This post is part of our Non Sequitur Fridays series, which will feature a different Wistian's take on a non-Wistia-related topic each week. It's like our "employee of the month" but less "of the month"-y. Danielle Bushrow is a designer at Wistia. This is her first Non Sequitur!
I love yoga.
Admit it: lately, that statement might seem a bit cliche. This 5,000-year-old lifestyle has been revived in recent years like the zen equivalent of Frankenstein. You can now take yoga classes to rap music, on water, naked, suspended in the air, or even with your dog (downward... human?). With the support of over 20 million people practicing in the US alone, yoga has become a fashion industry, a platform for social issues, and even a theme of Barbie doll. Although it's great how accessible and customizable it has become, I can just feel the traditional early yogis rolling in their graves all the way in India.
Despite all of the hype and ensuing skepticism, yoga is my exercise of choice because of a few core benefits that I have yet to find together in anything else.
Physiological and Mental Growth
I have had instructors read David Whyte's mindful poetry during a ten-minute savasana. On the other hand, I have also had instructors challenge us to pulse in chaturanga, creating a sort of yogic push-up. There are a range of yoga styles for every intention, and each could leave my muscles sore, my mind refreshed, or, ideally, both. The word "yoga" itself is widely interpreted to be Sanskrit for "union", and the union of body and mind is exactly what I find in its practice.
The Huffington Post aggregated extensive research about how yoga transforms your body and mind over time: just one class will leave you with improved brain function, lower stress levels, and increased flexibility, while more consistent practice can cure chronic health problems. Shoot, even one full wheel pose on the side of the road seemed to neutralize the effects of hours slouched in a winding van. You've gotta feel it to believe it.
Some people claim that yoga is not a tough enough workout. To that group, I would suggest two things:
Fully commit to each pose.
In Warrior II (pictured below), for example, you're working toward your front thigh being parallel to the floor, and your arms should be held strong for the duration of the pose or sequence. Every muscle should be engaged, down to your fingers reaching in either direction, your core bracing, and your back heel grounding into the earth. Don't simply stand with your front knee bent - challenge yourself, in this and every movement! Still not feeling it?
Try a faster-paced style of yoga.
Ashtanga yoga introduces a cardio element into the practice as you flow rapidly from one pose to the next. Another good option is power yoga, a form adapted from ashtanga in the late '80s that uses isometric movements to recruit every muscle in the body. Burn, baby, burn!
Awareness and Appreciation of the Moment
Beyond the physiological and mental benefits of yoga, I believe my spirit has been refreshed by the practice. Holding sustained poses teaches me patience, and comfort in stillness. Flowing movements help me let go of things I'm holding onto, from tension in my body to negativity in my life. Adjusting subtle alignments teaches me focus and awareness. Inversions give me perspective. Ujjayi breathing teaches me to appreciate each breath, each moment.
An anonymous yogi put it, "Yoga takes you into the present moment, the only place where life exists." This the mindset that I work toward on the mat, and carry through everyday life.
Acceptance of My Human Nature
On the opposite end of the spectrum from those who don't feel yoga is hard enough, I've heard people say they won't try it because it will be too hard; they don't feel they have the flexibility or balance for the practice.
I was the same way. Now, in yoga, I remember I am enough. My full wheel is not as deeply expressed as other yogis, and my tripod headstand is pretty shaky, but that's not the point. I am not counting weights or repetitions; I am not competing; I am listening to my body. I lose my balance and regain it. As in life, I lose my way and find it again. Some days, I feel weak, unstable, and inflexible, unable to hold poses that I usually can. But others, my body surprises me, feeling strong, connected, grounded, and graceful (the biggest surprise of all). This ebb and flow is natural, it is life, it is human - and for me, this understanding flows from yoga.
I will say that yoga is not for everyone - what is? - but, as most things in life, don't knock it until you've tried it. And if you're gonna try it, drink the Kool-aid and go all in. Try one of those crazy offshoots if that's what speaks to you! You just might find the thing you didn't know you were missing.
Where are my yogis at? If yoga's not quite up your alley, what are your favorite ways to exercise?