Ah, yoga. Thank you for changing the way I see myself. I was nine years old the first time I called myself fat. I remember it distinctly. I was skipping in the front yard when I looked down and saw my stomach bounce and said to myself, “I wonder if I’ve always been this fat.” In the years that followed, I hated my body. I was desperate to change. I tried running but hated it. I tried lifting weights but I hated that too. Exercise became like punishment to me. The more I ate, the stronger my urge to run became. The more I ran, the more I hated it. I had all but given up on exercising and eating well.
Disordered eating and distorted body image ruled my life. I didn’t think I would ever love myself. Until last year, when I stepped into a dark, heated room unsure of what to expect. I was trying out my first hot yoga class. Throughout the 90 minute sweat session I felt angry, self-conscious and confused. I spent most of the class wondering how my classmates could physically do this, and so when the class was over, I vowed to never return.
But when I got home that night, something changed. My body started to feel good. I was craving a big bowl of veggies instead of my usual pasta with cheese. I slept through the night for the first time in a long time. So I went back the next day. And a year later, I’m still going back. Yoga has changed everything for me.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine was telling me about the concept of keystone habits. She explained them as core habits that, like dominos, ripple out and affect every aspect of our lives. Yoga is one of these keystone habits.
Yoga encourages healthy eating.
When I’m done with yoga, my body feels so good that I don’t want to pump it full of toxins. The hot yoga that I practice is such an intense form of detoxification that I feel brand new each time I leave the room. Hot yoga requires that you be hydrated. You can, of course, eat whatever you want before practice. But there is a huge difference in what you’re able to do and how good you feel when you eat a salad verses a pint of ice cream. (Yes, I would know.)
Yoga encourages a healthy sleep cycle.
We’ve all heard it said that exercise gives you more energy. Perhaps that’s because you sleep so much better when you’re exercising regularly! Each night after practice, I can’t wait to hit the sheets. My quality of sleep has improved tenfold as I’ve gotten deeper into the practice.
Yoga encourages healthy community.
When I committed to a studio, I committed to the people that practiced there. The yogis I’ve met this year have blown every stereotype I never knew I believed right out of the water. I’ve met businessmen, teachers, mothers and world travellers. By getting to class early, going regularly and hanging around after class, community is built organically and beautifully.
Yoga encourages healthy body image and self-love.
As I mentioned earlier, I started to hate my body at a young age. But over the past year of pushing my body to its’ limits, I’ve learned that there is infinitely more that my body can do than it can’t. I’ve slowly begun to fall in love with this body that serves me.
As you watch, your body will transform. Slowly at first, and then all at once. I don’t mean the kind of transformation that trims your waist or shrinks jean size, but the kind of transformation that takes you from barely being able to lift your leg to holding it over your head for a full minute. As your body transforms, your mind will follow. Watch as your thoughts become kinder. Listen as your body speaks. Yoga teaches grace, patience and perseverance.
Yoga kicks anxiety to the curb.
While I’ve always struggled with anxiety, it has never been as severe as it was around the time that I was first dipping my toe in the yogi waters. I’d always heard that exercise can help alleviate anxiety, but when you hate running and jumping as much as I do, the gym only seemed to further disturb my anxious soul. By attending yoga a few times a week, my anxiety has decreased exponentially. The combination of the heat, breathing techniques and physical work has calmed my mind as much as it’s toned my arms.
Maybe yoga isn’t your thing… and that’s okay. But there’s something out there that will work for you. Try it all until you find your fit. If you believe, like I did, that you “just hate working out,” maybe you just haven’t found your thing yet. Try cycling, rock-climbing, exercise DVDs, pilates and ballet. You’ll find that as you fall in love with what your body is capable of, you’ll fall in love with your body itself. This keystone habit will trick you into thinking it’s just one small task while it sneakily affects just about everything in your life for the better.
If you ask me though, yoga is for everyone! Find a free class near you, bring a friend and step into that room. Maybe it will be your first and last time, or maybe you’ll find yourself back again and again until one day, you realise that everything has changed.