What do you think of when you hear the word yoga? Leggings, slow music, flexibility . . . pain? Many people think of yoga in this way based on what they see from the outside, but it’s much more than that.
“The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to bind, join, attach and yoke, direct and concentrate one’s attention on, and use and apply.”* In very simple terms, it is a Hindu philosophy that teaches one to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind.* According to Deepak Chopra, yoga is not a religion but rather a “science of the self” that “seeks to help us understand our inner world through various techniques that include meditation, asanas, breathing, focused awareness, and certain rules of behavior and conduct.”*
While all styles of yoga can relax and ease the student, it’s important to find a style and instructor that best suits your specific needs. There are many different styles of yoga, so there is something for every temperament, body type, and age. For example, if you have arthritis or an injury, you might want to try Iyengar yoga, which focuses on alignment and precision in each pose by using different props such as blankets, bolsters, straps, and yoga blocks. If you are drawn to a more spiritual experience, you might be interested in the jivamukti style. The style of yoga I normally practice is power vinyasa, although I do like to change it up when I can.
I was eighteen when I tried my first yoga class, and at that time everything “yoga” was completely foreign to me. A friend from college brought me to a local yoga studio as her guest. I had no idea what I was doing, but I will never forget that first session and how it changed my life forever. I soaked up every feeling, every word, every sensation. I left the studio feeling more at peace than I’d ever felt.
That first class took place during a time in my life when I was most mentally and physically unhealthy—the very low points of my eating disorder. Through yoga, I learned to be more mindful of my thoughts, emotions, and actions, and started the lifelong process of learning to hold on to the good and let go of the bad. I learned to not take anything for granted. And more importantly, I learned to love myself, which gave me the strength to do what was necessary to get healthy again.
Today, yoga is a part of who I am. What started as a desire to try something new has transformed into a practice and one I’m very thankful I found. Over the past ten years, I have practiced anywhere from one to four times a week, and I’m seeing progress (both mentally and physically) every day.
So, is yoga right for you? You’ll never know until you try! Just remember that it’s more than leggings and slow music. Every person in the room will be doing the same pose in a slightly different way, and that’s the beauty of it—it’s very personal. It's about community and individuality all at the same time. All that matters is that you’re living in the present and doing what suits you in the moment, and this will change from class to class. It’s a great way to reset after a long week or to get ready for a new one. With all the hustle and bustle of work, family, friends, and life in general, it’s nice to have a safe place to push all that away and just be.
* Iyengar, B. K. S. Light on Yoga: The Bible of Modern Yoga. Rev. paperback ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1979.
* “yoga.” Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yoga.
* “Is Yoga a Religion?” Yoga Journal, October 9, 2014. Retrieved from http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yoga-religion/.