Yoga has always been something that I’ve enjoyed doing, both for its fitness benefits and its help with stress. Let’s face it: Everyone gets stressed — even the most laid-back people. During school, I would constantly worry about my due dates for projects and papers. Throw swimming into the mix, and fitting everything together could be headache inducing. That’s why, even during those months with swimming, I always found some way of adding yoga into my daily routine.
Yoga, according to HealthandYoga.com, is defined as the “state of union between two opposites – body and mind; individual and universal consciousness; a process of uniting the opposing forces in the body and mind in order to achieve supreme awareness and enlightenment.” It is also defined on Google’s dictionary as “a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, a part of which, including breath control, simple meditation, and the adoption of specific bodily postures, is widely practiced for health and relaxation.” There are multiple disciplines of yoga as well, including Hatha, Astanga, Bikram, and Vinyasa. The most popular practice of yoga in the United States is Hatha yoga, according to Hathayoga.net. It is also the form of yoga that I practice.
Hatha yoga, or yoga in general, is not all about twisting your body into painful or unusual positions. Anyone, any size, any age, can practice yoga. If you find a skilled teacher, you will find yourself practicing yoga easily. It’s also, despite the connotation of the definition above, not a religion. Yoga comes from Hinduism, but no matter your faith, you can find practice yoga as either a way to come closer to the divine or simply to explore your inner self. Hatha yoga, according to Hathayoga.net, “include[s] both physical yoga postures, mindful yogic breathing and an effort to increase awareness and stillness within.” Yoga is a very personal experience, which is another reason why I love it. In competitive sports, it’s all about pushing yourself beyond your limit. With yoga, when you reach your limit, you are encouraged to stop. Nothing should hurt. If you uncomfortable doing something or wish to stop, you can, even in classes.
There are many health benefits to yoga as well. According to MayoClinic.com, they include stress reduction, increased fitness, management of chronic health conditions, and weight loss. Stress reduction comes from yoga’s quiet and precise movements. By concentrating on the movements and breathing, you can forget about your chaotic day and the hassles of work and life. Improved balance, flexibility, increased range of motion and strength, are all side effects of yoga that increase your fitness. As you improve, you are less likely to injure yourself from other activities on a day-to-day basis. While yoga can help reduce your blood pressure and your heart rate, MayClinic.com says that it has also shown to help “with a variety of health conditions, including cancer, depression, pain, anxiety, and insomnia … when added to your standard treatment.” Of course, if you are already in good health, yoga is a relaxing and beneficial addition to your workout routine, as I have found.
Yoga may seem difficult and painful, but as you practice, it gets easier to bend and twist into positions that would have been near impossible weeks before. When I first started, there was no way that I could even bend over and touch my toes; I never had much flexibility. Now, I do the stretch with ease. I’ve also seen an increase in my balance and focus. Yoga is a great stress reliever and a workout for anyone looking for something relaxing to do after a hectic day.