I remember stepping into the yoga studio for the first time, the moment I stepped in, my body and mind immersed into a sea of tranquility, stillness and peace. Maybe it was all in my head, maybe it was the beautiful zen (or spa) music playing in the background at the perfect volume or maybe I knew that what I’m about to experience is going to challenge everything I thought I knew about ‘fitness’.
I’ve never felt more useless and exhausted after my first Bikram Yoga class, and trust me when I say I can endure some pretty tough exercising routines that make most people cower. The thought of me suffering through 26 postures in a heated room for 90 minutes, that never even crossed my mind! Needless to say, I suffered a further 48 hours post yoga because I challenged my body in ways that I never thought I needed to. I’m sure most people can relate to that bitter-sweet feeling of musle stiffness after some rigorous exercises, oh that sweet torture, but this was something quite different. In fact, I was experiencing stiffness in places I never even knew that I had used.
So what is yoga? What is this fabulous, miraculous form of exercise that I’m referring to? Simply, yoga is a mental, physical and spiritual practice or discipline that originated from India. With regular practice, you are able to control your mind and body, your breathing and your state of awareness. Research has shown that yoga improves flexibility, posture, increases blood flow, prevents degeneration diseases of joints and bones and the regular practice of yoga can increase your overall happiness. If I told you I’ve experienced all of the above, you would probably find me very questionable up to this point, so let me tell you a personal story.
Breathing, something that comes so naturally to us humans, we don’t even need to think about it in order to do it, sometimes we even take it for granted. At yoga, we are encouraged to breathe through the nose because it is healthier than breathing through the mouth for many reasons. The absorption of oxygen mostly occurs while we are exhaling and since the opening of the nose is smaller than the mouth, we exhale slower through the nose. This gives our bodies extra time to extract more oxygen. What’s more is that by monitoring and controlling our breathing, we can alter our heart rate, blood pressure and respond better to stress. One of the biggest things I struggled with during my first session of Bikram Yoga was my breathing. Trust me when I say doing yoga postures for 90min in a sauna type environment is no ordinary task, it takes great mental and physical stamina to get through the class without walking out, passing out or throwing up. When you’re in an environment that makes you uncomfortable or stressed, your body’s first reaction is to increase your heart rate and your breathing corresponds by inhaling through the mouth because it allows more oxygen into your body. What if I told you that by forcing yourself to breathe through your nose in that environment will change your life? Exaggerated? Not quite. By forcing yourself to breathe through your nose will not only lower your blood pressure, decrease your heart rate and it will bring your awareness back from the “pain” you’re experiencing to your breathing and your heart. Now four Bikram Yoga sessions in, I’m definitely no pro but in any situation, I find myself consciously breathing through my nose, which in turn calms me down.
So let’s give this a try (even better if you’re in a working environment), close your eyes and take in 10 deep breaths with your nose. Take control by inhaling deeply, hold for a split second and exhale with the same rhythm of control. Now focus on nothing else but your breathing and your heart. Empty out your thoughts and listen to your heart beat. Now open your eyes slowly and blink a few times. You should feel lighter and if that worked for you, head to Totalsports and get yourself a yoga mat. Set yourself a goal by going to yoga once a week and get ready to welcome a happier and healthier new you.