Stretched thin: Yoga helps enhance, body, mind, soul

Kaywin McCall

There are many misconceptions about yoga and many people don’t do it, or are quickly opposed to trying a yoga class, because they’re not flexible enough, don’t have good enough balance, are bad at meditating, or are already physically fit. However, people don’t understand the practice of yoga is a process. It’s not about the final destination, but the transitions and the journey along the way that make yoga a key component in becoming more fit.

“I’m not flexible enough”: When I first started doing yoga earlier this summer, I could not touch my toes. My hips and hamstrings were so tight that I couldn’t hinge over to even get my hands passed my knees. Working hard and consistently on my yoga practice, I am now able to easily touch passed my toes. The increase in flexibility has helped me warm-up better for activities and release tension in my muscles after a strenuous workout. People might not be flexible now, but they will see results and their body will thank them for it.

“I don’t have good enough balance”: Nobody has naturally good balance; it’s a constant battle with gravity. I used to fall over whenever I first started. After having two concussions, I could not stand on one foot without shaking, and if I’d close my eyes, I would practically fall over instantly. Yoga practice has helped me find my center of gravity and gain confidence, which has shown benefits in basketball and my day to day activities.

“I’m bad at meditating”: It takes a while to learn how to meditate properly. It’s uncomfortable at first, but once someone learns how to shut the world out during their practice, life becomes less stressful, along with providing a different perspective on trials. This has helped me find calmness, and look at situations with a clear perspective.

“I’m a runner/athlete and I don’t need yoga to stay fit”: People don’t have to do yoga in order to stay fit, but it provides many benefits that complement the workouts they are already doing. Yoga builds flexibility, reinforces strength athletes already have, and builds muscles in places that are lacking. Yoga also builds core strength which is essential in building a stable mid-section and it improves mental toughness. It also helps prevent injuries and helps people recover quicker from them. In March, I overworked my back during powerlifting, resulting in steroid injections, epidurals, and muscle relaxers in order to remove the inflammation from the lumbar facet joint in my lower back. The combination of constant working out and inflexibility caused my back to get so bad, I had to stop doing Crossfit for four months, and could not workout anything lower body without screeching in pain. After I did everything medically available to me, I still had an achy back, and that’s when I tried yoga. Within two weeks of yoga practice, I was able to do Crossfit again. I was squatting light, I could run, I could do everything I used to do (minus deadlift) but at a lighter weight and pain free, which was a huge accomplishment.

I didn’t realize how much of an affect yoga would have on me physically and mentally. One of yoga’s top priorities is to help participants concentrate on breathing and the body, which helps relieve an anxious mind. Yoga poses release stress in the body which in return, relieves stress in the mind. Yoga is the perfect combination of relaxation, meditation and exercise that it has proven to be helpful for mental health, and can even reduce depression. Yoga also provides a way to lower blood pressure, heart rate, and improve respiration. I can personally account to this. Last year I struggled with anger and depression, but yoga has helped me find peace within myself and my surroundings. My yoga instructor always says, “Nobody can take your peace away because nobody can take your breath away.” I’ve installed that in my life and it has helped me in difficult situations.

Yoga has provided me an outlet for dealing with stress and anxiety. I think one of the most important skills I have learned is how to breathe and how to find peace with my breath when faced with a stressful situation. My yoga mat also provides a place where I can calm down and release negative thoughts and reinforce the idea that I can only control my reactions.

There are many benefits from taking yoga classes, but don’t take my word for it. Give it a try and see how it can improve your life.