In 2012 I ambivalently nudged myself inside the door of a yoga class. At the time I lived in an apartment complex that was just blocks away from the studio. (This apartment appeared to be named after seafaring people originally from Scandinavia, as an interesting aside!).
As a kid in jazz and ballet, watching other little people in their blue leotards perform wide-angle splits, I simply didn't consider myself nearly as stretchy-bendy as my contemporaries.
...akin to Gumby, if you remember that weird green dude from the 1980's!
Anyhow, returning to our little story, a trusted someone suggested that yoga could be a useful tool for emotional processing and releasing tension. It was a bit freaky putting on tight pants and voluntarily entering a room full of mostly young, mostly limber people who appeared to know what they were doing when given cues in another language (Sanskrit). The feelings of mindfulness and relaxation after 60 minutes of class were real though and some classes even had lit candles. My reasons for stopping? Hard to recall. Perhaps it was a season of less money. Or maybe I "got busy" (what a default fantastic catch-all reason when you're an adult and just don't want to do something! We can invent our own reasons at any time).
I do not and did not have children and was not the primary caregiver to anyone but my cat basically, so it's a toss up as to how busy I could realistically claim to be. Back then actually, I didn't even have a cat!
Jumping forward to 2022, I desired an additional physical outlet since running was no longer an option. After trying out our free yoga classes at the library (plug!! Is it even a plug if it's free?), held once a month by a certified yoga teacher I was IN.
According to MedlinePlus, an online resource provided by health librarians with the National Library of Medicine (a division of the National Institute of Health):
"Yoga can improve your overall fitness level and improve your posture and flexibility. It may also:
- Lower your blood pressure and heart rate
- Help you relax
- Improve your self-confidence
- Reduce stress
- Improve your coordination
- Improve your concentration
- Help you sleep better
- Aid with digestion
In addition, practicing yoga may also help with the following conditions:
- Back pain
While it's important to notice their use of the term "may" rather than "will", my experience is a resounding yes to all of the above. Participating grants a calmer and more open-minded sense of self and perception of the environment with less neck and jaw tension. The gifts of practice continue into the following days until there's another opportunity to meet myself "on the mat".
I can't speak to the philosophical or technical aspects of yoga because I simply do not know them yet. Right now, it's enough that I feel calmer, more connected to myself (and by extension, everyone else around me), and more able to act with awareness than when I simply process emotions/thoughts through my mind using journaling, therapy, reading, and talking.
Also, it's a lesson in recognizing resistance and fear.
The boat pose where you have to use your abs to hold up your legs is a prime example. I feel like a lumpy potato when that "cue" is called, completely averse to movement. Half the time I pretend not to know what the pose is, which frankly does nothing to deceive my yoga teacher. Sometimes during class I'll trail off in my head and be a few poses behind, which reveals a quite drifty headspace. I've noticed too how I hold my body and my breath during the day in a way that I was previously unaware of before I engaged yoga.
It's empowering to harness life changes that might create powerful feelings of anger, joy, sadness, bewilderment, or confusion into physical āsanas (Sanskrit: आसन), leading to less stress and increasingly stronger awareness. The effort matters, what is brought to the space matters, our connections with one another in community matters, all reminders that my yoga teacher shares with her students often.
However many times I attempt to do a proper chaturanga and mess it up, someday I'll come closer and that's enough.
These are books I'm reading currently. They may not be what a professional yoga teacher would recommend but in case you want to get started (or continue) on your health journey:
These titles I've read and loved on meditation and mindfulness:
Wherever You Go, There You Are
-Theresa Bird is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.