How Yoga Changed My View of Fitness
Ah. It is fall season and lovely weather is approaching; however, coming up are what seems to be a series of health-unfortunate-dates: Halloween candy, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years’ celebrations. There are also the beautiful cookies that we can be baking as we cozy up with a nice cup of warm of hot chocolate. It is all awesome, but there is also the pressure of being healthy and staying fit, especially as we try to fit in school, work, and deadlines for either one (or both for the students who are currently working). How does one stay fit and fabulous, especially in challenging times like this season where temptation is all over the place?
Here is a secret about me: I was raised by a yogi. Yoga was part of my upbringing and I sucked. I hated it so much because it was introduced as “exercise.” For someone who struggled with eating disorders throughout most of her teen years, I want to share how yoga differed from other “exercise routines” and how it helped, and continues to help, me in terms of staying healthy.
When I started practicing yoga regularly, I was an adult. At that point, I was in recovery from my eating disorders. It was recommended to me by doctors and I was following orders. I encountered many yoga instructors as I acquired DVDs, watched videos online, read magazines, and so I want to follow up this article with a list of my favorite yogis to guide you through this process. Here’s what the strongest teachers taught me: there is no such thing as spot targeting. There is no such thing as “yoga for your gluteus.” Yoga shows you the interconnectedness of your body parts. Especially as a beginner, I would feel that my back was connected to the gluteus. In turn, your gluteus is connected to the thighs and hamstrings. Sure, some exercises may feel like they are targeting one area more than the rest, but that does not mean that this is the only area working. You cannot focus on one part of your body because your body is on entity. Yoga shows you this with every pose.
Do not panic when you see the word “mindful.” Not all yogis agree on the meditative quality of yoga, but I think many would agree that it is an activity fostering mindfulness. Yoga made me appreciate the way bodies are able to bend, to move, even in the simplest poses. I can draw a human body better than a beginning self-taught artist like me would because I know more about how the body moves and contorts. The central aim of every yoga move is to breathe and to stay focused on holding the pose. You have to make decisions while you practice yoga: is a pose too much for you right now? Can you breathe your way through a pose or do you need to modify it. You can use blocks, chairs, towels, pillows, to adjust the difficulty of a pose and in that sense, you are being mindful. It is not about bending yourself into a pretzel; it’s more about mindfully holding a pose and transitioning into other ones.
A lot of yogis, especially recently, have been incorporating yoga with other exercises and so numbers became involved— repetitions and sets. It is sometimes presented as an exercise routine. However, traditional yoga has nothing to do with reps. It has everything to do with being present and meditating. There is no competition in yoga. I have seen yoga teachers say things like, “I feel like I need a modification today.” It’s not about what you can do; it’s more about what you do with what you are capable of doing on a given day.
Applicable to Daily Life
Yoga taught me to see fitness as a part of our daily lives. I have never set foot in a gym and yet I have muscle tone and definition just by practicing yoga. The reason behind this is that yoga is meditative, mindful, and can be done anywhere. You do not need a gym membership to practice it and you don’t need to contort like a pretzel to be “good” at it. There is no such thing as “good” in yoga; you are simply practicing and slowly watching your body become leaner, more flexible. The coolest thing is that yoga poses teach you about life. Dancer pose is all about grace and focus. Archer pose is about putting your best foot forward and focusing on defending yourself.
The lessons behind each pose become personal to you and they teach you about life. The more you practice yoga, the calmer, more mindful you become in general. This is what fitness should be: it should be applicable to daily life. We treat fitness as though it is a chore and it really should not be like that. It shouldn’t be something painful or some sort of punishment.
Yoga is one of the very few physical activities that allow you to play and be creative while you are practicing. In some ways, yoga is much like dance. I found that I was able to create my own routines and freestyle my way through poses. See, you can use blocks, chairs, towels, or pillows to help you through the poses. You can ease off if a pose feels too stressful. In essence, yoga is fun. The more you know in terms of poses, the more you can create in terms of sequences.
As adults, we need to play and be creative; it is what helps us release stress and become aware of our place in the Universe. We are capable of more than we often think. Put the weights down and give yoga a shot. It may change your life like it did to mine.
Image courtesy of Flickr’s The Commons