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My first official assignment for yoga teacher training at CorePower Yoga was to write an essay defining yoga, what yoga is to me and talk about why I practice. We were specifically instructed not to base our essay on Webster’s definition of yoga. Just incase you’re wondering what that is, yoga is defined in the dictionary as a noun and is “a system of exercises for mental and physical health” and is also defined as, “a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind” To prepare myself to write this essay, I sent myself to a Yin Yoga class this morning. I felt like an hour full of slow moving Yin Yoga would really help me tap into what yoga truly means to me instead rattling off some lame definition of whatever came to mind first. Do you think I’ll get extra credit for adding in some actual yoga into my assignment?

After thinking about my answer to this question all weekend long, I also set my intention for the Yin Yoga class I took this morning for getting my answer, I’ve come to the realization that yoga means many things to me, both physical and mental. Yoga heals on so many levels.

When I first started practicing yoga, it was purely physical. Yoga was a way for me to get a PE credit in community college. I thought the class was interesting enough to want to pursue yoga further within the comforts of my own home. After I finished the class, I bought a “Basic Yoga Workout for Dummies” DVD where I learned an easy-to-follow, 20 minute Sun Salutation I could do everyday in my living room by myself. For a while, it was just Sara Ivanhoe (the host of the DVD) and I doing yoga in my living room together. I eventually grew bored of the DVD, put my yoga practice on hold and spent more time doing something I really loved, wakeboarding.

Fast forward a few years, a friend of mine kept telling me about this crazy yoga class she’d been going to and wanted me to go with her. Bikram Yoga apparently was a super tough class, not for the faint of heart. For 90 minutes, you’d sweat your brains out doing a series of postures in a room heated to 105 degrees with 40% humidity. I’ve always been one up for any sort of physical challenge so I decided to take a class. Even though the studio was super crowded, smelled like stinky feet and I felt like I was going to pass out multiple times during those first 90 minutes, I was hooked after my first class and couldn’t wait to come back for more.

At first, my addiction to this type of yoga was to the physical challenge of taking the class and completing it. I thought yoga was about completing each of the postures perfectly in the heat without feeling like throwing up all over the studio. So I made it my goal to go to as many classes as possible and strived to do every posture as perfectly as I possibly could. I was three months into my regular Bikram Yoga practice before I had to put my practice on hold for two reasons – I went back to school full-time and discovered I had gall stones and needed my gall bladder removed. I wasn’t able to pick up practicing yoga again for another two years.

Years of wakeboarding and snowboarding had finally taken a toll on my knees. I wasn’t able to sit cross-legged comfortably. Even walking made them sore. I worried I would eventually need surgery. I decided to go back to Bikram Yoga because that’s what I knew and was familiar with. Plus there was a new studio that had opened ten minutes away from my house. Within two months of going to classes on a regular basis, I somehow the soreness went away and I managed to heal my knees. I could sit cross-legged again without being in pain.

It was through my physical healing where I realized my definition of yoga had completely changed. No longer was it this crazy, violent race against myself to complete a class without having to sit down or worrying about if I was doing the postures perfectly or not. Yoga became something I enjoyed and wanted to make the time for because I left class feeling like a better person. It went from being a physical challenge to a mental exercise.

Since my big healing realization, I’ve been able to put the physical aspects of yoga aside and shift my focus onto the mental benefits of my practice. Practicing yoga has been the best gift I’ve ever given myself. Yoga is my reset button. It’s my favorite way to relieve stress. I could be having a busy day at work, but as soon as I walk into the studio and set up my mat, it all melts away for the next 60 or 90 minutes. Then once that time has passed and class is over, I’m able to come back to my outside life more calm and relaxed.

Practicing yoga forces me to slow down and take a breath. I’m able to turn off whatever is going on in the outside world and be completely present on my mat, gifting myself some much needed “me” time during my day. Yoga also helps me make good decisions and allows me to tap into my creative juices. If I have a question I need answered or need some extra creativity for a project, I’ll come to yoga and set my intention for class on whatever it is I needed answered or working on outside of class.

Yoga to me is not only the ability to physically heal, but is also a mental exercise with a bunch of benefits. Practicing yoga on a regular basis has made me a better person. It’s become part of my lifestyle. I now define my yoga practice as an important part of who I am.

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