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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why I Love Yoga

My love for yoga developed about the same time as my love for veganism- on my cruise last summer.
I had done yoga before, usually on my own time. Within the comfort of my own home.

But last summer my mom and I decided that this time we would sign up for the classes offered aboard the ship. I figured that they would be a good way for us to bond and mix up our exercise routines.

Initially, that's all I saw yoga as- another form of working out.
But that all changed following last summer's trip.

After my first class I felt amazing and knew that yoga was an activity I wanted to continue for years to come.

Why did I become so obsessed with this ancient Indian art?

1. Yoga makes me feel strong

This was the first thing that drew me in. The strength I experienced was not in the traditional sense- it is not really measurable yet I know I have it.

I was so proud when I finally mastered a head stand!
It is in part my knowledge that I am healthy and grounded. My ability to move and stretch and twist my own body is something that I often used to take for granted. 

I can be so tough on my body- constantly wishing that it looked different in one way or another. Too much of this sort of thinking crowds out any positive thoughts. Luckily, yoga brings me back down to earth. It is a simple reminder to be grateful. I have legs that work. I have the energy to exercise. I have a mind that allows me to make decisions about how I will go about my day. 

This sort of strength is much more empowering than benching a certain weight or running a certain distance. 

I love the fact that yoga is so simple- I am lifting my own body weight and that's it. No weights or machines necessary. I can do it anywhere at any time. 

And, there is no competition. I do yoga to better myself. I try to improve based on my own past performance, not others'. Even using the word performance to describe yoga doesn't seem right, because there is nothing to perform. It is one of the few activities I can participate in without wondering how I am stacking up to others. 

In the height of my eating disorder, I would always tell myself that I was not strong enough or not good enough. Yoga is not a cure, but the strength I feel when practicing it leads to greater body peace.

2. Yoga makes me calmer

I have been on quite the ride the past few days. I was planning on being home for Easter, but a sudden family emergency lead me to a spontaneous trip up North (i.e. Jersey).

It wasn't until I had already landed back in the South that I realized my keys were not in the same state... I thought I had left them at home, but my mom called to inform me that they were, in fact, 10 hours away at my grandparents' house. 

Don't ask me how I allowed this to happen. I  already asked myself about a million times but could come up with nothing more than sheer forgetfulness. I forgot that I had taken them with me on the trip.

I have no extra keys, so I was left without the ability to drive and get into the place that I work.
I had to borrow my dad's car until my keys got FedEx'ed to me (about $40 later). The cherry on the sundae was the speeding ticket that I got right after dropping my dad off at work on Tuesday.

I swear that his speedometer is messed up, but that's irrelevant now. It's too late to get off the hook. 

Sorry for the rambling; I'll get back on track.
In situations such as this- where it seems like the world is against me- I am very quick to become overwhelmed and anxious.

Yoga is not just physical. It also has mental and spiritual aspects (which is why most classes end in meditation). Taking just 5 minutes to engage in some yoga-style meditation is a way to keep myself from freaking out any more. Yesterday after a quite embarrassing emotional fit in my car, I paused to reflect. I practiced some deep breathing and cleared my mind- attempting to completely remove any distracting thoughts. When I began to fret over my chaotic day, I would acknowledge what I was feeling and then think of a practical way to deal with it.

Meditation calms me down and gives me perspective so that I can live out of a solution rather than creating more problems. 

3. Yoga makes me mindful

When I do yoga, I try to focus fully on the movement of my body. If I feel pain, I modify the pose. If a stretch feels good, I pay extra attention to the area I am stretching. I note the difference between challenging myself and hurting myself (or not pushing myself enough). I ignore anything else that may pull my attention away from what I am doing.

I try to carry this mindfulness on with me throughout the day. I sometimes struggle with listening to my body, so the more help I can get the better. 
If I'm too tired to work out today? No problem, I'll work out tomorrow. (Even if what I really want to do is push through my fatigue, whether my body can handle it or not)

In addition to my struggle with physical signals, I also have trouble properly identifying my emotions. The mindfulness I get from yoga is a beneficial resource when trying to pinpoint my feelings and their causes.

I am the kind of person who likes to brush feelings under the rug. I've found, however, that the more I practice minfulness, the harder it is to ignore those feelings. 

I've heard from lots of people that yoga is also a great way to increase mindfulness when eating. I am not prone to mindless or emotional eating, so I assume this is why I haven't seen much of a change in my eating habits. 
That being said, I have seen some change even if it hasn't been much
I used to eat when it was "time to eat", whether or not I was really hungry. There were also times in which I wouldn't eat, despite my hunger.

This was just one of many "guidelines" I once felt the need to follow in my life, due to disordered eating. Mindfulness gives me freedom from this rule because I can actually refer to my body's cues on hunger and satiation. 

I do not "listen to my body" in all instances involving food because I don't get hungry very often. I'm not sure why this is. It seems as though putting my body through the ringer (with multitudes of fad diets and unhealthy dips in weight) may have messed up my metabolism, but this is merely a guess. 
Either way, if I ate only when I felt a strong sense of hunger then I wouldn't get nearly enough calories.

Mindfulness still helps with my eating, just maybe not as much as it would help someone who overeats. 

4. It has a variety of other health benefits

Yoga increases flexibility and muscle strength, both of which are necessary for healthy aging. These traits improve posture and overall bone health. This is especially important to me because arthritis and back pain run in my family. I already have a bad back (at the ripe, young age of 18), but yoga helps reduce pain.
 Yoga is beneficial for athletes because it improves lung capacity. I've found that my aerobic endurance has increased since taking up yoga. It increases balance, reaction time, and concentration. It even lowers blood pressure and cholesterol!

I could go on and on about the benefits of yoga. I wish that everyone would do it!
I hope to get certified as an instructor one of these days, but in the meantime I just try to take classes as often as possible. 

Have you tried yoga? If not, then I highly suggest you give it a shot! 


  1. Wonderful post! We have recently started to do yoga ourselves and are totally hooked. We have been on a conscious spiritual journey for a while and it felt like the next natural step to add yoga. LOVE the calmness, the strenght, the focus and all the things you listed!!! And WOW we can´t wait to be able to stand on our heads too. You go girl!!!!

    1. Thanks so much! It's so great to hear that others love yoga as much as I do (: It's always nice to have fellow inspiration in this area (as well as others)!