I’m sure you’ve witnessed millennials walking around in leggings, hipsters burning incense, and ads targeting women to “zen out.” What do these things have in common? Likely, you’ve associated these things with the practice of yoga. But chances are you don’t have a full understanding, or perhaps even have a misunderstanding, of yoga and the ideals behind this sacred practice.
My personal journey with yoga started in college with an elective course. Long story short, that one class has now turned into me accepting a beautiful opportunity to turn my passion into a way of life through yoga teacher training with a studio in Rochester, Minn., called Yoga Tribe MN. This studio has been unbelievably welcoming to me, especially as I adjust to my new body after having a baby.
Mayo Clinic describes yoga as a mind-body practice that brings together physical and mental disciplines to help achieve peacefulness of body and mind that is proven effective in stress management and anxiety. While there are many styles of yoga, I will be studying the Prana Vinyasa™ style of yoga that was developed by Shiva Rea and who directly taught my instructor, Heather Ritenour-Sampson, owner and founder of Yoga Tribe MN. A quick breakdown of Prana Vinyasa™ Yoga gives us an English translation of the meaning: prana – life force/breath, vinyasa – cycle/flowing, yoga – to unify. In short, this style of yoga is focused on the breath matching with continuing movement.
At this point, I’m assuming you’re thinking, “great, but where is the research to back the benefits of this?” Besides the aforementioned Mayo Clinic take on the practice, several studies have looked at the health benefits of yoga both physically and mentally. One such study examined the physical benefits within older adults and how yoga decreased fall risks and improved sleep quality (American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2017). As a result of this study, it is recommended that that occupational therapists use yoga to address concerns related to normal aging. Another study focused on using yoga programs within urban school settings to see the changes within students’ perceptions of mental and physical benefits (Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2016). Six focus groups were used in this study and children were followed for one year to understand their mental and physical health and the change that occurred. The results from this study led to the suggestion that schools integrate school-based yoga programming.
Ok, so great! Yoga works. Now you’re thinking, “I don’t have a yoga body, it’s just gentle stretching, etc.,” right? I’d like to shatter those misconceptions. Especially after giving birth to my first child, I am NOT in any exceptional shape. The point of yoga practice is to start your journey wherever you are in life! This is what I was so enamored with at Yoga Tribe. Despite my awkward new shape, no one gave me a side-eye and I certainly did not feel judged by my abilities, or lack thereof, or physical appearance.
Gentle stretching?! Puh-leez. Of course there are variations of this (i.e., restorative yoga), but I guarantee if you take a solar vinyasa class at Yoga Tribe you will be in for a rather vigorous physical and mental workout! You will be challenged on stamina, strength, and flexibility. This somewhat goes hand-in-hand with people thinking yoga is only good because of the physical benefits AKA a hot bod. In reality, you are so engrossed within your own world you will come to realize things about yourself that you never knew! I’ve had epiphanies happen to me during classes and breakthroughs that changed the course of my life.
Lastly, some people perceive yoga as a “crazy, weird” religion or that you have to embody this perfect lifestyle of veganism, no alcohol, etc. While there are Hindu references, these are more of a guidance/metaphors rather than a full-on worship or religious sermon happening. I’ve never felt forced into anything, and as someone who doesn’t align with any religion, that is extremely important to me. Do you have to stop eating animal products and alcohol? Absolutely not! Many yogis gravitate towards this lifestyle once they delve into their practice, but it is by no means a pre-requisite to experiencing this life-changing practice.