Why yoga? What’s it all about?

Originally published in The Enterprise Newspaper, Iroquois Falls, Ontario
meditate, meditation, forest, Canada, Ontario, girl, alone, free, wisdom, clear

At the beginning of every yoga class, we take a moment to ground down and become fully present through meditation.

By now, you’ve probably heard of yoga, and you might be a little curious about it. Maybe you’ve gone as far as to put on a class you found on YouTube and tried to follow along with the crazy demands the person on the screen was making. Or, maybe you’ve actually made your way to a public class or two. I’ve heard different versions of all these stories since I started teaching, but what people often tell me is that they don’t really understand what the fuss is about. To some westerners yoga seems like just another exercise craze, but in reality, it’s so much more than that.

Yoga originates from India, where it dates back over 5,000 years. In the East, yoga isn’t just a deeply rooted philosophy, it’s a way of life. Engaging with the breath, being present, practicing mindfulness, and moving the physical body are as much a part of everyday living as going up the line is in Northern Ontario. So, what happens when you take a 5,000 year old tradition and try to bring it half way around the world? Well, for some, it becomes an acquired taste. And for others it isn’t palatable at all. However, as the benefits of yoga continue to ripple through Western society, it’s important to take note of a common misconception about the practice. People often believe that yoga is only for the outrageously flexible and physically fit. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say that they want to try yoga but they have to “lose a bit of weight first.” That particular comment always makes me sad, because yoga is the perfect place to start. 

Yoga is truly for anybody, and any BODY. It doesn’t matter if you can touch your toes, or stand on your hands, all that matters is that you show up on the mat, physically and mentally. Yoga is incredibly forgiving, and vastly welcoming. Any elitist bullshit you pick up on, is just that, bullshit. All yoga really asks is that you start from exactly where you are, and work your way up from there. Yoga doesn’t judge you for what you can’t do, because what you can is perfect. And yoga means it! It isn’t just blowing smoke up your ass. 

Once people get over the idea that they need to be at a certain level to begin, it becomes clear that the practice attracts people for a myriad of reasons. Yoga helps with everything from anxiety, to depression, physical ailments to finding balance, flexibility, calm, and relaxation, just to name a few. However, the reasons that people come back to the practice, and commit to the practice, are even more complex and varied. Most come to yoga as a form of exercise in the beginning, as a way of making a change. But after even just a few short classes, people begin to notice positive changes happening in their body, mind and spirit. And so, they return to the mat, day after day, week after week, because they start to realize that yoga offers them an immediate way of tuning into the self, finding ways to disconnect from the exterior world and go within. Yoga allows practitioners, quite simply, some space for themselves. Something that is difficult to come by in a world that seems to be gaining speed on the daily. But thankfully, the yoga movement is gaining momentum right along with it.   

In a 2016 study conducted by the Yoga Journal, the number of people practicing yoga was up to 36 million in the United States alone, up from 20 million in 2012. As studies and research into this ancient tradition continue to grow, so do the apparent benefits. According to a study by the University of Illinois,  participants who were tested on their brain function after 20 minutes of yoga performed significantly better than the participants who were tested after 20 minutes of aerobic exercise.

After a single class, even brand new yogis can start to lower their stress levels, initiating a different stress response in the body by using the breath work and physical postures that anchor us, and provide practical tools to help us deal with everyday life. After a number of weeks, some studies revealed that practicing yoga lowered GABA levels in the brain, which are the chemical messengers that are linked to anxiety and depression. And after years of practicing, bone density in older patients not only stayed the same, but in some cases actually increased. According to the Harvard Health Publication, yoga also helped in stabilizing blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight and lowering the risk of heart disease.

But despite all that, yoga isn’t some wonder drug. It’s not a pill you can pop. It’s hard work. However, it’s work that’s accessible to anyone with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Or as I like to put it; the hardest part is unrolling your mat. The rest is just stretching.

Benefits of yoga, infographic, points, positive, body, flow,

My top 10 FREE yoga videos

girl on yoga mat with graphic

It’s hard to come by high quality, well produced yoga content online that actually fits with what you’re looking for. It’s even harder to find a teacher that you connect with, and who doesn’t have an outrageously annoying voice (believe me it matters).

