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Yoga is showing up everywhere these days. Large and small studios are popping up across the map with legions of devotees carting their mats to and from their favorites all day long. One in seven U.S. adults practiced yoga in the past 12 months, according to statistics from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health,and they percentage of people who practice yoga grew from 2007 to 2012 and again from 2012 to 2017.
The reasons for yoga’s popularity are manifold. Regardless of the style, Yoga –which emphasizes physical postures, breathing and meditation- confers many mental and physical health benefits.
In honor of National Yoga Awareness Month, Beauty in the Bag reached out to 10 top yogis to find out what this practice really means to them.
From unity to self awareness, here’s what they had to say:
“This September as we honor Yoga Awareness Month we can remember the true definition of yoga is union. We honor the practice and ourselves when we seek unity in connecting our breath with motion, in connecting our minds with our bodies and perhaps most importantly, connecting with each other in communities,” says Lauren Harris, a New York City yoga instructor who teaches regularly at Five Pillars Yoga.
“There is a misconception that the goal of yoga and meditation is to repress your thoughts and feelings or to detach from your life. Instead, it is a practice of bearing witness to how you think and what you feel to gain insight into your mind, body and spirit. Learning this skill helps you to live life with awareness and clarity instead of reacting based on your impulses and base instincts, ” says Stefanie Eris is a yoga teacher, teacher trainer, and retreat leader based in New York City.
“Yoga is something that everyone can do. You don’t have to be a certain size, age, or even in good physical condition. If you can breathe, you can do yoga! And that is just the start, the physical part is a small part of yoga. Adopting a yoga lifestyle means you have respect for yourself, for others, and your environment. Being a devotee of yoga means you are always trying to be your best self. A yogi seeks to be of service to others and practices clean living,” shares Devens, MA-based yoga instructor Anita Perry, author of Yogaminute and Yoga Wisdom-Reflections of a Practicing Yogi.
“Yoga can be so healing with just one breath. It applies to life so seamlessly and teaches so much. The act of holding an uncomfortable archer pose or deep Warrior 2 lunge helps us learn how to stay. It teaches us that just because things are hard doesn’t mean they aren’t beneficial. They are signs of true growth saying you can be challenged and shine all at once,” says Layne Steege, a yoga instructor in Denver, Colo.
“Yoga helped me physically return back to lifting weights, running, and endurance sports [after surgery for a chronic condition]; however, more importantly, yoga helped me mentally. I learned to enjoy the moment for what it is, rather than wondering what will happen down the road. I learned that each time I step onto the mat, I will have a new body and that I need to listen to what my body is telling me rather than telling my body what it needs to do. Earlier this year, I decided to embark on my 200-hour yoga teacher training for myself. It was during this process that I learned how to take yoga off my mat and into my life. Whether it’s smiling at the car behind me honking because he’s in a rush, or giving someone my parking spot if they look stressed out and overwhelmed – the mental practice of acceptance and empathy is what yoga means to me,” says Rebekah Miller, MS a yoga teacher St. Petersburg, Florida.
“Yoga means freedom to me. I am very excited for this time we are in where no matter your size, shape, sex, ethnicity or religion we are flocking to yoga. People are now taking the sacred teachings of yoga off the mat to help them in their daily lives such as meditation, pranayama (breath control) to help with anxiety, depression etc. Yoga isn’t just where your hands and feet go, it is about tuning into your inner self and getting comfortable with working through all your baggage so you can experience bliss,” says Andrea Smith of Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A way of life
“Yoga isn’t just something I do on the mat to get better at poses or to still the mind or even to be a better version of me. Yoga is everything and anything that I do with a besottedness that makes being anywhere else or doing anything else redundant. It could be the stroke of my paintbrush, the making of my bed, the organizing of my things in a cupboard, the hum of a song, a ray of sun, laughing with a friend, or buying groceries for the week ahead. The technicalities vary, but…treating the present as a stepping stone or waiting room for some imagined future, that to me is Yoga. Yoga is what makes life relational instead of transactional,” says Namita Kulkarni, an Indian Yoga Teacher.
A journey to embark on
“Yoga is a practice that helps you notice and pay attention to all aspects of your life in ways that you could not have imagined. By practicing a movement system like Vinyasa yoga, we are invited to learn more about our body and our thoughts. Yoga is simply a practice, but it is also a journey that is never ending.Unlike other movement systems or exercises, yoga is like a magic elixir because it operates on our nervous system in a unique way. When guided by qualified yoga teachers, we can reprogram habitual movement patterns and thought patterns that are suboptimal. Yoga at its essence is helping us to return to a place of freedom in our body and mind and ultimately in our spirit by creating balance in all of the systems of the body so that we hold onto our energy vibrantly,” shares Lara Heimann. a Princeton, NJ- based. physical therapist who has created her own yoga method, LYT Yoga.
“To me, yoga means many things including peaceful living as much as possible, respecting all living creatures, spreading kindness and peace as much as possible, not holding grudges (not always easy) believing in a higher power, the Universe, and trusting that there is enough for all of us in life. Yoga has shown me how to be kind to myself and my own body as I age, have illness and injuries. I now have more compassion for those who are older and struggle in life, in particular the many seniors I see,” says Old Saybrook, CT-based yoga instructor Rachel Baer, who now teaches chair yoga to seniors.
“Yoga is a way to express yourself through movement. Throughout a yoga practice, different poses take you to different places – literally and figuratively. By staying present no matter what pose you’re in, you can tap into a deep self-awareness to figure out what’s happening in the body and the mind. As you flow from pose to pose, different things may arise. The more mindfully we move, the more we can learn to align our actions off the mat with how we felt on the mat. Yoga is not something you rush through, it teaches you to slow down and always return to the breath. It’s a beautiful way to better understand ourselves through mindful movement. It’s a practice of self-awareness as much as it is a practice of asanas and breathwork. To me, yoga is the best way to get to know myself,” says New York City yoga teacher Sonya Matejko.