This post was written by Emily Wheeler and is published as part of our blog exchange with Tar Heel Tone Up.
I fell in love with yoga two years ago when I attended my first yoga class on campus as a group fitness class through campus rec. The instructor had an obvious love for yoga, but also for teaching in general, which was fitting because she was an education major. I admit that I always imagined yoga classes as a place for meditative “hippie-types” who were disgusted by meat and loved to say “owmmm.” What I discovered instead is that yoga is powerful in a way that you never understand until one day, you allow yourself to let go of all of your notions, assumptions, and judgments about yoga and just let yourself sink into it with the real intention of discovering what it has to offer you. (I also learned that sometimes you can do yoga to hip hop/pop music if you’re just not in a very mellow mood that day.)
In yoga, I find that the amount of focus that it requires for me to think about my breath and the many sensations happening in my muscles allows me to let go of thinking about anything else. No matter how stressed I am or how caught up in the expectations of life I become, I can come back to remembering what really matters within an hour with yoga. Although it might sound strange, for me and many others, yoga is just as much a mental or spiritual experience as it is physical—it offers me the opportunity to step out of the world by reverting into my own body and my own mind. Yoga reminds me to be the best that I can be, to appreciate life and my body, and to do the things that make me happy.
I love that in a matter of months, doing yoga regularly drastically improved my strength and balance in a way that is still kind to my body. So often, other forms of exercise feel like they’re beating my body up and leave me with sore knees and aching muscles for days. Yoga, while it still leaves my upper body sore sometimes, feels much more gentle to my joints and muscles.
Yoga is also a type of exercise that I can do at any time of day: it’s a great way to start off my morning or I can do it late at night without worrying about needing time to calm down before I can sleep. I like to attend classes or use online videos because I like the guidance of an instructor talking in the background the entire time. At the very end of every yoga class I’ve ever attended, you end in savasana, also called “corpse pose” or “final resting pose.” In this position, you are laying flat on your back as you try to progressively relax every muscle in your body to find total release. It is always amazing to me how much tension I hold in all of my muscles without realizing it until I actively focus on relaxing them. I even notice a lot of tension in my face as I try to relax (which could explain why sometimes people think I’m angry when I’m really just focused on something.)
I love yoga because after an hour of intentionally focusing on my breathing and movement, I can melt into the floor in savasana and it feels like pure peace. No matter how frustrating my day has been or how exhausted I am, I can let all of that tension go for a few minutes and finally feel like me again. It’s a feeling of such relaxation and relief that I can’t even put it into words, but it makes the entire class or video worth it, even after I was tempted to quit multiple times within a single hour. If you’ve never tried yoga, all of these descriptions may sound nearly comical, but if you try it with an open mind one day, you may discover, as I did, that yoga isn’t what you expected at all.