I’m a fitness enthusiast. I’ve explored many different forms of exercise – ranging from your typical aerobics class to indoor cycling and weight lifting. I’m an avid runner and can attest to the fact that exercise ignites the endorphins and leaves you with a “runner’s high.”
However, it wasn’t until I took my first yoga class more than 10 years ago that I discovered exercise not only promotes my physical and mental wellbeing, but it has a profound effect on the health of my spirituality as well.
I was born and raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school and went to church up to six days a week. Going to church wasn’t a choice. It was an expectation set forth by my parents, who’s own parents set the same expectation for them. As I got older, the time I spent at church lessened and my spirituality dwindled along with it. Without the devoted time at church each week, I was praying less and having fewer conversations with God.
Setting foot on my yoga mat reawakened my spirituality. I heard whispers about how yoga can connect you to a higher power or divine energy. But what did that mean? If standing on my head brought me closer to God then so be it. But when I began my yoga practice, I was only hoping to mold my body into unique postures and eventually become more flexible. These physical transformations did happen over time, but the spiritual benefits that yoga gifted me far exceed the physical ones.
I immediately embraced the vibe of yoga. The heated room hovering at 105 degrees invigorated me. The music streaming from the speakers created an overall tranquil, yet energetic mood. I appreciated being in a room filled with other bodies eager to move and break a sweat. I enjoyed the harmony of these bodies moving in sync like a choreographed dance.
Soon after my first few classes, I observed a shift. Each time I left the studio space I felt renewed, cleansed and lighter. A calm poured over me that can only be described as complete serenity. I noticed my mind hadn’t traveled outside the room during practice. An entire 60 minutes had passed and I hadn’t once reflected upon my to-do list, my grocery list or any list for that matter. How was this possible?
My yoga mat provided a quiet space from the chaos in my head. This quiet space allowed me to simply be present. The practice taught me to bring my focus inward and to my breath – observing the quality of my breaths and the length and depth of my breaths. With time, I carefully learned to connect my breath to my movements. In effect, this provided the freedom to focus on the right here and right now. My mind wasn’t persuaded to travel outside of the room.
Surrendering to the present moment cleared the path to my spiritual growth. I began praying on my yoga mat. I didn’t plan for this, but I was speaking to God – asking for what I needed, offering gratitude for the blessings I’ve received and having unscripted conversations with Him. The yoga studio in essence became my church.
Surrendering to the present moment cleared the path to my spiritual growth.
While I’m not kneeling in a pew during yoga class, I’m brought to my knees multiple times during practice. Whether it be in Camel Pose, a kneeling backbend pose that opens the heart and stretches the entire front of the body, or while finding stillness in Hero’s Pose, a basic yoga pose that aids in calming and focusing the mind for meditation, I’m continually in a position of devotion offering bounds of gratitude to the universe.
My hands are brought together in prayer at my heart’s space too many times to count during a 60-minute practice. Prayer can often be found in the shape of an intention, one I place for myself at the beginning of class, asking for what I need or desire. My intention almost always speaks directly to God.
At the end of each yoga class, students are guided into Savasana, the final yoga pose of class which allows you to completely surrender and give rest to the body and mind. Lying on my back, eyes closed, legs comfortably spread and arms resting by my side, I let go. It’s a moment of pure bliss. My heart and soul are connected and I feel closer to my higher power during this time than I do any other time of the day.
Similar to a final blessing offered at a traditional church service, a blessing is given at the end of every yoga class. This blessing comes in the form of a “Namaste” – the Sanskrit word meaning “I bow to you.” These last few moments of class allow for reflection on your practice and your intention. It’s the opportunity to silently give gratitude – to yourself for making it to your mat, and to the instructor and other yogis with whom you shared the studio space. I also offer my final piece of gratitude to God. I thank Him for giving me a body that is capable of doing yoga. I give thanks for His guidance, for His fortitude and for my life full of blessings. Afterall, perhaps it was Him that held my hand and guided me to my yoga mat in the first place.
Tips for starting a yoga practice:
- Let go of expectations – Arrive on your yoga mat with an open heart and an open mind. Be receptive to the experience and what it may offer you.
- Shop yoga instructors – The same way you shop health care providers, hair stylists, etc. You will connect more with some instructors than others. It may be the sound of their voice or even their music playlist. Try a variety of classes with different instructors to find one you connect with most.
- Remember, practice not perfection – It’s called a yoga practice for a reason. Yoga is a journey. Like anything in life, the more you practice, the more you improve. Enjoy the journey.
Photo by Aamir Suhail.