Yoga, a practice I feel has become incredibly fashionable in today’s age, is the discipline of breath control, meditation and enactment of specific bodily postures. Due to the surreptitious nature of its teaching and sacred writings, the exact origin of yoga is unknown, however, most people seem to agree that it originated in India. The development of yoga can be traced back as far as 5,000 years ago, yet some even say that it goes back to 10,000 years.
Last week, I experienced three very different yoga classes with a lady called Elle O’Donelle, who has been teaching yoga for eight years now. As a complete novice to the discipline, I had preconceived ideas that my balance and flexibility were going to be stretched to my limits and, in some cases, I was not wrong. However, I soon realised that yoga is incredibly accessible to all, making it a thoroughly rewarding and enjoyable experience. I asked Elle what she thought the most rewarding thing about yoga was, to which she responded that yoga can be both a relaxing and calming experience, while also providing the option to really push and challenge yourself – if you so desire. I found this statement entirely true after my week, especially given the variety of classes that I endured, ranging from a beginners’ class, to a fairly advanced class focusing on upper body strength, to a unique experience of warm yoga, which focuses on your joints and involves holding positions for five minutes at a time. Elle teaches drop-in sessions both at the community centre in Tollcross, ideal for students wanting some relief from their busy schedules, and in a newly opened centre in Gorgie. I feel that yoga would be exceptionally beneficial for all and as students whose timetables are still fairly flexible, we should at least try to practise yoga once within our university career – you will never look back, I promise.
Here are five reasons to practice yoga as a student:
1. Helps with stress
As students, we are constantly being hit with deadlines for essays and hand-ins, as well as having to keep on top of tutorial work and readings for lectures. Whilst academic work is primarily the reason we are all at university, it is also important to balance our lives with other aspects, such as sports, hobbies and socialising; you may also have a part time job. Maintaining this lifestyle can sometimes be overwhelming, especially as the mid-term season approaches. By practising yoga, you lower your blood pressure, heart rate, and improve respiration – all of which are affected when the body is under stress.
2. Improves memory and concentration
The yogic practices of Dharana and Drishti work in ways that aim to remove any external distractions, which makes it easier to focus and concentrate. Dharana practises focusing the mind on one point, whilst Drishti practises fixing the gaze on one point. This technique enables you to concentrate for longer and recollect things. These methods used in yoga can in turn be translated into your everyday life, ensuring that concentrating in lectures and tutorials is far easier. Especially useful for when you start revising in exam season!
3. Helps with mental wellness
Yoga has been proven to help with anxiety, depression and overall mental health. It requires intense concentration on breath and thought, or rather: getting rid of any thoughts. As a result, any unhealthy and troublesome feelings are blocked or interrupted for this period of time. Thus, the mind is relieved of worry. Also, the regulated breathing and specific postures focus on relaxing the body and releasing any tensions, which helps to relax the mind.
4. Forces you to relax
This point may sound oxymoronic – it is human nature to resist something that is forced upon us, so if we are being forced to relax we are not truly relaxed, right? Wrong. The whole ethos of yoga is that you completely strip everything back to basics; you spend your entire time purely focused on your breathing patterns and trying to connect with your body. Thus, this leaves no room for you to focus on anything else.
In a world domimated by social media and technology it can be very hard to find time that you can honestly say you have completely dedicated to yourself. Whilst we may take breaks out of our busy lives, I do not believe that I am wrong in assuming we spend these breaks still plugged into our worlds, whether this is via Facebook, Twitter, texting or any other form of social media. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that social media is necessarily a bad thing, there is no doubt that it has revolutionised our means of communication in both the personal and professional spheres, however, I do believe that it is important that we should all take out time to devote entirely to ourselves.
5. Improves fitness, flexibility and bodily health
It is no secret that people who practice yoga tend to have great bums. And whilst this alone is a pretty good reason to practice yoga, there are many other health benefits that you can reap from yoga. Not only will it do wonders for your posture, as the discipline focuses on your alignment and the way that you hold yourself, but it is also a great way to strengthen your core and upper body. Yoga will also improve your stamina and general fitness and the emphasis on holding intricate poses for elongated periods of time will really test your endurance. Finally, yoga stretches out your muscles and joints, increasing flexibility – who wouldn’t want to be able to put their leg behind their head as a party trick?
I think it’s clear to see that even my short week of classes has converted me to the ancient art of yoga. I challenged both my mind and my body in ways that I would have previously never attempted. If I can do it, so can you. So go on, I challenge you to stretch yourself.
Image : City Centre Yoga