What Practicing Yoga Teaches You About Your Mind & Body
By Kiera Smalls
For the earlier part of 2016, I dedicated a lot of time training for my first marathon. While I had some cross-training days here and there, time was largely spent hitting the pavement. Once I completed 26.2, I got into a running rut and switched my routines to everything but running (yoga, spin, lifting, etc). I realized that I missed doing those activities a lot so I joined a few studios to keep the momentum going.
I've been spinning and lifting but the activity that is having the most impact on me is yoga. For an entire month, I practiced power flow yoga 2-3x a week. The first couple of sessions were tough. But I kept going back.
In the first class, I noticed how inflexible my body was and how I could barely keep up with the poses or the present moment. "Crow pose what? Crescent lunge who? Shoot, I forgot to send that email. Oh, happy baby pose? I can do that!" My instructor noticed my "WTF?" faces too.
By week two, I was confident in my crescent lunge pose and didn't wonder if the class was almost over or not. I noticed that I felt more opened in my hip area and more positive thoughts circulated my mind. Week three came around and nothing got in the way of my yoga sessions (seriously, I went to class before a concert!).
By week four, I felt more like a pro. I could finally lay flat on the floor in pigeon pose, successfully get into a crow AND wheel pose, and be fully present for the entire class.
I'm excited about my progress with yoga, both physically and mentally, and I'm ready to make it a part of my daily routine and you should too.
“PRACTICE ISN’T ABOUT TRYING TO THROW OURSELVES AWAY AND BECOME SOMETHING BETTER. IT’S ABOUT BEFRIENDING WHO WE ARE ALREADY. THE GROUND OF PRACTICE IS YOU OR ME OR WHOEVER WE ARE RIGHT NOW, JUST AS WE ARE. WE RECOGNIZE OUR CAPACITY TO RELAX WITH THE CLARITY, THE SPACE, THE OPEN-ENDED AWARENESS THAT ALREADY EXISTS IN OUR MINDS. WE EXPERIENCE MOMENTS OF BEING RIGHT HERE THAT FEEL SIMPLE, DIRECT, AND UNCLUTTERED.” - YOGA JOURNAL
Here's what I learned while practicing yoga regularly:
You Develop (and Practice) Patience & Focus
You never know how rapid your thoughts are until you take yoga or meditation classes. Yoga forces you to calm those thoughts in your head and requires you to focus on your breaths (the present moment). We are all busy but it's crucial to slow down, breathe and focus. After a couple of sessions, I was able to calm the mind and focus on the task at hand. A practice that has definitely trickled into my day to day workflow and makes me much more productive.
You Become Intentional With Almost Everything
After yoga, I always feel hopeful and ready to take on what life has to offer. I noticed that certain things haven't bothered me like they did before practicing. My immediate reaction now is to take a moment and breathe before responding (which is easier said than done!). No, I haven't mastered this fully but practicing yoga reminds me to keep the thoughts at bay, especially the negative ones. When you do that, you consider the opportunity in every situation instead of just the challenge.
Your Stress Levels Are Reduced
Even when I'm not on a mat, I think about the joy and sense of calmness yoga brings me. If I have a stressful day, I know that I can release any tension by taking a few deep breaths and reminding myself that this thing that's stressing me out is temporary and will go away soon.
You Help Others
Ever notice how someone's attitude or body language can impact you too? Well, imagine if it was always a positive attitude or body language? That has just as much (even more) power than a negative one. As you continue to practice yoga and spread positivity and light onto others, the more peace, respect, and kindness we'll have in each other.
"The light in me, honors the light in you."
Ready to do more yoga? Here are some quick tips to getting started:
Types of yoga: There are many ways to practice yoga but I'm going to list the ones I've experienced (this info is from various sources around the web).
- Baptiste Yoga: Meditation is a central component of Baptiste classes, in which practitioners are encouraged to tap into their creativity, build self-confidence and protect their joints. Baptiste is credited with helping to demystify yoga and make it accessible to all. This style of yoga is perfect for those looking to combine physical fitness with intuitive spiritual self-discovery.
- Hot Yoga: Rooms are heated to 105 degrees, and classes consist of 45 minutes of standing poses and 45 minutes of floor postures. You do the same series of two breathing exercises and 26 poses in each class.
- Ashtanga Yoga: The inspiration for many vinyasa-style yoga classes, Ashtanga Yoga is an athletic and demanding practice. Traditionally, Ashtanga is taught “Mysore style”: Students learn a series of poses and practice at their own pace while a teacher moves around the room giving adjustments and personalized suggestions.
- Power Flow Yoga: Power Flow Yoga offers Vinyasa style hot yoga. The room is heated from 89 degrees for a beginner class to 95 degrees depending on the teacher's pace for the class. In the Vinyasa flow, the movements are linked to the breath of either inhaling or exhaling, sometimes holding poses longer and other times moving faster.
Click here to find more styles. Once you find a style for you, do this:
- Join a local studio. For first timers, I recommend going into a studio so that the instructor can ensure that you're doing the poses correctly. Yoga studio pricing is relatively affordable and there's always a deal or community (donation based) class going on.
- Practice at home. After you've attended a class, check out the many free yoga apps and youtube videos to get your om on at home.
- Practice off the mat, too. Take the rules of yoga and apply them to your day to day workflow This includes: practicing deep and mindful breathing throughout the day, recognizing that you can handle challenges, and make conscious decisions to be more positive.
- Follow inspirational yogis on Instagram. Here are a few of my favorites: @mynameisjessamyn, @koyawebb, @wanderlust, @shauna_harrison
Kiera Smalls is the Co-Founder of City Fit Girls. She also works full-time at Bicycle Transit Systems as one of the marketing managers for Indego bike share. Kiera is passionate about helping women reach their fitness and weight loss goals, especially beginners.
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