Yoga: What’s the Big Deal?
by Katie White, MA
Yoga is downright ancient. Historians date yoga back as far as 5,000 years, which means humans have been doing yoga since before the Egyptians started building the pyramids! Although yoga isn’t new to the scene, it’s relatively new to us Westerners. The number of Americans practicing yoga doubled from 2002 to 2012 (National Institutes of Health). Yoga is all the rage, but is it really worth the hype? The short answer is maybe.
Research suggests that yoga is associated with tons of physical and mental benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms; improving the quality of your sleep; building strength and endurance; strengthening your bones and connective tissues; boosting your immune system; and improving your heart health.
Personally, I found yoga as a natural extension of my lifelong passion for dance. As a Florida gal, I grew up part-dancer, part-fish. When I got to college, I was no longer dancing two or three hours per day, and that’s when I discovered yoga. Yoga drew me in with its flowy, dance-like quality and scratched that itch I had to keep expressing myself through movement.
Somewhere along the way, my practice developed into something much more powerful than exercise. It became a moving meditation, where I learned to be fully present and have willingness to accept my experience as it was, rather than for what I thought it should be. My practice became a sacred part of my day, and has remained so for the last 10 years. So even though I initially rolled my mat out for the physical benefits, I return to my mat over and over again because of the way yoga makes me feel, both mentally and spiritually.
For me, the hype wasn’t just hype. I’ve lived the benefits. But I’ve also come to understand that the benefits of yoga can be applied to many other forms of movement and exercise. So if you hate yoga, don’t worry. Here are four powerful attitudes I learned from my yoga practice. Consider these yours for the taking and try applying them to your next workout (yoga or otherwise):
1. Check in and set an intention.
Check in with yourself, both physically and mentally, asking, what do I need right now? How do I want to feel at the end of this practice or workout? Once you’ve identified what it is that you need, choose to actively cultivate that in your practice, whatever it may be. Here are some of my go-to intentions:
I will approach my practice and my life with a sense of play and joy.
I embrace who I am with love and acceptance. I can strive to be better tomorrow while still loving myself today.
I open my heart and mind to what today brings me.
2. Learn from your breath.
Our breath can teach us how to be right here, right now. Notice how your breath changes as you move and how your body paces the breath automatically based on what’s happening now. Our breath has an inherently spontaneous, live-in-the-moment, “yes, and” (hello to my improv lovers out there!) attitude. By tuning into your breath, you get to try that attitude on for size and maybe even keep it with you after your practice ends.
3. It’s about the yin and the yang, baby!
Humans need balance. We have moments where we need the yin – we need to cool things down, slow things down, and do what restores us. We also have moments where we need the yang – we need to heat things up, light an internal fire, and challenge ourselves. Our needs for stillness and heat are equally important. Yoga intentionally honors the balance. So push yourself to work hard, grow stronger, and do things you’ve never done before. Then, when it’s no longer time to push, allow yourself to slow it down, stretch it out, and do what feels downright self-indulgent.
4. Learn to work with resistance, and then learn to let it go.
In every practice, you’ll have a moment (or several moments) that feels really tough. That’s a parallel for life. Our days are full of challenges, obstacles, and uncertainty. In yoga, we learn to meet those moments of resistance with an attitude that is equal parts ‘I hate this and what this to end’ and ‘I got this, gimme more.’ When you encounter resistance in your practice and choose to persistrather than stand down, you’re developing resilience. You’ll take that resilience with you to other challenges in your life. Equally important, you’ll develop the capacity to look challenges in the face and then let them go once the moment is gone.
So is yoga worth the hype? The mounting scientific evidence and my personal experience would indicate a yes. But for the folks out there who just aren’t into yoga, I’ve got good news: the hype can be achieved through running, dancing, swimming, or whatever you’re into… if you steal these four yogi attitudes!
P.S. If you’ve applied yoga principles to other forms of movement, we’d love to hear! Share in the comment section below!
P.P.S. For more about the benefits of yoga, check out this review:
Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The health benefits of yoga and exercise: A review of comparison studies. The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 16. doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0044