About a year ago I started taking an Ashtanga yoga class at Flagler College, taught by an amazing teacher with years of experience. It started out as a random class that I took for fun. It was only one credit and for a few hours every week I was able to relax and enjoy myself. Lucky for me, it ended up being so more than some random elective.
I used to practice yoga every once and a while, and although I liked yoga I didn’t really believe all the hype. I didn’t understand how this one particular form of exercise was raved about as if was life transforming. It seemed that it was more of a fad than anything, just like kale or green smoothies. But over the past year, I’ve been practicing at least twice a week, and I can finally say that I understand why people love it so much.
The Physical Changes
It didn’t happen immediately. I didn’t reap the benefits of yoga in one week, in the same way, you don’t lose ten pounds your first week at the gym. It was slow and subtle, but eventually, I had realized how much those few hours a week was benefiting my mental and physical health. It started out small and was mostly physical in the beginning. Each week I became a little stronger and more flexible. I was able to get deeper into postures and hold them for a few moments longer. I remember the first physical difference that I noticed was that I was able to hold down dog for longer each time, and it became more and more comfortable.
The Mental Changes
Once I started to notice the physical changes, that’s when my I began to have the unexpected mental and emotional benefits from practice. I’ve found that through regular practice I’m able to shut my mind off during class. I’m able to get rid of that voice in my head that always going, and always criticizing me. I completely relax and focus on nothing but my movement and breathe. The inner critic, the stress of deadlines, finances, the future, and personal dramas all melt away. Once I step onto the mat, it’s like flipping a mental switch. This was the first time in years that I was able to completely disconnect from my stressors.
Most of the time, even if we’re doing something fun or relaxing at home, those unwanted thoughts still creep up to disturb you. But during yoga, none of that happens. The mental chatter stops altogether. This was the most beneficial aspect of yoga, because once you have that one hour to yourself where none of your stressors or worries can get to you. You leave feeling refreshed and recharged, the same way you would after a vacation.
Disconnecting From My Devices
Aside from disconnecting from any negative thoughts, it also allowed me to disconnect from my phone and computer. With other exercises I’ve done, like running or weightlifting, I still use my phone throughout the exercise. But with yoga, no one has a phone next to them in class. I don’t check my notifications and emails, or scroll through social media the way that I do when I go to the gym. It gives me an hour a day just for myself where I’m free from the distractions of my devices. I get to completely unplug.
The Emotional Changes
The last change that I noticed through regular yoga practice was the emotional changes that came with it. These changes were the most unexpected, but my absolute favorite. All of that newfound strength and flexibility that I found in yoga was melting into other aspects of my life once I’d left the mat. I began to feel stronger and more flexible in my personal and work life. I noticed that I became more self-confident and less worried or anxious whenever I encountered a new challenge. I was willing to try new things that I normally wouldn’t let myself do because I was afraid I would fail. I even began to feel more inspired and creative than usual which lead me to start painting again, writing blog posts, pressing flowers, and even doing videography.
Through my yoga practice, I started to understand why yoga is loved by so many. It’s not just a form of exercise or some fad. With regular practice, it can transform the mind and the body in a way that weightlifting, running, dancing, rowing, and other forms of exercise just can’t do. Once you start regularly doing yoga, it’s amazing to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come in so many different areas.
So if you’re like me and you feel like you need a change in your life – you’re looking to put down the iPhone and do something to better yourself, I strongly recommend trying yoga. To end, I would like to share one of my favorite quotes that my yoga teacher reads at the end of our practice. I hope it inspires you to begin practicing too.
“The yoga pose is not the goal. Becoming flexible or standing on your hands is not the goal. The goal is to create space where you were once stuck. To unveil layers of protection you’ve built around your heart. To appreciate your body and become aware of the mind and the noises it creates. To make peace with who you are.”
Tell me what you think about yoga! Have you practiced yoga before and seen these changes as well? How long did it take to start noticing them?
Photographer: Allen Fajardo