Yoga, a practice originating in India about 5,000 years ago, has been taking off in the United States in the past decade. With its purpose being to increase self-awareness and improve overall mental and physical health and having many benefits tied to it, such as reduced stress and general relaxation, yoga has enticed people from varying lifestyles and backgrounds to practice it. Now, about 1 in 10 Americans practice yoga, making the United States one of the top countries where the discipline is practiced, according to Forbes. However, is practicing yoga really as beneficial as it is hyped up to be?
I wanted to experience the esteemed benefits yoga could bring into my life during the pandemic, so this past month, I had decided to incorporate it as a daily activity. In the past year, being a student during the pandemic has not been the easiest experience and has brought forth its own set of challenges. With many of my classes online, especially with the amount of additional coursework professors have given and with COVID-19 restrictions in place, I have been stressed, and it is difficult to find the motivation to be as active as I was before the pandemic. The majority of my day consists of sitting at my desk: attending classes via Webex, holding or going to events via Google Hangouts, and occasionally being able to socialize with many of my friends solely via Discord and FaceTime. Almost everything has been transitioned to a virtual setting, unfortunately leading to a more stationary lifestyle. Many of my friends had recommended doing yoga and claimed that it had helped them feel more relaxed, physically and mentally. My hope by practicing yoga was that it would help relieve some stress and the muscle aches I had been experiencing being stationary for most of the day.
The first few days came with the challenge of incorporating it within my schedule. When going to the gym I liked to set aside about an hour for it, so I thought I could do the same for yoga. However, during the first three yoga sessions I felt tired within 30 minutes and was not putting in as much effort for the last half and quickly found that this method was not working. Instead, I decided to shorten each session from 30 to 20 minutes and have them one to two times a day.
Though this system I had worked out had been effective for about two weeks, I started to find myself losing interest in my yoga sessions. I was just getting through each yoga session, waiting for the 20 minutes to be done, instead of relaxing and de-stressing. A friend of mine suggested looking into more specific types of yoga videos with different activity and difficulty levels to change things up, instead of the general beginner yoga videos I was following. I started to target my yoga sessions to specific things I wanted to get out of my session. For instance, if I was having some lower back pain, I would find a video targeting that and have a session focused on it. I also started to do some socially distanced yoga sessions with some other people in my dorm. These changes not only made me much more motivated to do these sessions, but also more interesting and personalized.
As I continued these yoga sessions, I found myself to feel better physically. Though I would not say I am physically ready to audition for Cirque du Soleil, I will note that the yoga sessions have improved many of the problems I had been facing at the beginning, including pain around the neck, shoulders, spine and lower back. However, they have also allowed for some muscle strengthening, which I find to be a bonus since going to the gym has been a bit difficult during the pandemic. Unfortunately, I found that I would only feel destressed for a short period of time after my sessions. It’s likely that the reason for this would be that the majority of the yoga sessions I sought out were more tailored to help with the physical aspects of health rather than the mental ones. In the future, if I were to properly de-stress, it would be better to incorporate sessions that involved more relaxation and breathing exercises.
I would say this experience exceeded my expectations in improving my physical health, and although it did little for lowering my stress, I would say that steps were taken in the right direction. I will likely continue to have yoga sessions and will even recommend it to other students especially as it seems that things will continue to stay virtual.
Click here to read the rest of the lifestyle articles.