Why Yoga?

It seems every time I open a magazine or newspaper someone is writing about yoga and meditation in connection to stress management.  It is one thing to read about this as a concept and another entirely to put it into regular practice and reap the benefits.   One root cause that many diseases and disorders have in common, that so many experts and stressed out people agree on, is stress.  As I wrote about in an earlier essay, to be alive means we are constantly experiencing varying forms of stress, and how we perceive it, as good or bad, determines how stress affects our health mental, physical and emotional.   Personally I have had many different ailments I can trace back to stress, for example, one particularly manic job I held as a house manager/tutor/nanny/personal assistant lead to chronic neck pain, digestive upset and insomnia.  I had to quit, it just wasn’t worth the big paycheck if my job was making me sick.  My symptoms slowly subsided once I’d left that crazy house, go figure.

When I was little I would do yoga with my dad, or rather he would do yoga and I would copy him.  It was many years later, as a teenager, when I worked at Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox, that yoga came back in to my life, at least on the periphery.  In the two years I worked in the kitchen at Kripalu I never once took a yoga class.  I preferred instead to spend my break going for a long run and then relaxing in the sauna and whirlpool afterwards.  I was either at 60 or zero, I didn’t know how to do anything moderately and I thought, yoga is too slow for me, it’s boring.  In retrospect, it was just what I needed.

Warrior pose builds strength of body and mind.

This April I discovered that the Kriplau website offers 7 one hour-long yoga classes, for free.  Suddenly I no longer needed to get to a class on their schedule or be able to afford a monthly yoga class subscription, two things that had been holding me back from starting a consistent yoga practice.  I also had a spare room in my house- it now holds two yoga mats, a single extra bed for guests and that’s about it.  Yoga space plus high quality yoga classes on my laptop equals about 3 hours of yoga or more per week and the positive effects keep adding up.  Here are some things I have noticed since starting a consistent practice of at least three sessions a week:

I am sleeping better: I say this as someone who, as long as I can remember, has never been able to fall asleep quickly.  In fact, I am totally used to laying away for hours, no matter how tired I feel when I climb into bed.  Like I said, I’m usually going going going.  And yoga has helped me to find middle ground, I feel, in general, more relaxed and that has led to deeper, more restful sleep.  And sleep being the great regenerator, has led me to greater overall health and well-being.

My stress level is much lower:  The little things don’t bother me as much, I don’t feel myself getting stressed out nearly as often and it’s much easier for me to handle stressful situations.  Hours of deep, regular breathing and movement help me to remember that I can do yoga anytime, anywhere.  Doing the dishes, answering emails, working in the garden- I remember my posture, my breath and I stay more connected to my body in the moment, more often.

More strength and muscle tone:  I wasn’t expecting this since I have been an avid runner since I was 16 but my legs are stronger and more defined yoga is the perfect counter point to running, which I continue to do regularly.  I have more definition in my shoulders and can do real push ups and pull ups, whoo hoo, upper body strength!  I also feel that my inner strength is, well, stronger!  I can literally breathe through anything, up the big hills on my run, through a frustrating encounter or a challenging client call.

Yoga can help you cultivate a healthy relationship with your body: Our culture gets so hung up on how we look that we forget about the many miraculous things our bodies are constantly doing for us.  Sure, yoga can help you get into better physical shape but the effects go so much deeper than what is on the surface.  When is the last time you thanked your heart for always beating, every moment of your life?  When is the last time you did something that helps your whole body regenerate on a cellular and energetic level?  A regular yoga practice will support you in cultivating a healthy, loving relationship with your whole being, not just the superficial parts that may or may not, on any given day, look great in jeans.

Meditation is easier: at the end of an hour of yoga, breathing deeply and regularly along with the asanas (postures) my body and mind are more prepared for the 15 minutes of meditation I aim to do every day.  This means I meditate about 3-6 times a week, depending on the week.  Whether I am doing a healing energy work meditation or just focusing on my breathing and a simple mantra, yoga is a great preparation for a focused and easy, mindful meditation.  More on the do-it-yourself-energy work in a future post!

Other side effects may include: improved sense of well-being,better overall mood, increased self-awareness, clearer thinking due to increased oxygen, deepening your personal spiritual practice, relief from depression…you get the idea!

So, how do you start your own yoga practice and begin to reap the many, multifaceted benefits? 

First, remember that everything is yoga.  Are you breathing deeply and regularly?  This tells your nervous system that all is well, there’s no need for stress hormones or a stress response.  Are you in your body? Are you in the moment?  Yoga on your mat is just practice for all that we do when we are not ‘practicing yoga’.  Yoga at home works for me because I choose the time and the class- on Kripalu.org or Yogaglo.com (a pay per month site that’s like a yoga version of Netflix) or I can check out yoga DVDs from the library.  My yoga practice is free, aside from the mat- the Yogaglo.com site is only $18 a month, about the same as you’d pay for one class!

Maybe you are a social creature and you need to be with others in order to get you motivated to move.  Either check into monthly yoga passes at your local studio, like Radiance Yoga on North Street or a Berkshire Kripalu Community membership, these are the best deals!  Or invite friends over for a regular yoga class at home.  You can also commit to one class a week at the studio and few classes at home in-between for the best of both.  Whatever you choose, try at least three sessions a week and you will soon start to see and feel the benefits of yoga, from lower stress levels to better sleep and so much more.

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. theyogaofcake
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 19:52:17

    I agree with it all. I can’t wait to see you 😉

    Reply

  2. Michelle
    Aug 21, 2012 @ 20:13:25

    I couldn’t agree more, Amy!! I will certainly pass on this Yogaglo.com info on my FB page and to my future clients. Thank you!! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Trackback: 25 Hours of Yoga in 31 Days « The Candida Diaries

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