This is a contribution post by By Jodi Ryan, certified yoga teacher, Mom, and freelance writer.
I was recently at a White Elephant party where one of the gag gifts was an 80s workout video…you can picture the one. Neon leotards, leg warmers, and scrunchies holding big hair on the cover. Yes, kids, this is the outfit you wear when you’re ready to tear it up, not with a workout, but with a serious exercise routine. It got us talking about fitness fads … the ThighMaster. The oh-so-easily parodied Shake Weight. And what was that crazy belt machine that jiggled people around in the ‘50s?
So what about this increasing trend in yoga? And the evolving perceptions of what yoga is, and what it isn’t? I love a good yoga meme as much as the next person, but I can tell you this:
The practice of yoga itself is no fad.
What Is Yoga
- The science of yoga is a proven system that has stood the test of time, over 5,000 years of ancient texts and traditions.
- It is an all-encompassing discipline that involves the relationships between our body, breath, senses, mind patterns, and our environment. It is not about “good vibes only.”
- It is about feeling everything.
- It is about being present, and organizing ourselves in a mindful way to best navigate the whole lot of it, with more resilience, awareness, and equanimity.
“I came in for a good stretch, and left with so much more.”
This is a realization often expressed by those new to yoga, when one begins to understand that the practice is not about touching our toes, rocking a handstand, or sitting atop a mountain in a state of bliss, regardless of what advertisers might lead us to think.
My Story with Yoga
I was first introduced to the practice as a tot by my Mom and a PBS program. I had no idea what it was all about, all I knew was that I liked making funny shapes on the floor along with my Mom and the lady on tv with the calm voice and impossibly long braid. It was fun, and I like how it made me feel. So much that it stayed with me. Postures and breath wove their way into my college years, and through hectic workweeks in film production.
Yoga soothed my morphing pregnant body, and supported me through the bodyquakes and elation of childbirth. It was a saving grace during postpartum, when our prenatal yoga group continued practicing together with our newborns. These gatherings gave us tools to find calm and regain pelvic floor strength, along with a supportive community during a time that can often feel overwhelming and isolating. My own Mom, now an octogenarian, can attribute her healthy posture, attitude, and vitality in part to her consistent yoga practice that adapts with her changing needs.
Yoga meets us where we are.
It requires little to no equipment, and can be done pretty much anywhere … studio, gym, home, outdoors. We can rejuvenate with movement in an office chair or with breath work in the car during our commute. As yoga healer and scholar Krishnamacharya states, “if you can breathe, you can do yoga.”
Here are just a few of the ways life may improve once you start.
Balanced Body and Mind
A traditional practice includes a built-in warmup that organically heats the body from the inside out through breath, movement, and focus.
Yoga is here to help us feel good. The prerequisites for feeling good do not always translate to “easy”. What we alleviate is the type of stress caused by our culture of “busy” and excessive thought patterns.
Yoga is a continual practice of being present. It is impossible to balance on one leg while the mind is running amok. When these practices transfer into our everyday life, studies show that yoga improves memory, test scores, reaction time, and coordination.
It is said that we are only as young as our spine is flexible. The same could be said for the mind. Yoga postures place our bodies in all planes of movement, and into shapes outside of our daily repertoire. And since everything is connected, it is common to find that when we improve flexibility, mobility, or stability in one area, we alleviate pain and weakness in another.
Regulated Nervous System
Yoga activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which stimulates rest and repair throughout the body. This helps facilitate better sleep, and brings on an overall feeling of ease. We all know the opposite of ease is Dis-ease. Yes to more ease, please.
Bone Health and Blood Flow
Weight-bearing positions like plank, downward-facing dog, and arm balances strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis. Yoga also reduces stress hormones, and lowers cortisol levels associated with keeping calcium in the bones. Specific movements and breath work improve circulation to send more oxygen to our cells.
Yoga improves our proprioception, or the ability to feel the position of our body in space. It is common to discover variances when comparing left and right. This could reveal unconscious habits, like how we might carry a bag on the same side every day. We can observe our natural tendencies, both physical and mental, and determine which habits serve us well., and which may not.
Yoga is all about creating space. Sacred space to show up for ourselves. Spaciousness in our lungs, to increase our capacity to nourish our bodies. Space in our muscle fibers. We take up space because it feels empowering. We create space in our minds, as we let go of limiting beliefs and make room for new possibilities. We open up space in our hearts as we extend the benefits of our practice to others. This is yoga.
Peace of Mind
Ahhh. Something shifts. It’s subtle. One day, after some weeks or months of practice, you’ll notice. A situation arises, something that perhaps used to set you off, and you realize that you just handled it in the most calm and collected way. You now carry yourself with more awareness, and just the right balance of effort and ease.
When people breathe, and sweat, and create feel-goods in the same space, something happens. When people try, and fall, and try again in the same space, something happens. When people are open-minded, open-hearted, real, compassionate badasses of love together in the same space, something happens. I believe that something is connection.
What? What will I see? Spiritual guru? Eternal bliss? Unicorns?
This is the part where I just smile. Because the answer could not possibly be contained here in this article. Or answered by the best of teachers, or ancient scripts, or Instagram squares, or testimonials made by me, or anyone else. The answers are so vast that the only place they can reside is within you. And the only way they can be revealed is with your own yoga practice, on your own unique path, in your very own time.
You don’t need to be able to touch your toes. You don’t need to watch more instructional videos, or read the how-to guides. You don’t need more advice.
All you need to get started is a willingness to show up for yourself, with an open heart, and an open mind.
Ready? Because Yoga is ready to meet you, right where you are.
Jodi Ryan is a certified yoga teacher, Mom, and freelance writer living in Manhattan Beach with her husband, four energetic wild childs, and rescue hound, Bowie. For more inspo, follow her on Instagram at @jodirayanyoga. DM her for upcoming workshops: Yoga and Meditation for Beginners, Creative Intention-Setting including journaling, Vision Boards, and Mala Bead Necklace/Intention Setting.
For more posts about wellness and health, visit our Wellness Section on the Blog.