I grew up with a mom who was a yoga teacher. For as long as I can remember, Monday nights were yoga nights and various mornings throughout the week when I was at school. She often attended yoga retreats with both David Life and Sharon Gannon (founders of Jivamukti yoga) and always came back seeming lighter and spirited from the weekend away. I started at a young age joining her for a few night classes every now and then, however I really started my practice around the fall of my junior year of high school. From many years of sports and overuse, I developed severe stress fractures in both of my shins. It kept me from playing soccer my sophomore year and out of winter track my junior year. One of the biggest problems with student athletes nowadays is that not enough stress and attention is put on the recovery process; stretching included. I used to warm-up with about 10 minutes of stretching before a soccer practice or game and that was about it. I was playing 4 or more games a week so it’s a no brainer why I developed shin splints that eventually progressed to stress fractures.
My mom convinced me to start coming to classes more regularly with her. My orthopedist told me that by strengthening the muscle around my shin, a muscle that is very hard to target, I would be less prone to developing stress fractures or shin splints. So I did just that; and it’s safe to say that I fell in love and never turned back. I began with my mom’s classes, a simple Vinyasa flow. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the practice of yoga, I’ll explain.
Yoga is more than simply stretching. It is a mixture of mind, body, and breath. The main goal of yoga is to connect your breath to every asana (posture) in order to strengthen your body and mind. In yoga, we practice a breath called Ujjayi. My mom always liked to refer to this as the “Darth Vader” breath because when you inhale and exhale deeply with Ujjayi breath, you sound a little like Darth Vader. This stronger sense of breath is what connects us to our mind and body during the sequence of postures. It is said that with each inhale you stretch and lengthen, and with every exhale you fall deeper into the posture.
It took me a while to get used to this whole Ujjayi breathing thing. I thought it was a little funny at first. Such a deep, loud breath is a little intimidating. But once I started to realize that my breath could help me during poses, hold them for longer, go deeper, extend further, it all made sense; yoga is nothing without your breath.
Not only did I start to become more flexible (I couldn’t even touch my toes when I began), but I found such a peace with my yoga practice. It was a stress relief. It was something that I looked forward to on Monday’s after school, knowing that once I got on my mat during class that night, all I would need to think about was connecting my breath to my body. I became more involved with my yoga practice. I started practicing on my own at home, and venturing off to other yoga studios in my area. I found a love for Power Yoga, which combines Vinyasa flow yoga with a heated and humidified studio. Talk about a killer workout! The heated room allows you to fall deeper into postures since your muscles open up quicker in the warm environment. I began to realize the summer going into college that yoga was something that I wanted to stay in my life. I plan on getting my yoga instructor license in the future when it is convenient for me with school and hope to incorporate yoga into my career.
One thing I do want to mention about yoga is that it’s not about what kind of sports bra you wear, whether it be Lululemon or Old Navy. It doesn’t matter whether you can touch your toes or whether your hands need to be on your thighs during a forward fold. It doesn’t matter what size your waist is, or how long you can hold a pose. Yoga is for everyone, and that is how it is supposed to be. Yoga is about YOUR practice. Not anyone else’s. So don’t be intimidated when you walk into a yoga studio for the first time and see someone in the corner doing a headstand. You’ll get there if you really want to. Just focus on your breath and body and everything else will fall into place.
Finally I want to leave you with a word that is said at the end of most yoga practices: Namaste. There is a long definition of Namaste but it boils down to this: the divine light and being in me honors and respects the divine light and being in you 🙂