I started yoga when I was a sophomore in high school. My dance coach forced us to go. I remember it being the longest, most miserable hour of my life. One time a girl even threw up. We spent the entire hour, giggling in the back, because we were not mature enough to handle the breathing exercises or the Sanskirt music, and making fun of the very short shorts the old guys wore. Needless to say, after I graduated from the dance team, I was glad to never attend a yoga class again.
Then, in my sophomore year of college, I found myself suffering from an internal crisis. I had just stopped dancing, in which I felt like I had lost my identity. I was dealing with a very terrible room mate situation. I was in college, working, and dealing with everything else that was going on. I was not eating, not sleeping. I started having dreams about my tooth falling out, which, of course, I WebMD’ed, and it told me these were probably anxiety dreams. So, I had to find a way to help myself. I turned back to yoga and am so thankful to make that decision. Yoga saves.
A few things I have learned after becoming a devoted yogi:
1. I drink at least four Nalgene water bottles a day so that I can stay hydrated for my evening yoga class. There is nothing worse than coming in to class, sweating out your body weight, and being so dizzy you can’t stand up after savasana to make the walk out to your car.
2. I can’t eat fast food three hours prior to a class (and, since I don’t always know which class that turns out to be, I hardly eat fastfood). I went to a sculpt class in Boulder one time, was starving, and didn’t have enough time to go home, so I picked up a dollar hamburger from Wendy’s. Bad idea. I could barely make it through the first ten minutes. The yoga instructor actually yelled and called me out in front of the whole class for being wimpy. Oops.
3. To accept other people’s sweat. Yes, it is disgusting that the obese guy next to you’s towel is touching your yoga mat, but that is nothing a little Simple Green can’t fix.
4. To pay attention to my body and notice when something hurts, feels out of line, doesn’t move. As a dancer, I can feel my knees and hips already starting to go out (no joke–I bent down at a student’s desk the other day and could not stand back up). So, I have devoted my yoga practice to correcting some of those harmful, unnatural dance habits that I created. In fact, yoga has probably caused me to become a little too cautious with my body, because with even the slightest ache, I throw some China Gel on and take a hot shower.
5. Stretching can be just as tension-releasing as a massage. I used to get terrible headaches–so debilitating that I had to go to the emergency room to mix up a special concoction to knock them out. And then, I started religiously going to yoga. I carry tension in my neck and shoulders, so I devote time during my yoga practice to compress and stretch out those tense spots.
6. Those first and last moments of class can be the most important moments of your day. As we all know, Mondays are the worst day of the week. I love going to work, opening my e-mail, looking at my desk, and realizing all the stuff that I neglected to do over the weekend. I force myself to go to yoga on Monday nights so that I can dump all of that on the yoga mat and have a more productive, anxiety-free week. The weeks I skip Monday night yoga, I feel off. So, no matter how tired, stressed, or overwhelmed I feel, I force myself to go.
I recommend that every person get addicted to yoga. I can’t tell you how many times yoga has saved my sanity. When I was having problems with my room mates, I went to yoga. When my boyfriend broke up with me, I went to yoga. When I was feeling overwhelmed with teaching and my dance team, I went to yoga. When I had someone attacking my character and telling untrue things about me that I could not control, I went to yoga. When I was stuck on writing a paper, I went to yoga.
And, you can’t just go to yoga. You have to fully commit to yoga. You have to put aside all of your insecurities and realize that very few people in the room can actually do the peacock handstand pose. You have to commit to the breathing. Yes, at first, it sounds awkward (and at sometimes sexual and then really awkward), but there is something to be said about the mind-body-spirit connection. When I am feeling burdened by something, I focus my breathing. On my inhales, I tell myself, “I am letting it go”, and on my exhale, I think about letting it go. At the end of class, I feel like a completely rejuvenated and freer person. It sounds corny, but I promise it works if you commit to it.
If you ever hang around me, you will know that I am the biggest yoga advocate. I even make my students do it sometimes, because yoga saves in ways you will never expect.
(My sister critiqued this blog post and wanted me to add that yoga does not necessarily work for everyone, but that everyone needs to have this kind of outlet and escape. For her, it is riding her horses).