I first fell in love with yoga practices in France. I was an exchange student at the time, and we were encouraged to sign up for extracurricular courses in the afternoons. I chose yoga and modern dance. It was the first time I learned to direct my attention within my body and learn to listen and understand its silent language. Although I struggled to understand the directions flowing in graceful French, I was able to follow along with the movements. I became fascinated with my breathing, discovering to my surprise that I didn’t know how to breath correctly. I also learned to use my breathing to release tensions, sink deeper into positions and relax my body consciously. I discovered the limits of my flexibility and witnessed my body gradually loosening, lengthening and becoming stronger.
Though I could not remember the long sequences of movements in the class, I had soon memorized a yogic warmup known as the sun salutation and I began to integrate it into my daily morning routine. It soon replaced my need for coffee to wake up – rather with just 5 minutes of the vigorous sun salutation exercise, my entire body felt revitalized and wonderfully stretched and strengthened. It has remained part of my morning routine to this day.
When I returned from France, my friends and family had the impression that I had grown taller. I was already twenty, so I doubt that I was still actually growing in height. Rather, I think that as my posture became more aligned, it allowed my spine to lengthen. As I continued practicing, I found that chronic issues I had struggled with throughout my teen years, such as anxiety, chronic digestive issues and symptoms of chronic fatigue that had lingered after a series of illnesses I had had as a teenager, simply evaporated and disappeared. I felt lighter, more dynamic and energized, and the changes were permanent.
Most importantly, yoga helped me to tune into my own body and learn to listen to it. I found that even my cravings changed, as I began to feel the need for foods that were lighter, simpler and healthier.
Although I had tended to struggle as a child with numerous colds, strep throat, ear infections and flus throughout the winter, after a few months of yoga practice – I noticed that I went through an entire season without falling ill. Indeed, it is now a rare occurence that I catch a cold – despite daily contact with kindergarten children and their runny noses! My eyesight also improved – from a minus 6 to minus 1.75. I attribute this to the practices of “half-bath”, which includes splashing water on the eyes, as well as to the yogic self-massage done at the end of a session which includes many pressure points around the eyes.
Most importantly, after a few months of practice, I noticed my mind gradually settling into a more peaceful and harmonious state. When I first began yoga classes, if the teacher proposed a short meditation at the end, it seemed that the restlessness of my mind flitting around like a moth was heightened under the magnifying lens of the quietness in the room. I felt about as far from inner peace as one could possibly be. However, in time, something began to subtly shift within and soon I found myself curious and drawn to introspective practices, and interestingly, my mind was more easily stilled than before. I only discovered later, when studying “Biopsychology” – Shrii Shrii Anandamurtii’s writings on the relationship between glands, cakras and the mind – that indeed, yoga asanas were designed in order to prepare the mind to be still for meditation.
At this point, yoga asanas have become such a part of life for me that if for some reason I cannot do them in the morning – it makes me feel just as odd as if I were to skip brushing my teeth. They make me feel alive, fresh, energized and ready to face the day. When I practice in the evening, the days tensions and tiredness melt away and I feel renewed and relaxed. I am so grateful to have encountered yoga asanas. They help me to stay connected with my own body and develop an intuitive understanding from within. As I have learned to inhabit my body more fully, naturally and spontaneously I have found that I am then also able to experience and enjoy life more thoroughly.