I have been a long time practitioner of yoga starting well before grad school, and even before I decided I wanted to be in entomology. It began as a physical practice specifically to lose the freshman 15 (or 25 in my case) and my only concern was losing weight. It wasn’t until after I started my PhD that I really began deepening my practice. I noticed how focused I was afterwards and how much energy I had. The more I practiced the better I slept. I also started feeling guilty about other unhealthy habits like smoking and not eating right. I’ll throw in that it’s been over 5 years since my last cigarette.
And I really can’t hammer home how much yoga has helped with the stresses that come along with grad school. The basic tenet of yoga, regardless of the style you practice, is creating space. This can be physical (getting deeper into a pose than you could before) and this can be mental (giving yourself room to play and mess up without judgment). It can also be a combination of the two, and this is where the real growth comes with higher education. This combo is reaching a point of physical uncomfortable-ness and then breathing through it. Not counting down the seconds until you move. Not jittering your fingers and toes. Not gritting your teeth or huffing and puffing. Just feeling it and letting it be.
We can’t wait to get out of uncomfortable situations. Even if the thing that follows will be MORE uncomfortable than where you are right now, all we can think is “oh my god when it this over”. What that does is take you out of the present moment. When you’re constantly looking forward, you’re missing opportunities right in front of your nose. Learning how to calm your body and mind in in an uncomfortable space using your breath translates to other situations. Learning how to breathe through jitters and a racing heart has made me a better presenter, teacher, and scientist. I am more able to sit with an “icky” experience and find solutions and opportunities where I would have otherwise missed them.
While I acknowledge any form of physical activity and its ability to increase dopamine, and improve concentration and executive skills, there is something different about yoga. Running is great – I do that, too. Hell, I’ve put my body through multiple half and full marathons. Running has taught me discipline and self-motivation. But yoga has taught me how to take that discipline and motivation and manifest it into the life I want.
So here is my plea. Don’t go to a single class, hate it, and call it quits. Don’t try just one style. There is a style (or multiple) and a teacher (or multiple) and a studio (or multiple) that speaks to you and what you need. You don’t have to om. You don’t have to build a shrine. You don’t have to even try that hard. All you have to do is show up on your mat and the results will speak for themselves. Guaranteed.