How Yoga is Changing My Life

I realize that that sounds like an overstatement, but hear me out.

 I have been thinking about how yoga has affected my life mentally, emotionally and physically for the past few days, and finally wanted to sit down and put those thoughts into words. I am going to break things out by those three areas: mental, emotional and physical. I hope that my experiences may change your mind (or reinforce your current opinions) about yoga. Like any good storyteller, I want to start this tale of "enlightenment," as it were, at the beginning of my yoga journey.

I started my yoga journey because it was trendy. I tried to register for yoga class the summer before Fall Semester (2009) of my freshman year of college at Indiana University because it was cool and on trend. I wanted nothing to do with how it could affect me emotionally or mentally, but I was interested in increasing my flexibility and looking good in yoga pants. I couldn't register that first semester, but I did get into Beginners Yoga for Spring Semester, January 2010. After the first class (which involved nothing but savasana and breathing) I left rolling my eyes and declared that my instructor was a "hippie." It took the entire semester before I realized that after every class I took with Shelley, I may not have been more flexible physically, but I was getting quite a mental workout that was helping me to better study and focus in my classes.

Fall of 2010, I signed up for Yoga II with Michael. He was a former Division 1 Lacrosse who had suffered a career-ending injury, which yoga had helped heal. He taught Power Yoga and was a graduate Physical Therapy Student. In his class, I was more focused and finally felt like I was gaining the physical aspect of yoga I was after. He taught us Sun Salutations and fast-paced flows that set up the foundation for my yoga practice. Additionally, he forced us to learn to self-guide ourselves through a practice. My roots truly started to break through the soil in Michael's class.

In the Spring Semester of 2011, my sophomore year, things finally tied together. Wendy was by far the yogi with the most influence on my practice--I carry the lessons I learned from her with me to this day. She introduced the emotional aspect of my practice, with focuses not only on vinyasa flow and power yoga, but meditation and Yoga Nidra. I took her class three more semesters out of the four I had remaining. Her lessons have affected my sun salutations, the way I flow between poses, and where my thoughts head while meditating.

Post-grad, I found myself in Evansville, Indiana, which was just large enough to have a studio. I joined Evansville Power Yoga off and on throughout my year and eight months in Evansville, and it was there I learned the intricacies of my ujjayi breath, the importance of breath and focus in heated classes, and is where I finally corrected my Downward Facing Dog and made it into my first Full Wheel. The lesson I learned at Evansville Power Yoga was one that tied all three aspects of my yoga practice (emotional, physical, and mental) together. This was when I truly felt grounded and connected to both yoga as a practice and myself as a person.

Now, I am a proud yogi at Yoga Six in Chicago. I go as many times a week as I am able and my yoga practice bleeds into other areas of my life, like my running and my weight training. Physically, I am at the strongest I have ever been in my life and my body looks the healthiest and strongest it ever has. I am steady in my poses, have perseverance in my runs, and strong in my lifting. Mentally, I am more focused at work, organized in my thoughts and in my life in general, and the most confident and head strong I have ever been. Emotionally, I have learned to love and respect myself--both my light and my darkness. I appreciate myself for who I am, who I have been, and who I will become. I feel clean, full, calm, passionate, confident, at-ease, strong and powerful. 

My favorite yoga symbol is the lotus, because right now, it is a perfect representation of my life. For a lotus to bloom, it must first break through the mud and muck at the bottom of a pond. Once it breaks through the mud, it blooms into a beautiful flower. To get to where I am now, I had to make it through mud (depression, anxiety, self-consciousness, uncertainty, fear) and persevere to become the flower I have always known I am. I have yoga to thanks as being the cleansing water around me, prepping me and assisting me to become who I am today.