By Emily Gazzola, Contributing Writer
I recently took a hot yoga class for the first time. This was a new experience for me, someone who has only been practicing regularly for less than a year. Although I am not a huge fan of sweating, the class influenced my perception of yoga as a sport.
Upon entering, I was immediately surrounded in the packed, 105º room . To my left, a college wrestler did impressive handstands, while the woman to my right arrived last and seemed frazzled and uncomfortable in the class. I was in between the two extremes.
It’s time someone said it and my hot yoga class was the perfect example: Yoga is for everyone. How often in life are we able to devote a chunk of time to focus on syncing our mind and body? Yoga is a unique sport that can be practiced at different intensities and on different levels. There are modifications that can be applied to virtually any posture, guaranteeing a workout that is both vigorous and tailored to one’s specific level of ability. With all of the chaos that surrounds us every day, it is important to set aside time to focus on one’s body. Yoga is for athletes, dancers, runners, and seniors. Everyone can benefit from stretching his or her muscles. It prevents injury and just feels great!
Something I have come to learn about the practice of yoga is that it is both a mental and a physical challenge. I believe everyone should experience yoga because yoga is a metaphor for life. Even yogis who have practiced their entire lives will never achieve perfection. Yoga is so humbling in that everyone is working toward her/his own goals. Yogis acknowledge that everyone needs their own time to do that; some yogis will say that they worked on a particular posture for years. Years!
There is a common misconception about yoga, which should be dismissed. It seems that whenever the word is mentioned, instantly a picture of a perky girl clutching a yoga mat comes to mind. However, yoga is so much more than that. It is a vigorous exercise that has healing properties and positive effects on both the body and mind. There are many different branches of yoga that have deep historical and spiritual traditions.
One of the keys of practicing yoga well is learning how to quiet the mind even in times of great physical stress. I was once told that when you enter a new or especially challenging posture and your body begins to shake, it is your body’s way of ‘requesting strength.’ This idea struck me because it was a completely different perspective on exercise. It demonstrates the Eastern way of thinking about energy and balance that is essential to the yoga practice and refreshing to a Westerner. Pushing one’s body to the brink is not what yoga is about; it is constantly working to improve oneself in all capacities.
Yoga has positively impacted my own life in more ways than one, but I think the mental and spiritual takeaways are perhaps the most important lessons to be gained from yoga practice. In our lives we will never achieve perfection; there will always be someone on my left doing fancy inversions, just like there will always be someone on my right who can barely get into downward dog. It has taken me a long time to realize this life lesson: the ultimate goal is to find one’s own path towards achieving strength, balance, and positivity in all facets of life.
Try taking a yoga class. Breathe a little. Namaste.
P.S. If you’re interested in yoga now, there are many studios in the town of Saratoga, as well as yoga in Wilson chapel on Sundays as well as the Skidmore yoga club which meets three times a week with a private instructor. Additionally there are classes offered at the athletic center. Good luck!