I am simply not a flexible person. It’s a fact. I can touch my toes, but that’s about the extent of my ability. And because of that, I never thought I would find myself approaching yoga in any form other than as a joke. Nevertheless, a little over a month ago, I challenged myself to attempt this mysterious exercise.
After my first online class, I was surprised that I had discovered a fulfilling and satisfying approach to exercise. I’m a very practical person, and I don’t buy into a lot of esoteric mysticism, crystals or auras, though I do see the appeal. I have tried meditation before, but I ultimately found it uninspiring.
Yoga, however, clicked for me.
I first tried yoga completely on a whim. It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t want to go for a run or do boring bodyweight exercises in my room. I’ve still been nervous to go to the gym and risk catching COVID-19, so I try to limit my visits as much as possible. Besides that, I enjoy trying new things and had been looking for a different, engaging form of exercise that I could perform alone in quarantine. I don’t own a yoga mat, so I rolled out a towel on the floor of my cramped apartment and looked up the UMD Fitness YouTube page.
It’s unlike any other activity I’ve attempted, different from solitary sports such as surfing and different from team sports such as basketball. From the few classes that I’ve taken led by the University of Maryland’s fitness instructors, I’ve realized that it not only works your body but also your mind — and that’s special.
UMD Fitness offers two versions of yoga online, both of which I’ve attempted: Yoga Flow and Yoga Strength. In person, there’s also Restorative Yoga and Guided Meditation, Empowered Yoga and Yoga Beginner. Now that I’m fully vaccinated, I intend to attend Yoga Beginner.
Yoga Flow, which involves quicker transitions between poses, is more dynamic than Yoga Strength, which requires participants to sustain poses for longer periods of time. My favorite class is Yoga Strength with Grace D., since she tends to remind the class of mindfulness. She points out specific muscles holding tension — which I usually don’t notice on my own — and then directs the class on how to release it.
However, all instructors emphasize the importance of your breath. In this way, yoga works my muscles like other workouts do but provides a unique challenge for the mind: keeping calm during the exercise.
Don’t get me wrong, yoga is way more physically demanding than I assumed it would be. I often can’t keep up with the instructor and have to take short breaks. After my first class, I was sweating so much that I thought I hadn’t been doing it right.
My body strains to maintain the difficult poses and motions shown by the instructors, but their reminders to breathe allow my mind to concentrate in a peculiar way. I don’t think about my homework, or friends, or lunch or music; I’m present in the moment, thinking about my body and the strength required to complete the positions.
Yoga undoubtedly helps me think about my day a little differently. After a yoga class, not only do I get the feeling of a good workout, but I also feel mentally refreshed. The combination of physical exercise with mental relaxation is satisfying. Sure, I feel ridiculous for most of the class, but a part of the experience is letting those kinds of anxieties dissipate.
I’m still very much a beginner. The poses sometimes feel awkward or unnatural — something I hope will fade with more practice. Nevertheless, yoga is the perfect way to release stress while still being productive.
If you’ve thought about trying it out, I strongly recommend you do. In the end, even if it doesn’t quite fit your needs, it’s still a workout. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a healthier mind and body, even if cow pose is a little embarrassing.