I will never forget walking into my first yoga class in Millburn, New Jersey. I was shocked to enter a mirrorless classroom; in place of the windows to self-deprecation were multiple empowering phrases and words on every wall. As a former Ballerina, the lack of structure and technicality in yoga was frustrating to me, and I tried performing every movement flawlessly. When it came time to attempt the Half Moon pose, requiring balancing on one leg while extending the other sideways at a 90-degree angle, my body shook.
My standing leg quivered beneath me as I lost balance and fell. Embarrassed, I aggressively repositioned my body back into the pose. Throughout my attempts and toppling, my teacher encouraged me to “go for the fall” and persevere. I felt liberated by the realization that in yoga, I do not need to appear perfect. I am here to show up for myself. I can focus on my breathing and tune in to my body and mind, a task so consuming it wards off intrusive thoughts.
Yoga trains students to practice mindfulness. In a typical yoga class, students will be instructed to notice their breathing or be in tune with their bodies adjusting to every pose. This establishes the mind-body connection. This connection can transfer into a classroom or an office setting. When sitting at a desk students may notice their posture and improve how they show up to the world.
“As we train our attention, we’ll begin to notice our posture throughout the day, not just on the yoga mat,” said Stephen Cope, yoga and mindfulness teacher in Massachusetts, in his book “Yoga and the Quest for the True Self.”
Yoga is not a one-size-fits-all. There are variations and modifications for every pose to accommodate all skill levels. The practice utilizes blocks, blankets and straps to achieve benefits in every stretch. Students can work their way up to eliminating blocks that make stretches easier and set achievable goals.
The stretching poses are deceivingly easy.
“You actually have to keep up with the poses and stay balanced for long periods of time. I quickly realized I wouldn't be meditating the whole class, ” said Ava Thompson, a sophomore journalism major who took a yoga class at Eppley. Standing strong in the lunged warrior pose helps ground your stance and generates feelings of empowerment. The sun salutation pose of extending your arms, bending down at a 180-degree angle, transitioning to a downward dog and an upright stance shifts between strengthening and stretching.
“Yoga has been a great opportunity to keep up with my stretching and strengthening practices. I learned my whole life as a ballerina and I find it to be a really meditative practice,” said Ella Rosenthall, a sophomore community health major at the University of Maryland. Every yoga session concludes with everyone's favorite pose, the Corpse Pose. This pose enables the student to lie on their back and focus on their breathing. It allows for meditation and relaxation after a challenging yoga class. In this pose, students are instructed to feel the weight of their body sinking into the mat, and reflect on their experience.
Yoga is proven to alleviate back pain according to the National Center for Complementary Integrative Health. A trial of 228 adults with chronic back pain was randomized to 12 weekly classes of yoga or a self-care book. The study found that yoga classes were effective in reducing symptoms of chronic low back pain, and had long-lasting benefits.
These known benefits have caused yoga to increase in popularity over the years, with more studios adapting trendier renditions of hot yoga or power yoga classes. Despite yoga’s newfound popularity, the practice has been around for thousands of years, rooted in Indian philosophy. In the age of constant social media stimulation and external pressures, more and more people are picking up yoga, hoping to reap its relaxing benefits.