It’s probably a good thing my high school didn’t have a debate club. Because as argumentative as I can be (ask my dad, he’d agree with me on that one!), I lack any and all verbal skills necessary for a good debate.
Sure, on paper I can manage to arrange a few words and sound somewhat cohesive in the message I’m trying to get across. Out loud? Oh, I’m a mess, to the point where I often joke, “I’m sorry, English isn’t my first language!” (which is a lie, of course – I really have no excuse for my awkward phrasing and trailing-off sentences).
Pretty often, this means I walk away from conversations feeling like a complete dolt. In my head, I had the perfect response and explanation, but somewhere between my brain and my mouth, the message gets garbled. I’ve written before about my om tattoo, and how I feel like an idiot when people ask what it means? Yeah. It’s that kind of situation, all the time.
I had one such moment recently, and it irked me more than usual. I had mentioned something about yoga, and a coworker launched into criticisms: What’s so great about yoga? I don’t see how it even counts as exercise, you’re just breathing! How is that good for you at all?! Of course, I stuttered while my brain whirred with outrage, searching for an adequate way to defend my passion. I think the best answer that I could put together was something about “it feels good…?”.
Ugh, Emily. You’re lettin’ me down, yogi!
There are oodles of reasons to do yoga. Google “benefits of yoga”, and the results go on and on and on. There are books and blogs and medical studies out the yin-yang showing how yoga is good for you. Even personally, I’ve experienced umpteen ways my life has improved since taking up a regular practice. And still, my best argument was “it feels good”.
Coincidentally, a few days later, I got asked basically the same question, but the person approached it completely differently. “What would you say are the top three benefits of yoga for you personally? I’m thinking I should try it out :)” Pretty much the same question I’d struggled with already, but now instead of being put on the defensive, I wanted to give her a good answer!
I thought it over a few days, but honestly, it was still a tough question to answer. I’d be the first to advocate anyone beginning a yoga practice, and I know it’s made a hugely positive impact on my life. But “yoga makes me feel good” doesn’t hold much weight, and while I could cite Googled facts like “yoga improves respiration, energy, and vitality”, that doesn’t feel very authentic.
So. Specific, actual reasons why yoga is so near and dear to my heart?
I’ll start with the simplest: physically, I feel better. And by that, I mean I’m not constantly in pain! Flash back to about four (five? I’m not sure) years ago, and I was a fairly stationary human: never engaging in any kind of physical activity, sitting all day at work in an uncomfortable desk chair, and always, always hurting. My back and my shoulders were just constantly aching. And I was…twenty years old? Not okay.
One day a few months into a regular practice, I had a wonderful, surprising realization: my back! my shoulders! my whole body! doesn’t! hurt! Amazing how good that absence of pain felt. It was like some I’d discovered some miraculous, enjoyable form of physiotherapy.
So reason number one – therapy for my body. Reason number two? Therapy for my mind. As silly as it sounds, I feel like yoga has done more for my mental health than the hours I’ve spent with assorted doctors and psychologists. Naturally, I’m a worrier. I’m anxious, and I overthink; I stress myself out and at times, deep dive into a pit of depression. But on my yoga mat, flowing through the poses, I’m different. I’m calm, and I’m happy. I’m not overthinking all the silly day-to-day things I’m usually preoccupied with. In that way, my yoga mat is almost a sanctuary of sorts: no bad thoughts allowed. That, and the fact that in a lot of poses, if I let myself get distracted with worries, I’d end up on my ass. As I focus my attention on my movement and my breath, the usual bullshit of my brain gets pushed aside, and for that precious little nugget of time, however brief, it’s like a mini-vacation from my thoughts. It’s nice to feel like a sane person sometimes, y’know?
Physiotherapy, psychological therapy, what else? Kind of almost a combination of the two. I think the deepest, and maybe personally the most valuable for me, benefit of yoga is the relationship and attitude I have with my own body. I’m far from alone in saying it’s a “complicated relationship”, to put it lightly. In our society, it’s almost impossible to ignore how much attention is given to what our bodies look like. Too big, too small, too muscle-y, too flabby – that scrutiny is always there, primarily in our own heads.
I’m not going to lie – yoga hasn’t magically tricked me into absolutely loving every aspect of what my body looks like. I still look in the mirror and immediately take note of the flaws, the things I’m most insecure about. The difference, now, is that I can see beyond the superficial, and realize the true beauty of my body. Since starting yoga, I’m amazed at what my body can do. It’s strong, and flexible, and resilient! I can support my entire weight on my hands, I can bend myself into crazy-looking shapes, I can breeze through a sweaty hot yoga class while the sports bro next to me struggles to keep up. I can do amazing things with this body. Who cares what it looks like? That shift in perspective made me finally appreciate having a healthy body that is able to do all the things I ask it to. That’s pretty great, gotta say.
Body? Feels good. Brain? Feels good. Body image? Feelin’ gooood.
I hereby stand strong with my initial argument here. Why yoga? It feels good.