way that never felt possible before.
Simply locking myself in my room and trying to tune out the stresses of life was becoming nearly impossible, and never truly even worked in the first place.
However, when I began to reshape my mindset around focusing on working even deeper into poses I was learning in my classes, I truly began to forget the schedules, appointments, fights and depression that followed me throughout my entire life, from morning to night.
What's even more interesting is that I began to feel better even when I was off the mat.
There's no exact word to describe the change in my thoughts that was taking place, other than that I felt awakened. Small issues no longer clogged my mind late at night, and I was able to fall into deeper sleeps more comfortably.
When I woke up in the morning, the sun would feel better on my skin, my mind felt just as fresh as my body as I'd shower and stretch to the sky, and I felt more in tune with my own emotions, as well as the world around me.
That isn't to say I wasn't still facing major challenges in my life. I had hurdles to overcome that still seemed nearly impossible to defeat, but the difference was that, now, I felt stronger. As if I could take on anything.
Yoga has taught me to meet myself and love myself for who I am, but also pushes me to evaluate what I'm feeling and where it is coming from so that I can be more present with what arises instead of resisting any negative or unwanted sensations in the body or the mind. When you think in this way, the mind naturally becomes more open because you are never restricted by the judgments or stories we all tell ourselves, instead you are in control and your own best friend.
It's more than just exercise: Yoga fights fat, disease and depression.
I was finally beginning to fall in love with the person I was becoming, and the future stopped looking like a bleak, dreary painting.
Instead, the world was an open canvas, and I felt healthier, happier and more creative than ever before.
Practicing to separate my mind from daily life started to show me there were various benefits to yoga I couldn't attain from any other work out.
A recent government-funded study from Harvard that uses some of the latest technology in the medical field to prove yoga, as a form of exercise and meditation, has positive health benefits all the way down to the genetic level.
Researchers looked at 210 study participants who reported high levels of chronic stress; 70 of those participants were assigned to practice yoga every day for 20 minutes, while the rest performed various other mind relaxing techniques.
The lead author of the study John Denninger, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, says the most positive health benefits came from those who were doing yoga -- even the beginners.
The study found that just 20 minutes of practicing yoga, even for total novices, was enough time to give a boost to genes responsible for energy metabolism as well as insulin secretion, while reducing the effect of other genes involved in inflammatory response and stress, Bloomberg reports.
Denninger, along with much of the westernized science community, says he is starting to see the many effects of using yoga along with the right medications to treat, as well as even prevent, some nasty illnesses like high blood pressure, chronic pain and depression.
I eventually reached a place at which I felt truly comfortable with my body, my mind and my spirit. Sure, there are days when I still feel like hiding underneath my bed sheets from the sun and escaping the world.
But, when those times present themselves in my life, I now have a healthy vice to help me defeat any obstacles in my way.
Now, when the darkness comes, I stretch my body, mind and spirit to the light; the more I practice, the easier it gets to reach the sun.