Don’t Namaste Away: Yoga Can Improve Your Wellbeing
Updated: Mar 3
By: Mia Molinelli
Yoga is a practice of physical body movement, effectively helping the practitioner become more limber, aiding in focus through intentional breathing, and relaxing the mind and body. #UNLITTERyourmind, find peace in the current moment.
During the third-century BCE, textual references to yoga increased exponentially in Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist sources. It was during this initial burst that a majority of the perennial principles of yoga theory (as well as many elements of a modern yoga practice) were originally created.
Yoga was first introduced to Western civilization in 1893 by Swami Vivekananda. Over the last century, “dedicated yoga teachers of India popularized yoga practice in the United States” (Pandurangi, 2017). From there, many fitness organizations, wellness clubs, and schools have integrated yoga into their extensive list of opportunities for their students.
A large aspect of yoga involves physical movement of the body synchronized with deep breathing. In modern times, the ability to share with a large audience allowed for its popularity to take off rapidly. While keeping its traditional roots, yoga has been modernized to reach new audiences which now have the opportunity to reap the amazing benefits of this practice. “The focus of yoga is no longer the center of an invisible ground of being, hidden from the gaze of all but the elite innate or the mystic; instead, the lucent skin of the yoga model becomes the ubiquitous signifier of spiritual possibility, the specular projection screen of characteristically modern and democratic religious aspirations” (Singleton, 2010, p. 174). Yoga has become a practice hidden from no culture. It is a non-discriminatory tradition available to be used by all who wish to experience its benefits.
Yoga is said to connect the soul to the person and place the control back in the hands of the student. It brings a sense of empowerment that combats the sometimes-overwhelming feelings of helplessness that can consume a head space. Yoga is a way to #UNLITTERyourmind, to find a way to connect back to yourself and nature. Tibetan monks also suggest “ancient meditation techniques might result in neurological changes conductive to long-lasting health and well-being”
By definition, I have never been a flexible person, applying the term “flexible” to both my physical and mental states. I grew up doing gymnastics, cheer, and acrobatics. I became one of the many people in the world plagued with this common misconception of the practice. I came to the University of Florida with next to no prior yoga experience. One of my friends exposed me to a small business in Gainesville, Florida that specializes in movement fitness classes, Pilates, and yoga.
I took my first hot yoga class in September of 2022. The calming and stable environment of the studio combined with the 105-degree heat at 60% humidity makes it nearly impossible to be anything but completely present and aware of the moment on your mat. I found myself pushing my own limits to achieve the full expressions of shapes I never would have imagined my body being able to contort to. After just a few classes, I was completing the full variations of almost every pose offered by the instructor. Still, I leave every class feeling exhausted, but more limber and invigorated.
The amazing physical benefits of yoga I experience post-practice are not the sole reason I find myself in the studio at least once a week. It is the way I feel in my own mind that keeps me coming back for more. Living in modern society, I often feel as though my soul is tight. I feel constricted and consumed by problems that do not emulate the things that really should have significance in my life. When I am in that yoga room, nothing else in the world exists. When I leave, all the problems and stressors of life do not come swarming back like you would think. Instead, I become so relaxed and at peace that I am able to give these problems the appropriate attention from a place of serenity which allows me to tackle them calmly, and in a way that benefits my mental health.
When I went through an unfortunate turn of events within a personal relationship, the first thing I did was attend hot yoga that night. I planned on dwelling on the issues I was facing while twisting and turning my body during the session. Instead, I found myself unable to focus on anything but my practice. When I left, I felt calm, balanced, and happy. Yoga brings the practitioner a sense of control over their mind that sometimes gets lost in the everyday chaos of life. It allowed me to appreciate my body, and value the time I spent working on my own wellbeing. It allows me to clear my mind (#UNLITTERyourmind) and sift out the artificial problems that can consume my conscious space, letting only the issues that actually require my time and devotion occupy that valuable area. Yoga stretches my heart in ways that allow my mind to breathe. It creates a flexible soul. I will be forever grateful for the practice that has given control back to me, and for that, I wish to devote as much time as I can to helping others experience the life-changing serenity this environment has to offer.
As previously mentioned, practicing yoga can be empowering for many individuals. Yoga can also be a form of expression that is extremely valuable to the physical and mental health of our bodies. Repression of emotion and holding in feelings can deteriorate mental health. Yoga is a practice that allows people to express themselves, without necessarily having to confide in another person, which can sometimes be difficult for specific groups of people. It can not only help heal trauma in the spiritual soul, but it can also physically help relieve the stress of retaining information for extended periods of time.
The practice of yoga enforces and upholds the importance of positive thinking. My yoga instructors always begin class with some sort of positive note or mantra that we can either focus on while we are practicing, or devote time to comprehending after class. These sayings frequently apply directly to my own life and experiences.
Carrying positive thoughts and optimism is so incredibly important to maintaining a healthy spiritual and physical state. When “positive thinking first medicalized itself under Norman Cousins, advocates for a new holistic medicine were concerned, above all, with finding ways to empower patients to resist a style of mainstream clinical care that was widely perceived as arrogant and paternalistic” (Harrington, 2008, p. 137). Practicing yoga reinforces positive habits, such as maintaining control over your thoughts and carrying a positive mindset, while also reducing some negative side-effects of living in modern society.
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Pandurangi, A. K., Keshavan, M. S., Ganapathy, V., & Gangadhar, B. N. (2017). “Yoga: Past and Present”. American Journal of Psychiatry, 174(1), 16–17.
Singleton, M. (2010). Yoga body: The origins of modern posture practice. Oxford University Press.
White, D. G. (2012). “Yoga, brief history of an idea”. Yoga In Practice. Princeton University Press.