In the eyes of an outsider, yoga looks like simple stretching with holier-than-thou, life-changing epiphanies. In the heart and soul of a yogi though, yoga is whatever you want it to be, but however you choose, its impression on your life can be magnificent. And until you hit the mat and embrace the practice of yoga, you’ll remain a critic. A runner may enjoy yoga postures for limbering and loosening the body. To one person, yoga’s exercise, and to another person, yoga is a spiritual connection and link to higher energies.
To me, I saw yoga as a fitness trend, and I wanted to be trendy. So I went to classes here and there at my local gym only to feel like I was following a yoga video during a high school gym class. It wasn’t until I was introduced to hot yoga that I experienced the practice on a whole new level. My hot yoga studio is 80 minutes of a series of postures, four flows and stretching. And, unlike Bikram, flows and poses are practiced to music, which connects me more to the practice. While moving from Warrior I into Warrior 2 and flowing from side angle Parsvakonasana into twisted side chair pose, the room is highly heated. Hot yoga is an excellent workout for flexibility and toning, but it also strengthens the mind incredibly. And by hitting the mat and sweating it out, I learned about the power of observation, self-awareness and mindfulness.
Although savasana (corpse pose) can be a relaxing state, hot yoga isn’t a pleasant sunny stroll through the park. Holding eagle tree pose or standing hand-to-big-toe pose as the room heats up creates physical and mental challenges. My heart rate increases, my vision blurs and my head feels dizzy. I could say I feel on the verge of panic, yet by calming the mind and focusing on my breath, I can ease that physical anxiety. In the yoga studio, I acknowledge those moments of difficulty and exhaustion. I observe how it makes me feel and open my awareness up to how I’m negatively reacting. Mindfully, I make the decision to engage in this pose and positively soak in how my body feels. Rather than immediately react to a feeling of discomfort, I identify it, observe how it makes me feel and then consciously determine how to deal.
Every day we encounter stress, uncomfortable or unpleasant moments, and unexpected negative circumstances that can shut us down. Naturally, I’m prone to “freaking out.” But to draw parallels between the beauty of yoga and the hardships of life, the power of observation and mindfulness can provide you with the mental strength to endure anything. As long as you’re actively engaged with your emotions, you can self-talk your way into a reasonable state.
For a temporary escape, I can always head to a yoga class to give my mind and body a different focus. It’s an environment where I feel at my best and purposeful. Also, I follow and gain inspiration from the Ed Young Fellowship Church Facebook page. When I read the post, “go where you are celebrated, not where you are tolerated,” I immediately thought of my yoga studio. I was reminded that each yoga practice is a celebration and space where I can practice living excellence.
About the Author: Tammy Winslow is a mom and freelance writer happily living in Phoenix.