You’d be hard-pressed to find a street absent a yoga studio in Los Angeles. Hyperbole? Perhaps. But here in the City of Angels, they’re about as abundant as mosquitoes after a warm, rainy day. Of course, yoga is popular just about anywhere you live. More than 300 million people partake in the practice around the world each year, according to The Good Body. Despite this, I’ve never tried it. That is, until last month. I know… gasp.
It’s not that I eschew physical activity. I do at-home workouts on the regular (okay, occasionally). I also enjoy running, having recently completed my first half marathon (albeit very, very slowly). I’ve even dabbled in CrossFit. Featuring high-intensity interval training, it’s fundamentally the yang to yoga’s blissful and wholly meditative yin.
What got me on the proverbial yoga bandwagon? My decision to finally roll out a mat and hunker down onto my hands and knees to rest in Balasana is all thanks to my therapist. She recommended yoga—in addition to picking painting back up—as a remedy to help quell my anxiety.
My preconceived notions about the intense mind-body connection intrinsic to yoga is what’s probably made me shy away from a yoga mat the most. As someone who is highly anxious, the need to be still and present in one’s body has made my affinity for the likes of running and the barking chaos that is CrossFit that much greater.
Paying heed to my therapist’s advice for easing my pestilent angst, I dutifully made a pit stop over to my neighborhood arts and crafts store to pick up canvas, paintbrushes, and the like. Once I arrived home, I did a quick Google search for outdoor yoga classes in my area. (For some reason, the thought of doing downward dog in an enclosed space within arm’s length of other people makes me cringe.) Yoga class scheduled, I was (skeptically) ready to go.
The benefits of yoga
As I delved into all there was to know about yoga online, I was surprised to learn just how deep yoga’s ancient roots run. The American Yoga Association estimates that the more than 5,000-year-old practice now consists of over 100 types of yoga, including Vinyasa (the more athletic style), Anusara, Ashtanga, Kundalini, and Yin yoga.
“The purpose of yoga is to build strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body,” explained Natalie Nevins, DO. Nevins is a board-certified osteopathic family physician, as well as a certified Kundalini yoga instructor. Kundalini yoga focuses on the spiritual aspects of the practice. It combines breathing exercises, movement, meditation, chanting, and even singing.
In addition to its physical benefits—which include improved fitness, lessened chronic pain, and lowered blood pressure—studies show that yoga has a number of mental benefits. A 2005 review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that the practice could help mitigate the symptoms of mental health disorders like obsessive-compulsive disorder, neurosis, and generalized anxiety disorder.
“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness, increases body awareness, relieves chronic stress patterns, relaxes the mind, centers attention, and sharpens concentration,” added Nevins.
I was intrigued: Could yoga actually alleviate my own anxiety?
Yoga for beginners: My experience with yoga
So, how did my first session go? Surprisingly well. I was shocked at how relaxed and at ease I was during my first yoga class.
The class was small, with only about five other people in attendance, and we were nestled atop the rolling greens at a quaint park. I struggled a tad with some of the poses, sure. (A career as an acrobat is not in my future…) But, all in all, I was happy. And I was excited to master the basic poses and move on to some of the more advanced asanas.
“Namaste,” my instructor whispered, signaling the end of the class. We’d spent the last 10 minutes in a resting pose called Shavasana. The pose’s goal is to relax the mind, release stress, and ground the body.
For that entire hour I was on the mat—and especially during those final minutes—the constant chatter of thoughts that normally cascade through my brain were quieted. I was mindful of my alignment and my breathing. My senses were attuned to my body sensations and the sounds around me. My mind was at ease.
Fast forward to today, and I now have a good handful of classes under my belt. Is my anxiety completely gone? No. But yoga has definitely allowed me to better tune into my body, which in turn has helped to activate the process of self-healing.
Are you interested in trying yoga for the first time? Here are a few poses to help get you started.
Also by Audrey: Stay Brilliant & Boost Memory With These 5 Brain Foods
Get more like this—Sign up for our daily inspirational newsletter for exclusive content!