“It is astonishing how much one’s stress level goes down with the simple act of switching from skinny jeans to yoga pants.” – Anonymous
I moved to sunny San Diego last August from Traverse City, Michigan, and before I moved here, the extent of my yoga knowledge was based on one class I had taken at a Bikram Yoga studio a few years ago in my hometown. It was 110 degrees inside the room, and the only goal set by the instructor was to stay in the class for the full 90 minutes no matter what other activities you tried to do. I stayed in the class, and I learned to master Shavasana, or ‘corpse pose,’ where you lay still and silent as if you were dead…except for the breathing. Unfortunately, I nearly was! I did not understand the breathing, the passion or the drive of yoga. I figured I would never be any good at any yoga class, and I judged myself instead of allowing my mind and my body to be comfortable and grow slowly.
Moving to San Diego was a complete transformation; yoga became another world, a lingo, a culture, an addiction for many! When I took my first yoga class here at CorePower Yoga in Del Mar, I didn’t have an ‘intention,’ which is a simple goal, focus or mantra you establish at the beginning of a class. My only real goal was to stay in the class the whole time, no matter how hard or how hot it got. This beginner yoga class was much different in that it wasn’t heated, at least not that hot, and the instructor wasn’t so focused on pushing everyone over their limit, but rather focused on driving everyone toward their own individual goals and practices. I tried to do most of the poses in this beginner class, but it was physically tough. I was discouraged, but also intrigued. My eyes became much wider and I became more aware. I wanted to know more. I wanted to learn more. I left that class with some valuable knowledge that I will forever take with me into every yoga class. Here are three main things I keep in mind:
Breathe. Breathing is everything in yoga. The breath in yoga as I understand it now is the life force. During this first California class, I remember ten minutes into the class thinking, “Hmm…this isn’t very hard.” My mind began to drift to life, problems, emotions, and away from my breathing. Even though I have been going to yoga classes for over 6 months now, I still drift from focusing on my breathing, and every single time that I drift, it makes the practice harder. It seems contradictory to me to think that you can give less attention to your problems and feel more aware, but yoga has helped me learn to focus more on what is right in front of me in that moment, exactly where my feet are. Inhaling, I allow myself to think about a conflict or emotion, but every time I exhale, I give myself the opportunity to let that conflict go and to heal from it. To just let it be as it is. Making my inhale breaths the exact same length as my exhale breaths is so important for me, and if I can remember to focus on my breathing, my problems drift away!
Set an intention. It’s crucial to my practice. The first few weeks I was very confused about my intention, what it was supposed to be, and how I was supposed to feel if I failed to set an intention or forgot to keep sight of my intention throughout the practice. Now, even if my intention is as simple as staying joyful throughout the hour, I have something to work toward and think about when I drift away from the concentration on my breath. Often times, my intention is to let go of jealousy or to let go of fear. I like to create a ‘letting go’ intention so that I am aware that, with every time I exhale, I am allowing myself to focus on letting go. After this exhale I can focus on filling my body with a new empowering thought on every next inhale, such as “trust your heart” or “love yourself.” I know on the days when I am extra distracted that I will most likely have two mantras or intentions by the end, one for exhales and one created during practice to counter balance that exhale intention.
Smile. When I first saw someone smiling in a yoga class my jaw dropped. One instructor even encouraged everyone to smile through the most difficult parts of class. I thought, this is supposed to be an intense spiritual, mental and physical work out, not a fun time full of optimism and grins. Or maybe it can be both? Over the last six months of doing yoga in San Diego I realized that yoga can be fun, exciting and one of the happiest hours of your day or week! I find myself smiling a lot in class now, especially when I am in some of the harder poses that I thought I would never be able to do, let alone smile in. Smiling is great for your heart, mind and soul! (I also hear it works less muscles that frowning, so I am sure the “work out face” takes even more muscles than that! Give your face a break and let it smile!)
Even though I am still most comfortable in Shavasana, and I’m still a novice at yoga in general, I have now learned a few personal key rules for my yoga practice, and it has given me confidence to be able to grow and do more. I’ve even taken hot yoga classes, and a hot yoga with weights class called Sculpt. It is insane, and I can’t do everything, but I still enjoy it…especially when it is over! I’ve even learned how to do this crazy inversion pose called Crow that I never thought I could do. And now my Crow is flying! Yoga has become something I enjoy doing on my own, but also enjoy doing with my family and my friends too!
Breathing, setting an intention and smiling have become part of my everyday life now, and each class gives me a different perspective on thinking, being, and living. Yoga feeds my body and soul in ways I never thought possible. I’m sure that stepping out of the studio into the San Diego sun helps that feeling a little, but whatever it is, it’s working! I’m the happiest I have been in my entire life doing yoga in San Diego!
Please share with us your experiences with yoga, fitness and finding inner peace.