The Joys of Yoga
Meditation is on the rise, with retreats like Vipassana and apps like Calm making headlines as well as appearing quite frequently on outlets of social media. My personal experience with meditation– and by that I mean the practice of breathing, sitting still, and closing your eyes– has been punctuated by restlessness and constant peaking at how much time is left of my YouTube meditation video. So, in other words, not a success. And I know I am not alone in my love-hate relationship with stillness: just recently I have read an article from Experience Life on the benefits of meditation alternatives. In fact, my personal savior has been moving meditation, specifically Vinyasa yoga. This one-hour class that goes through a fresh series of postures each time promises to get your muscles shaking, and your mind surprisingly at ease in the midst of such hard exercise. If you have never tried yoga, it can be quite intimidating in the beginning. When I first started, I couldn’t stop looking around and wondering how all of these people seemed to be flowing seamlessly and effortlessly throughout the hour, unfazed by the heat and the rigor. But fear not, because if you feel motivated to get on the yoga train (if only because it holds the reward of purchasing approximately ten pairs of Fabletics leggings), I have some tips for newbies that are sure to get you in the mood for some “om.”
- Don’t Be Afraid of Improvisation
Vinyasa yoga is a flow sequence. There are essential moves, such as Warrior 1, Chaturanga Dandasana, and crow pose, but the order itself is not a hard-set given, unlike in some practices like Bikram yoga. Practice varies from the stylistic choices of the instructor, and oftentimes poses are prompted at rapidfire rate. If this sounds like everything but relaxing, trust me that it is! When I lose the rhythm or forget the order of the poses, I start playing. In fact, it’s even encouraged by teachers. Exploring different moves, shifting your body in different ways, and adapting to your conditions gives you freedom of mind. This is why, in my opinion, yoga is such a unique and popular sport. There are no judgements and no stats hanging over your head as you cycle: only music, a rhythm, and your own judgement call! In a recent practice, a wonderful thing I heard my teacher say was, “sometimes, even the most experienced yogi can be found in a simple child’s pose or on their back,” meaning it is a completely individual experience and no one yogi can be seen following the same path on any given occasion.
2) Close your eyes
This is a big one. So much of our day revolves around training our eyes on a screen, or looking at faces. Your mind is aware during the daylight hours, and loosening or even losing that awareness is an oftentimes impossible task (hi, insomnia!). In yoga, however, as your body moves, softening your gaze and shutting your eyes can bring an added challenge. Or a benefit. When I was standing in eagle pose, my legs and arms twisted around each other like vines, I wondered why this was so easy. I wasn’t even shaking. But then, I closed my eyes, and let’s just say a lot of wobbling followed! With the heat of fellow bodies in practice enveloping me, and upbeat flute music leading the beat of my movement, I eased into a phase of contentment. This wasn’t much different from the normal, sedentary meditation that I’ve grown to be very wary about, yet it felt different, as in much, much better! And when I did this, I often fell out of poses, only to get back into them again. In yoga, to my great joy, it’s okay to shake and wobble and fall. The only request is that you try to get back up again.
3) Explore different styles
I’m lucky, because where I live, there are a multitude of options regarding fitness classes. And yoga-specific classes are also many and wide: everything from HIIT yoga to hip-hop yoga to aerial yoga to hot yoga. All of these classes share the same underlying principles. In fact, many poses from my previous years of Bikram crossed over with Vinyasa yoga, the only difference being different temperatures. From my failure to thoroughly enjoy the much raved about sedentary meditation, I’ve become more aware that all bodies are unique and have different needs. Thus, the wide range of yoga styles is a gift! If there is a local gym in your area, I encourage you to inquire about the different yoga offerings. Some classes are even specifically tailored to athletes involved in heavy-duty sports. It’s my guess that these classes boast a unique combination of poses guaranteed to recuperate your body and stretch your much-worked muscle groups. An alternative is community yoga classes; in my neighborhood they are held periodically in public spaces and led by well-known brands such as Lululemon and Athleta. And the good thing is, no prior experience is needed, which also means there are no excuses to not trying!
Lastly, yoga is for all ages. Oftentimes, it is regarded skeptically and reproachfully as a middle-aged-woman activity. This is as false as it is unfounded! Yoga can help in so many different ways. It is a moving meditation, a deep body stretch, a great cardio component. And as for me, I believe these things are important across all generations. It’s really a shame only a small group of Gen Z’ers are attempting it. So with that I leave you to ponder this ancient practice, go on Amazon to order a mat, start shopping for those leggings, and sign up for a class! You won’t know how good it is until you’ve stepped foot in a studio, and then I’ll be saying I told you so.