Last September when my boys went back to school, I decided it was the perfect time to get myself back into yoga. Pre-kids, I did yoga all the time. But once the bambinos came along, that was pretty much the end of it. My own health took a backseat to the health and well-being of my children.
Today, I have a different perspective. Today, a woman of almost 40, I place a new emphasis on my own well-being. I mean, what good am I to my children if I’m not taking care of myself, right? Aren’t we advised to put on our own oxygen mask before that of our children? That, in essence, is what I’m doing.
For the past nine months, I’ve been taking a cool Vinyasa Flow yoga class twice a week at my gym. To be quite honest, when I first started I wasn’t sure I’d stick with it; I tend to give up on stuff very easily. But this one, I’ve kept up with! And now that I’m the better part of a year in, I’ve found that both my body and my mind have benefited greatly.
Fewer headaches. For many years, I was plagued by frequent headaches. Though it was completely frustrating, I’d never really bothered trying to figure out why; I’d just pop an Advil and move on. But once I started taking yoga, I noticed that my headaches were occurring less frequently. Then one morning I realized that the headache that accompanied me into yoga class yoga class that day did not accompany me out. It was gone, almost as if by magic. That’s when I put the pieces together. Turns out, many of my headaches were originating from tightness in my back, neck and shoulder areas. Once I started regularly stretching out those areas, my headaches began to dissipate. Now on those rare occasions when I do get a headache, I do a few yoga poses and down a glass of water. That usually does the trick.
Reduced feelings of panic. Since childhood, I’ve suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve always found it difficult to quiet the chatter in my mind once it gets going. But through yoga, I’ve learned how to use my breath to quiet my mind—to quell the chatter. It’s not a skill that I’ve perfected, but it is one that I continue to develop each day. Today I use deep breathing to not only slow my sometimes-racing heart, but also as a point of focus when my mind starts to wander. I simply close my eyes, breathe deeply and repeat to myself, “deep breath in, deep breath out,” over and over. With this, I am often able to calm my spinning mind and regain my composure.
Less creaking and cracking. Have you ever stood up from a seated position only to hear a creakety crack coming from your back or knees? Well I have, and it’s only become more pronounced as I’ve aged. But such is not the case anymore. Because yoga is designed to release tension and stretch the joints, my creaking and cracking have settled down. And I am thrilled to have one fewer reminder of my advancing age.
Increased muscle tone. To the surprise of many, yoga is more than breathing and stretching; there is a cardiovascular and strengthening component to it as well. Prior to getting back into yoga, I had been hitting the gym for some cardo and strength training here and there. I’d force myself to do 30 minutes on the treadmill, then 15 – 20 minutes with some free weights. Then I took my first Vinyasa Flow class and I never looked back. See ya later, treadmill and dumbbells, I have a new love! I’ve found that my yoga classes work me much harder than I can work myself with my forced, monotonous gym routine. Yoga makes me sweat. And I always wake up the next morning with sore arms, legs and abs—a sure fire sign that I’m doing something right. Through my yoga practice, I feel toned and in shape.
More efficient use of my lungs. Before I started yoga, I was walking around breathing incorrectly; I was breathing from my chest and not from my belly. In essence, I was only using 1/3 of my lungs for the important task of circulating oxygen and carbon dioxide. But because yoga forces you to take long, slow, methodic deep breaths that originate from the diaphragm, I started putting the other 2/3 of my lungs to work—inhaling deeply, exhaling completely. When I first began, this whole breathing thing felt forced; I had to really think about it in order to make it happen. But now I notice myself doing it naturally in the course of my everyday life. And as a result, I’ve made my cardiovascular, nervous, endocrine, lymph, immune, digestive, and respiratory systems very happy.
How about you? Do you do yoga? If so, in what ways has it helped you?