Often I’ll read the video description and think, “Well that sounds pretty alllllllright,” and then get going about 20 minutes into the video, and I start to feel as though it just isn’t the right fit for me. And since the online classes are already on a different level than live classes, I find it even more important to connect. So then I’ll spend another 20 minutes looking for another video and then realize I only have a few minutes left to actually practice so I’ll do a few Sun Sals and call it a day. And while I do believe that if you’re down on your mat practicing, your time is not being wasted, there are some classes that make me feel better than others.

So with that in mind, I’ve taken the liberty of curating a list of 10 of my tried and tested yoga videos. I’ve organized them by a one-word descriptor, which will tell you exactly what you’re getting yourself into. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

1. WEIGHT LOSS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UEWJsljPVM
A bit of ab work and some nice flow with Adrienne, who’s a little quirky and lots of fun. She’s an expert at not taking herself too seriously. (40 mins)
2. SOMETHING DIFFERENT: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6YW7Vm9Uo0
This is through a channel called Yogea Artflow, which offers classes that go way outside normal sequencing. They are still accessible, but they’re definitely unique and original. This one is to activate the third eye!  (20 mins)
3. A CHALLENGE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rPd_TQWZSUQ this is Leslie Fightmaster Yoga, and with a name like that it seems like it has to be a strong practice. Leslie is primarily an Ashtanga teacher, but she’s got this sweet, melodic voice that motivates me to stay in poses I’d really rather drop out of. (55 mins)
4. ANXIETY: ttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJbRpHZr_d0 This is Adrienne again, offering a nice relaxing flow that lessens stress and therefore anxiety. (30 mins)
5. BEGINNER RELAXATION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJeSbfL-CzY High quality videos shot from a number of angles so that you can really see what the teacher is doing, also makes use of relaxing music. This is through a channel called PsycheTruth (35 mins)
6. PREP TO GRASSHOPPER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3yiB7pPztI (40 mins) Leslie Fightmaster again here, with a class that preps your body to get into a super difficult arm balancing pose. Fun to work up to even if you haven’t managed to drop into any arm balances yet. You have to start somewhere, right?
7. HIP OPENERS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PzxuGM50TvM This is by a woman named Anita Goa. Not terribly high quality videos, just single shot, but often done in beautiful spots and/or outdoors. This is a good sequence for beginning to open tight hips, something that plagues almost everyone I’ve ever taught. (1 hour 10 mins)

Mental yoga videos

It’s a common misconception that yoga is all about the asana, as in solely the physical aspects of the practice. Before I did my teacher training, I thought all we were going to learn about was anatomy of the human body and the poses, and how to deliver our understanding of both from the front of  a room, but in reality there’s so much more to it than that. The actual physical postures are just ONE aspect of an 8-limbed philosophy that will actually branch out over your entire life if you let it. So the following three yoga videos will aide in the journey of yoking together body, mind and spirit, which is the yoga trifecta!

8. MEDITATION:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jyy0ra2WcQQ&feature=youtube This is a relaxation meditation video by Rick Clarke that I’ll throw on when I’m having a hard time falling asleep. He’s one of my go to’s when it comes to relaxation meditations, because he uses sound and image therapy as well as his lovely accent and soothing tone to talk you down. Throw in some earphones, bring this up on YouTube on your phone, make sure you don’t have the auto-play function on, and let yourself drift off. (20 mins)
9. INSPIRATION: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o This video was actually brought to my attention during yoga teacher training. It’s on the power of vulnerability by Brene Brown and is a wonderful talk about finding ways to be more authentic, real, and raw in our everyday lives. (20 mins)
10. UNDERSTANDING: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2da2CQEyy0 another video brought to my attention by my friend and fellow blogger, Camille Willemain, (www.thisamericangirl.com) Matt Khan is a spiritual guru, for lack of a better word, who speaks in this soothing voice, making sense of topics that might otherwise confound us. This is one of his most popular talks about relationships. I sometimes put it on before I fall asleep and let him talk me down into a deeper level of understanding. (1 hour 30 mins)

I hope these videos help you as much as they’ve helped me! Namaste.