Before high school, I used to play many sports. I was on the recreational soccer team, tried volleyball in a clinic, and even played competitive badminton. But by high school, I had slowly dropped out of every one of my sports and found myself becoming inactive. I realized that no matter how much I tried to enjoy sports, they felt monotonous and tedious. As I swung a racket, hitting the same neon green ball over and over, I knew tennis wasn’t for me. At school, I was bombarded by athletics—whether it was Friday night football games or learning about the importance of exercise in health class—reminding me that I needed to stay in shape somehow.
One day, a friend told me that in place of doing sports or going to the gym, she exercised by attending weekly yoga classes. In my mind, I immediately scoffed at her. Yoga class sounded awfully boring, like a class during which all you do is stretch to calming music. It was only when I tried yoga with a free trial coupon that I realized how impactful it was on both my body and my soul.
Although it is true that yoga can be relaxing, you can make it challenging as you increase the difficulty level of each pose and the pace at which you do it. In a world where we are constantly distracted by all sorts of screens and information, the stereotypical peaceful yoga often leads my mind to wander—cluttered with thoughts like what I have left to do during the day and what drama I have with my friends. I prefer difficult yoga exercises, because for me, yoga is not only about focusing on my mind, but uniting my mind with my body and soul. When I do yoga, I like to push myself by holding poses that incorporate various muscles in my body and have them work together in ways that they normally don’t. When I do a high plank, for example, I focus on the way my body is balanced, where my weight is being placed, and the arrangement of my hands, legs, and torso.
What makes yoga unique from other exercises is its emphasis on the breath. Going into each pose, there is an inhale and an exhale, and while in a pose, there are a set amount of breaths to take before leaving the pose. Because it is so essential to our survival, we often don’t pay attention to the way we breathe. In yoga, consciously taking deep breaths allows us to find a sense of calmness and balance while we are holding poses that challenge the persistence of our muscles.
Unlike many sports, yoga also places emphasis on slowness. Just like sprinting in a short amount of time is difficult, holding a pose for an extended period of time is difficult. Poses can range from a low lounge to the chair pose, which is squatting as if you were sitting in a chair and holding it there. Because of the length of each pose, I am required to focus on how my muscles are being used, if I am breathing at a comfortable pace, and if my overall positioning is correct—all in order to sustain my pose. Unlike meditation, which solely uses the mind as the gate for escapism, yoga incorporates meditation into breath and uses the body through different poses to connect the mind, body, and soul.
Yoga is both an exercise and a philosophy. It is a path for self-reflection, one which challenges its participants to focus on connecting with their body, instead of comparing themselves to the people around them. This quality is part of why yoga is so life-changing. In a society where we are constantly being compared to others, whether it is through class rank, college admissions, or job titles, we are in need of a space where only our individual mind and body exist, where we set our own standards and improve upon ourselves. Yoga’s philosophy is actually one of the six major orthodox schools of Hinduism. The five main yamas, or moral disciplines, that it preaches are nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, not being greedy, and not being lustful. Yoga uses physical movement as an extension of these moral values. Through incorporation of mind and body, yoga is the ultimate spiritual connection to experiencing and understanding oneself.
As the only millennial in a class full of mostly middle-aged women, I believe that yoga should be practiced more frequently by young people. In a fast-paced, distraction-filled, stressful world, yoga grounds the soul in a calming and fulfilling manner, all while keeping you in shape.