The Benefits of Yoga

My first yoga class scared the crap out of me. In all seriousness I wasn’t quite sure if I would ever utter the word yoga again, much less TRY it again. Let me clarify by saying it was a HOT yoga class, or Bikram Yoga, and the studio was at a suffocatingly warm 106 degrees for the hour and half I was there. I remember staring at the clock and praying my misery would soon be over. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think… my water was almost gone… and I felt like I was starting to see things that weren’t even there. I was staring around at the yogis in the room with me–they were flowing through the moves with excellent poise and strength–all while dripping sweat as if in a sauna. Well, we pretty much were in a sauna, or at least that is how I felt. I laid in the corpse pose, called Savasana, for a good portion of the class. The instructor told us to return to this pose if we felt tired, weak or nauseous. I felt all three, after about 10 minutes in. Wow, what a memory.

Well, I did go back. I felt so amazingly wonderful the next day I HAD to experience it again. It was like walking on a cloud. I had the most energy I’d ever felt and I slept better than I had in a long time. I also recalled the instructor congratulating me on getting through my first class, which she claimed was always the hardest. Next time I would know what to expect and pull through much more easily she promised me. I certainly struggled through my first couple of weeks, months even, but pretty soon I was one with my fellow yogis–flowing and moving through each pose with strength, determination and clarity of mind.

Yoga is just as much a mental activity as it is physical. As the months went on I became stronger in my poses and was able to push my body and my mind a bit harder each time. I continued with the Bikram Yoga and pretty soon the heat itself was almost addicting. I began to crave the 90 minute sweat–releasing my body of toxins and chemicals. The heat also loosens the muscles and allows for the yogi to go deeper into the poses. I was getting better and better and the more I practiced the more I received the benefits.

The benefits of yoga were spiritual, mental and physical. There is no other way to explain it. I learned to release my burdens and my stress instead of holding them in. My concentration and focus improved. My sleep habits and energy level improved. Not to mention, an agonizing pain I’ve had in my knee joint since I was a teenager completely disappeared.

In high school I was diagnosed with PVNS–Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis, a joint problem that commonly affects the knee and other major joints. In this condition the tissue in the joint becomes enlarged and swollen, causing extreme pain and swelling and affecting movement. The enlarged tissue can only be treated with surgery, in which the tissue is removed–but almost always comes back a few years later. The summer after my 19th birthday, and right after my first surgery, my Orthopedic Surgeon politely informed me I would likely have to have knee surgery every five years or so for the rest of my life. The only other possible option is radiation treatment, and even that was still being studied. Worst case scenario, I might need a knee replacement before my 30th birthday. Wow–insert shock factor! I grumbled and endured the surgery, 6 weeks of bedside recovery and 2 months of physical therapy–what a fun way to spend a summer in college. Over the next few years I visited my doctor for annual shots of cortisone to reduce swelling or inflammation when it would occur, continuing to postpone another surgery. My last visit was in May of 2008 (I started Yoga in Aug. 2008) and I haven’t been back since. I can’t say for certain that yoga has CURED me, but it has absolutely alleviated my symptoms and my knee pain. What a blessing it has been.

Yoga gives me something to focus all of my energy on. Each class is completely different depending on how I am feeling mentally. If the concentration isn’t there, the postures are not there; no matter how much strength I have it also takes balance, coordination and patience. My best yoga practice is when I release all of my mental stress and tension at the entrance to the yoga room, and allow my body to physically release that stress and tension during practice.

Yoga to me is a little gift from God that He dropped on my doorstop one summer afternoon–try this He said, it will make you feel better. And better doesn’t even begin to describe it.

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