What 365 Days of Yoga Have Taught Me
I was introduced to yoga at a young age, and I hated every minute of it. The classes seemed too long, and the movements too slow. I found myself watching the clock slowly click away and I would groan every time the blithe teacher told us some Sanskrit word as a cue to contort into a new pose. It was not until several years later when I began to read more books on spirituality, that I decided it may be time to head back over into downward dog.
When I became more invested in my wellbeing, I learned quickly that it was a multifaceted subject that required practice, dedication, and consistency. The goal was to achieve a sense of peace in my heart and ease in my mind. I simply wanted to exist in a state of happiness and joy, as if I were floating through life, instead of feeling like I was constantly running a marathon.
One day, a friend of mine face-timed me to explain all about found love for hot yoga, a yoga class in a room heated to about 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius). She raved and raved until she convinced me to give it a try myself. I was sixteen at the time and signed myself up for my first yoga class in years. After the class I was as red as a tomato, I felt as though I sweat gallons, but I had never felt more relieved in my life. Everything felt open, my limbs felt as though they could sing, and my whole body felt free.
I was never a naturally flexible person, but over time, with excess stretching, I have learned how to raise my legs to an acceptable height by ballet standards. If yoga could make me feel this good and possibly help me retain this newfound flexibility, that was all I needed to sign up for more.
That summer, I took a hot yoga class two times a week, and I went home after every class with red cheeks and a smile on my face. It was no longer boring. Yoga turned into a kind of massage for both my mind and body that I could give myself.
After that summer, when school picked up again and I was dancing in full, I did not have the time to take an hour-long yoga class every week. My body was tired, and I had homework to do. Yoga no longer seemed like a beneficial use of my time.
Shortly after however, I found my anxious mind start to come into control again, and I felt I needed the peace that yoga had once given me. My muscles were also craving that extra stretch I had so generously given them in the months prior. I knew I had to listen to my body, but I could not find the time to give it what I knew it needed.
Therefore, I decided to strike a compromise. I would set my alarm fifteen minutes earlier every morning, to do a short practice every day before the chaos ensued. In short, it was one of the best deals I had ever made. Every morning since then, after I brush my teeth, and wash my face, I roll out my yoga mat and head into Child's Pose and slowly flow from there.
So what has yoga taught me? Has it been worth the fifteen minutes of less sleep?
Jonathon Greenberg from the department of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School stated that "yoga has been used in the treatment of anxiety conditions, depression, insomnia, [and] eating disorders, [among others]." There has been several accounts proving the brain body connection in the practice, and I feel as though it has certainly worked for me. Although I originally started yoga to find peace and continue to stretch my body, it has helped me in more ways than I can count. The sequencing of the movement has taught me how to listen to my body, and feel the connections between my muscles. Learning how my body reacts to certain stretches and appreciating the differences and benefits of each pose has opened my eyes not just on the mat, but also as a ballet dancer who needs to be constantly aware of her body. The flexibility aspect remains a key contributor to the benefit of yoga, and I firmly believe that if I had not been practicing yoga for all this time, my movement quality in ballet would be significantly more rigid than it is now. Most importantly, however, the art of yoga allows me to enter a space of moving meditation where I am at one with my movement and my body. When I tune into how I feel and what my body needs, all of my worries and anxieties slip away. The mat requires a type of presence that is hard to replicate in other areas of life, and with the added 10-15 minutes of daily yoga, I feel as though I set the tone for my day as I begin with peace and grace.
For some yoga classes on YouTube, some of my favorite teachers are:
For a morning sequence: