Back to the Mat

Since my spring semester wrapped up a few weeks ago and I’ve been on summer break, I’ve been trying to take more time to practice self-care. Unfortunately, during the school year, my practice finds its way to the back burner, so now I get to make up for lost time!

Initially, I planned to fill my whole summer with work, picking up shifts and babysitting gigs. While I have been doing both of those, I decided to save myself some free time to hit the gym, grab lunch with friends, or kick back and watch Netflix (and respond with “yes” when the screen prompts me with “Are you still watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’?”). While I enjoy doing all of those things, I realized that I can only watch so much Netflix in one sitting before I get antsy. That’s when I decided I need to get back to the mat.

I first started doing yoga as a junior in high school. My yoga journey started out as a physician’s recommendation to participate in a research study. The study was hosted by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to determine the effectiveness of yoga, alongside other therapies, in the treatment of eating disorders. The study included two rounds of brain scans and bone density scans, three sessions of completing questionnaires, and—of course—yoga. For six months, I participated in yoga classes twice per week. It wasn’t long before I fell in love with the practice. Ask 100 yogis why they love yoga and you’ll receive 100 different answers. Likewise, I have my own perspective on the practice and what it offers to me.

I remember my first yoga class. It was a vinyasa style class (as it turned out, vinyasa classes weren’t approved for the study. Oops!). The lady next to me was more than twice my age, but stretching further than me and holding hard positions that I couldn’t even get into. Having finished this one class, I immediately decided that I hated yoga. It was too late, though; I’d already committed to six months of this. So, I went back later that week and took a different class. During this class, the teacher, who I’d later come to know very well, explained the “3 C’s of Yoga.” No comparison. No criticism. No competition. It turns out, that was exactly what I needed to hear. In reality, I didn’t hate yoga; I was simply discouraged. In fact, the less I fixated on the 3 C’s, the more I could focus on yoga and even start to love it too!

In yoga, breathing is very intentional. A good teacher will guide you into a breathing pattern that complements your movement in and out of poses. They may also introduce various types of breathing patterns, different from normal breathing, to either bring about lots of energy or to establish a sense of calm. No matter the timing or the technique, the focused breathing helps me to be mindful. When I practice yoga, I can divert my focus away from stressed or anxious thoughts, instead directing my attention toward breathing.

In addition to allowing me a reprieve from my anxiety, yoga helped me to cope with recovery from my eating disorder. At some point in the development of my eating disorder, I fell out of touch with my body. When I first started doing yoga, every position was uncomfortable because it triggered some type of issue that I had with body image. For example, in child’s pose, I’d cringe because I could feel my stomach squishing against itself and my thighs; I couldn’t wait to get out of the pose. Name a pose and I’d find a reason to be uncomfortable. After a while, though, there came a point where I either didn’t notice how my body squished and folded or noticed, but I didn’t care. Because of yoga, I reclaimed my body. Sure, some days my body image is sub-par; everyone has off-days. But, now my worst body image days are significantly better than my best days from the past.

Yoga has given me all of this and more. If you’re partaking in Self-Care Sunday, or plan to practice self-care sometime in the near future, I challenge you to try a yoga class. I’ll even help you pick a class style!

If you’re looking for a physical challenge, try vinyasa or hatha yoga.

If you’d like to relax while increasing your flexibility, try a yin class.

If you’re looking for deep relaxation and meditation (or quiet reflection), try a restorative class.

Remember, I hated my first yoga class (to no fault of the teacher or the nature of the class). Give it a fair chance! If you take one class and decide it’s not for you, try a different class style. If you’re worried that you’re “not flexible enough,” try it anyway, because contrary to popular belief, yoga isn’t all about flexibility. Just remember the 3 C’s and just do your best!