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My Yoga Journey: What I’ve Learned

I recently saw a clip of Dana Delany being interviewed on the Steve Harvey show the day before she turned 60. She looks two decade younger than she is. Thankfully, Steve Harvey asked her what her secret was. Her response? She’s never been married, never had kids, does yoga everyday, and drinks lots of wine.

While I’m hoping points 1 and 2 will not be part of my life plan as I do want to get married and have kids, I am definitely on board to support points 3 and 4.

I always enjoyed yoga and wanted to be a better practitioner but YTT has helped me understand the philosophy of yoga and how it affects us, both on a physical and physiological plane. I’m much more passionate about yoga now that I can better understand it and know how much of a mental and spiritual journey it is, in addition to the physical. On a daily basis, I learn more and more benefits that regular yoga practice can bring. I am now a believer that everyone needs to embrace yoga as part of their life.

Yoga can increase your lung capacity, help those with asthma, help those with hypertension, or even release phlegm when you are sick depending on the pranayama you choose to practice. Yoga can help you have enviable abs and toned arms as a strong core and arms are the bedrock foundation to get into many advanced asanas and arm balancing postures. Yoga can also help you increase your fertility, have better skin, and balance your metabolism. There are no shortages of articles about why yoga is so ridiculously great, but here are five I’d like to highlight.

Helps you manage stressful situations:
Breathing techniques or pranayamas is one of the eight limbs of yoga. One pranayama known as Ujjayi breathing is recommended throughout your yoga practice to help you maintain slow and steady breathing and to help deepen into the final variations of the asanas. Thus, if you can apply this same mental aptitude to stressful situations at work or during life, you may feel better equipped to handle things instead of just panicking. During our daily meditation with breathing exercises, we learn to focus on our breath and forget about outside stimulants and noise pollution. So, if you can strengthen your mind to find calm and quiet during meditation and use ujjayi during your daily practice to help you sink, lengthen, or fold into your asanas, you can surely apply this to other difficult (read: stress inducing) issues you come across in life. The practice of yoga is also about bringing yourself into the present moment. So when you encounter a stressful situation, yoga helps you distinguish between what is within your control and what is beyond it. Yoga allows you to understand and focus on what you can control and let go of what you cannot control.

Helps you manage anxiety:
Sweating, increased heart rate, racing mind, high blood pressure, dilated pupils – these are all symptoms of being in a sympathetic or stressed state. If your body stays in this state of fight or flight for a prolonged time, it can cause your body to get sick. In addition to pranayamas and meditation to help you manage anxiety, there are also asanas that can help induce the parasympathetic or relaxed state. I can slip into the sympathetic state quite quickly because I am easily scared and have a long list of fears. Thus, it is important for someone like me to be conscious of when I start to panic and use yoga to help mitigate it. Fear can be debilitating and it’s important to know ways to self help and calm yourself down. Anxiety is a fear of something that hasn’t happened yet or regarding things in the future. Since yoga brings you to the present moment, it helps you to let go of worrying about things in the future and conversely, dwelling about things in the past.

Helps you have better sleep:
Since YTT, I am usually sleepy and ready for bed by 9 pm, a far cry from when I was working long hours and wouldn’t make it to bed until way past midnight. You can argue this isn’t really from yoga itself but a side effect from simply being exhausted from my daily hours of practice and theory, but you’d be wrong! Yoga teaches you the balance between the three gunas: sattvic for brightness and positive energy, rajasic for energy, change, and movement, and tamasic for sleepiness and rest. You begin to understand the impact of how to regulate your sleep patterns, how to schedule your daily activities, and how the foods you eat all help your body and mind to stay balanced which allows you to slow down and rest at the end of the day. Also, at the end of every yoga class, savasana or yoga nidra is an excellent technique for relaxation through mind-body therapy as your body goes to sleep, but your mind does not. Yoga nidra in particular, is a systematic form of guided relaxation that is as restorative as sleep, or perhaps even better! I often find myself drifting off during savasanas and it is not rare to hear fellow classmates snoring when yoga nidra is being practiced.

Helps keep your body mobile as you age:
I like to think of this as, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Have you seen older people have trouble bending down or reaching up to get something? It is common to lose flexibility as you age. For people with office jobs, it may be partly because your body doesn’t move as you sit in a chair every day for 8 hours. That is not natural, folks! As you become more familiar with asana practice, you will begin to understand all the different joints and muscles that are used and you will practice opening up your hips, retracting back your shoulder blades, or loosening your hamstrings. Daily stretching into postures will help you not only maintain, but improve your flexibility. Yoga also helps you build more strength and muscles, which in turn increases your bone density. Body-weight bearing poses like plank and downward facing dog will help decrease the risk of bone fractures as we age. In addition, as you grow older, the spine will round. That is why you see so many old people with hunched backs. Since I already have kyphosis, this is something that scares me! Regular yoga practice will help create space between the vertebrae and allow you to lengthen the spine. The time you invest in taking care of your body now, will be surely realized as you age.

Helps you connect with yourself:
Perhaps my favorite benefit is that when you do yoga, it’s really about setting aside time for yourself and to focus on nourishing your body and mind. In this increasingly digital world we live in, we are always plugged in. We are bombarded every minute with emails, phone calls, texts, social media updates, and so on. Even when you travel on planes or to remote parts of the world, you can still find wi-fi to connect. There is no longer a place or time when you can disconnect! Since so many of my friends and family are in New York, which is 12 hours behind Singapore, I feel like there is no block of time in my 24 hour daily cycle where my phone is quiet. But when you step inside a yoga class, you can disconnect from the world for that hour. There is no phone next to you delivering you an email from your boss you have to handle right away or messaging you a text from your friends that you need to respond to. Yoga classes create the space for you to really disconnect from the digital world and connect with yourself. When you practice yoga, it steadies the thoughts in the mind and your only focus is on your pranayamas or your asanas, not what you need to cook for dinner or what work deadline is coming up. It is your time to separate from the outside clutter and sensory overload in life and focus on YOU.

Yoga really is about understanding your body and healing from within. It’s a state of mind (through Bhakti and Karma yoga), a path to self discovery and self reflection (Jnana yoga), and a spiritual journey towards enlightenment (Raja yoga). It is also an elixir for maintaining health. As my yoga journey with YTT is coming to an end, I am grateful for everything my lead trainers, Jess and Nicole have opened up my eyes to. It was an obvious physical journey. But unexpectedly and happily, a tough and ongoing mental and spiritual journey as well. I’ve come so far from day one but know there is still so much growing and learning to be done. For those who don’t think much about yoga, I challenge you to take a YTT or at the very least start with a class. You may be surprised by how much you learn, especially about yourself. My yoga journey has been quite special, but it is far from over. I’ll keep you posted, IHA!

Lillian Cheng (200 Hour Hatha Vinyasa YTT)