When it came to writing about yoga, I found it really difficult and experienced a kind of block, which is ironic, considering the idea of yoga is to convey flow, ease, and comfort.
I started practicing yoga during a very bleak period of depression, in which I felt persistently distressed, struggled sleeping, and suffered from anxiety. Experiencing frequent negative and unrealistic feelings of guilt, as well as sadness, worthlessness, and self-loathing, depression began stripping away the structure of my life, making one day seep into the next.
Following YouTube channel Yoga With Adriene, some structure and positivity returned into my life. It required no money, just time and a decent wifi connection.
At first, I felt unsettled, awkward, pessimistic, and inflexible, as well as lacking all confidence and any love for myself. I felt amateurish simply breathing. But since I was in my own space, I didn’t have to achieve the perfect positions, or care about being tired and flustered, or my loud breathing.
Practicing at home gave me a break; it removed the pressure of expectations.
Wearing my comfiest, most breathable clothes, I could simply be myself. I could itch, scratch, adjust, drink, cry, laugh, or yawn. I had the freedom to choose my next pose, move, or flow based on what I needed. Closing my eyes and listening to my body for a few moments meant the movement I truly craved could emerge.
The end of each practice reminded me why I wanted to do it again the next day. I had a restored gratitude, for both body and mind, and an appreciation for the capacity and time to simply move, breathe, and meditate.
Practicing became easier and more enjoyable fast. I began to wake up with purpose and enthusiasm to practice. Yoga With Adriene’s “30 Day Challenges” meant I had goals to work towards and could track my progress. Each time on the mat, I felt better: pressure relieved, tension eased, and my thoughts centred. It brought new feelings of clarity, strength, and relaxation.
I was experiencing firsthand that yoga is a form of therapy. The happy state yoga brought me on the mat carried beyond it too, and allowed my thoughts to flow with ease, rather than turn negative. Yoga sharpened my mental focus, helped my mood, and calmed and centred my nervous system. I was also rejuvenating my physical body by cultivating core strength and flexibility, increasing body awareness, toning muscle, and reducing muscle tension.
Many people think of yoga as a type of exercise and nothing more. But the physical aspect of yoga isn’t all there is to it—and in most lineages of yoga, the physical component is just a small fraction of the practice. Yoga is also a spiritual path—and the story of how it got turned into the form of exercise known today isn’t a positive one.
Through colonial suppression of yogic practice and spirituality during the British Raj, people could be violently persecuted for not converting to Christianity and for publicly promoting yogic teachings. And the modern Western practice has been corrupted again by our capitalist system.
An authentic yoga practice can help you grow as your whole self—mind, body, and spirit.
At the foundation of yogic practice are humility and interconnectedness. Embracing this wholeness includes recognizing being a part of a big, beautiful collective of other beings. It acknowledges that we didn’t come up with these practices, and pays respect and gratitude to the teachers who have come before us, and the people they learned from.
Indeed, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, whose meanings include “to add,” “join,” or “unite.” Yoga can take on meanings such as “connection,” “union,” “addition,” and “performance.”
Yoga uses asanas (postures), focused concentration on specific body parts, and pranayama (breathing techniques) to integrate the body with the mind and the mind with the soul. For instance, you may be invited to focus deeply on your spine, or let your mind go and have your body sink into the floor. This awareness keeps the mind-body connection focused and doesn’t allow a lot of time for external chatter, such worrying about what you have to do at work.
One example is Savasana. Generally it is the final pose of a yoga session, allowing for complete restoration, mindfulness, and relaxation. Though Savasana might look like a nap, it’s actually a fully conscious pose aimed at being awake, yet completely relaxed.
During Savasana, you lie on your back with your eyes closed and just let your entire body sink into the floor, breathing naturally. The idea is to not fight any thoughts you have, but to let them come and go, while practicing eliminating tension from your body and focusing on how your muscles feel. The desired result is to drift into a peaceful, calm, and relaxed state.
A few minutes of Savasana can have powerful benefits. It can relieve mild depression, high blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, and insomnia. It can also calm the nervous system and promote equanimity in the entire body. Fatigued muscles get to relax, tense shoulders and jaws soften, and the eyes quiet down to reflect a quieter state of mind.
Yoga is really the art of waking up, in both body and mind. It helps guide and cultivate energy, to open, to balance, and to explore unknown territory. It reminds us that everything is connected, so we must live, act, dance, and breathe with awareness. To be integrated into life, as opposed as feeling afraid and distant from it. To have purpose, and to be present, calm, at peace, and happier and healthier, both physically and mentally.