How Practicing Yoga Transformed My Mind, Body & Soul
I pulled the Lululemon yoga pants I hadn’t worn in a number of years (for athletic purposes or otherwise) over my lanky legs and adjusted my too-tight sports bra (ouch). With nerves running up and down the hollowed sections of my rib cage, I twisted my hair into a ponytail and stared at my dead eyes in the mirror. There hadn’t been a single day that week where I hadn’t felt utterly exhausted.
I was in the change room of Yoga Life, the yoga studio my mom had convinced me to try out. “Just one class,” she had said. “I think it would really help with your anxiety.”
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had anxiety. (Seriously, I can trace it back to when I was eleven years old). That being said, I had never searched for a remedy until I was in my twenties and realized that maybe I should do something about it.
Despite being a dedicated athlete for the majority of my life, I hadn’t exercised or really continued with any type of sport or physical activity since my second year of university. Well, I was now two years out of university standing in an empty change room, stressed out my mind about work, stressed out of my mind about life in general, and wondering how I was going to get my thin statue to twist and move into daunting poses.
“Okay,” I said to myself. “Let’s give this a try.”
Yoga for the Mind
One of the first things I almost instantly noticed during the first few classes laying on a mat, holding tricky poses, and sweating in places I didn’t even know I could sweat, was that if you let the practice take you to where you should let it take you, you will find yourself actually letting go of the “outside world” and focusing on the present moment.
That means actually trying your best to ground yourself to the room, to your mat, and immersing yourself into the different ebbs and flows that correlate to movement, and urging your thoughts to almost be silenced. Overall, this is designed to help you mentally when you’re practicing.
It’s true that there have been actual studies done that prove that yoga can reduce anxiety and stress, and in turn lower the risk of depression. It can even increase your overall happiness since it forces you to stay in the present through the exercise, and the mental instruction provided by the instructor, such as a mantra.
Soon enough, when I was in that hot room, I could feel everything else melt away. I could feel how small my problems really were when I took the time to focus on what I was doing instead of panicking about something that had gone wrong the day before, or thinking ahead to the next day. It became my one hour of actual peace in an otherwise too-busy day.
Mentally, yoga will encourage you to build your sense of self. It will encourage you to be less judgemental and just be, whatever that looks like for you. If you probe deep enough, it can also help you uncover underlying issues that you might be having in your everyday life, and even present solutions if you dig even deeper.
Tips for Mindful Yoga
Of course, all of what I’ve noted above is often easier said than done, and not everyone can grasp onto the idea of mentally letting go in a yoga class instantaneously. As with everything else in life, it takes time. Here are some quick tips you can use in a yoga class to get some of those rich mental benefits:
- Pick a mantra:
With every inhale, and with every exhale, use a short phrase to keep your thoughts from wandering. A mantra will help you stay focused on the present moment. For example, my favourite mantra is “I am aware. I am relaxed.” Inhale, “I am aware;” exhale, “I am relaxed.”
- Try Ujjayi Breathing:
This ancient breathing technique translates to “victorious breath” and helps to relax and energize your mind, as well as your body. Essentially, this type of breathing will help you sync up your breath with your movements during a yoga class, and it keeps you connected to the practice and your purpose.
Here’s how to do it: Close your lips and inhale through your nose deeply. Exhale slowly through your nose while constricting the muscles in the back of your throat.
- Set an intention:
Before the start of every yoga class, set an intention for yourself. It could be “peace” or maybe even “power.” Having an intention will allow you to focus your mind in the direction you want it to go.
Yoga for the Body
If there is one guarantee you can take from practicing yoga, it’s that it will make your body strong. I never knew how much joy I would get from being able to properly hold up my own body in a crow pose, or how powerful I would feel lunging down into a warrior pose.
Slowly, I began to feel more confident in the body I had always found too long and awkward. I began to accept my body for what it was, for its ability to carry me and mould into the shapes I wanted it to. Looking in the mirror no longer made me wish that my arms looked a different way, or wish that my shoulders weren’t so broad.
It was also clear that during a class, no one was even looking at you. No one was judging your outfit or that you couldn’t twist into a pose. Everyone was focused on themselves and their own bodies.
As I pushed myself, learned, grew, and then had to learn again, I became excited with each new challenge and each new pose to tackle. The satisfaction of getting into that pose, or even almost getting into that certain pose, made me feel like I was doing something truly good for my body and my mind, all at once. Yoga will eventually improve your balance, flexibility, strength, daily energy levels, and much more, and this was evident over time.
Tips for Yoga & the Body
If you’re just starting out with yoga, it’s important to remember to not push yourself too hard too fast.
- Do what you can, and let your body adjust: you might want to throw yourself into the deepest expression of a pose right away, but my advice is to avoid this. Your body is like an elastic, and it will eventually stretch the way you want it to after each practice, but let your body get there in its own time. Remember, it’s not about nailing all the poses, it’s about doing what’s best for your body, because at the end of the day, we are all built differently!
- Invest in small stretches before yoga: try taking the time before a class begins to stretch it out on your mat and warm up your muscles. Even taking 5 minutes out of your day each morning to stretch will make your body more open to the various yoga poses presented in a practice.
- Use blocks: instead of overextending your body in a pose, try using a block to help your body get into the right position in a more comfortable, and safe way.
Yoga for the Soul
I truly believe that yoga allows you to unleash your highest self, and that it can help heal the soul. I found that when your mind and body are both invested, the soul follows, and your psyche is given the chance to clear out blocked issues or pain. Yoga utilizes spirituality in its practice to bring us into connection with Universal energy that then allows us to connect to our soul.
There are many times I’ve been on the mat and drifted off into a different type of headspace. Shavasana became a sanctuary to close my eyes and drift, to meditate on what I had just done, and to savour in another few minutes of peacefulness before leaving the room. Eventually, I was able to shift this practice into meditation as well.
Tips for Soulful Yoga
- Imagine a calming place: When in savasana, imagine a calming place like the ocean or a forest. Focus on that place, and visualize it as best you can. This will help relax and ground you.
- Connect to your chakras: Think about the different energy points on your body throughout your practice, and connect with them. This will help you to gaze inwards and help soothe the soul.
- Work on alignment: When practicing, attempt to align your thoughts and motivations with your mind and body. Thinking about all three of these elements (mind, body, and soul) throughout the practice will help further ground you, and let you establish a clear channel to your soul.
Yoga is worth a try if you want to reap these different benefits. It is now something I invest in at least three times a week, and something that has truly transformed my mind, body and soul. Trying to convince yourself to go to a class, and then actually doing that class are both big first steps, but once you’re in that room, nothing can stop you from unleashing your full potential.
There are a multitude of different classes to choose from that could fit your own personal goals when it comes to yoga. Check in on the Daily Life Yoga page to get daily poses to test out at home to start!
Related Article: Strengthening Your Mind-Body Connection