Yoga was invented so women could walk around in cute outfits and exercise without messing up their nails, right? Well, wrong. Yoga is a physical practice that can be transformed into whatever you need yoga to be.
What does that even mean? Yoga classes are rarely the same from one another, whether it be different styles of yoga, to different studios, to different instructors at those studios. We attend these classes and take from them what we need in that moment, whether it be flexibility, meditation, breath work, strength training, or taking a nap in the middle of the day.
While yoga is a physical exercise type of class, what you choose to do or not do is all up to you, and there are variations for any and every pose to make sure you get the benefits without pushing too far past your limitations. There are classes where I have seen people just lay on the ground with their props and meditate while the rest of the class took place.
Yoga is not a set rules of right and wrong, except when it comes to not hurting yourself, but besides that little detail, no one can come up to you and say you are doing yoga “wrong”.
I thought yoga was for peaceful hippies or for physically fit people who could balance the whole class on just their hands. My first class could be described as thinking: “I should go home, I can’t keep up with these people, they’re laughing at me.” Yoga is a judgement-free arena to work on and focus on one of the most important people in your life: yourself.
Yoga gave me a deep appreciation for myself, what I could and could not do, and making sure I dedicated time to think of why, not just how or when. Yoga instructors often ask us to set an intention for our class, and that really can be anything: working on perfecting a specific pose, honoring your body when you need to rest, or taking that time to reflect on if your life is going in the direction you want, and what you can do to alter your life’s journey.
Slow down! This is just exercise, right? Well, if I asked, I probably mean no, it’s not.
Yoga is NOT:
Yoga is for breaking limitations of our minds and bodies, whether on a small or large scale. Yoga may not change your life, but it could, if that’s where your intention lies. These limitations could just be finally bending over to touch your toes, or finding the time to honor your body with physical activity.
I have never felt that I needed to be of a specific religious belief to practice yoga. Religion has never been pushed on me at any of the studios or classes I have attended. How you think of yoga and what it must say relies on you, and no one can force beliefs into your head.
When it comes to comparing myself to the more experienced yogis, or those who are cross-training, I remember that I need to be what is best for me, and not compete with my fellow classmates. I have attended classes with segments dedicated to arm balances, and cannot do one. Instead, I work on building strength in my arms and core, and congratulate those beside me achieving a pose for the first time, but never do I punish or ridicule myself, nor does anyone else.
Yoga has many forms, and those forms may have many branching forms beyond that. My favorite style of class is called vinyasa, a combination of flowing through yoga poses while focusing on your breath. These classes can be gentle in nature, to incorporating harder poses for longer amounts of time to achieve some serious muscle work.
Hatha yoga, from my experience, is mostly breath work while holding gentle poses as breath-work takes center stage. I like a more physical challenge personally, but we often give our breathing little to no focus, and this style should not be overlooked.
Yin yoga can be used for deeper stretches and core work as you hold poses from 3 to 5 minutes each without pushing yourself too deep past your level of comfort. Yoga is about pushing limits if that is what you want it to be, but we all achieve splits and backbends in our own time, if at all.
Yoga nidra is a guided meditation. Most yoga classes begin with basic warm-ups and breathing, followed by the class itself, and end with shavasana (corpse pose). Shavasana ends the practice for us to absorb the benefits of our class, meditate and relax as our class ends. Yoga nidra is like shavasana for 30 minutes or more, which studies show can be the equivalent of 2 to 4 hours of sleep.
Yoga classes can even be targeted at different age groups or factions of life. Prenatal classes offer modifications as different poses become dangerous during pregnancy. If you want to attend yoga but are unable to find a babysitter, there are classes that are specifically made for your child to come with you!
Find traditional classes too difficult due to physical conditions or being of older age? Chair yoga can offer great benefits without the need to keep getting all the way down on the floor. Find a yoga class that speaks to you on a personal level, do you want to cross train with a focus on flexibility? Maybe you want yoga to be your sole source of strength exercise? That’s for you to decide, not me.
Trying different yoga classes and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t is all a part of the experience: even different teaching styles may make or break a class for you. If you are new to yoga, you should show up to class with a mat, though studios offer mats for you to use. Having your own mat has the benefits of that mat being what you need, whether it be thicker due to sensitive knees or other factors.
Props are usually provided, such as straps if you cannot reach far enough (which is something I still cannot do in every pose), blankets for extra padding, or blocks for support. A water bottle can also be useful, when I first started yoga I tended to chug water and get a refill in the middle of class.
Wear clothes that are comfortable, not trendy, or too tight on the body. Yoga pants can be great, but if sweat pants or gym shorts feel better to you, then that’s what you need. You want to be wearing clothes that don’t get you instantly overheated, while being roomy enough for all that stretching. No shoes required! Yoga socks do exist though, if you need extra traction for those balancing poses. Something I should consider.
Overall, yoga is great for the mind, body, and sense of community. But most importantly, yoga is transformative in that it can become whatever you need it to be. It can be a form of stress relief, to an excuse to leave the house. Form your own observations by trying yoga out today!
Meredith Schneider is a senior Mass Communications Public Relations major at the University of South Florida. Currently, she is interning with Green Locus Yoga, Meredith gets to combine her love for writing with her love of yoga! You can follow Meredith on Twitter.