Opinion — The benefits of yoga

A focus on flexibility, breathing and overall relaxation.

Andie Balenger

To have a more relaxed final semester before I graduate in May, I decided to take several “fun” classes to reach NMU’s graduation requirements. I have already taken the required credits for my major and two minors, so I decided to reward all of my hard work these past three years by learning how to ice climb, go backcountry camping and — my favorite — practice yoga.

When I was first selecting courses for this semester, a one-credit yoga class was the last thing on my mind. I was originally going to take a snowshoeing class, which was one credit as well. But, when scheduling conflicts arose, I was left to find another class that would help me relax during the week.

So as I scrolled through the many course options, I stumbled upon an hour and 40-minute yoga class that was taught once a week. While intrigued by the thought of practicing yoga for an extended period, I was apprehensive about jumping into a class that required prolonged periods of silence in which you must concentrate on yourself. 

But, I began to assess the state of my physical health and concluded that yoga would be incredibly beneficial for me. I have been an athlete my whole life, and I continue to work out nearly every day of the week. My workouts are rather vigorous, whether they be high-intensity interval training or going for a run.

Despite having these intense workout habits for the majority of my life — brace yourself — I did not stretch.

I have loathed the act of stretching since I can remember. Not only did I find it incredibly boring, but I have never been a flexible person. As all of my friends were doing cartwheels, backbends and splits, I was hardly able to reach my toes due to tight hamstrings. And whenever I tried to start stretching consistently, I would give up because it felt like I was making no progress.

However, as I stared at the yoga class on my computer, I thought that maybe this would be the catalyst for my eventual love of stretching. Perhaps if I was forced to stretch once and week for a grade, I would be more motivated to stretch in my free time. So I signed up for the class and was incredibly eager to test my hypothesis.

Now that I have nearly completed the semester, I can confidently say that practicing yoga has benefitted my physical health tremendously. 

The class requires you to practice two times throughout the week, once during the scheduled class period and once on your own. In addition to moving through poses, which are called “asanas,” there is also a warm-up and relaxation period within the practice that allows the entire process to come full circle. By consistently practicing, I have noticed results in three specific areas of my physical health: flexibility, breathing and overall relaxation.

My hips, lower back and hamstrings are major problem areas and sometimes cause me discomfort and pain. Since I have been targeting these areas in my yoga practice, with poses like cobra, cat/cow and reclining hand to big toe, I have helped reduce soreness by properly stretching the areas. Holding these poses has also allowed me to increase my mobility, especially in my hips, and lower my recovery time after intense workouts.

Another major aspect of yoga is meditation, which goes hand-in-hand with concentrated breathing. Practicing mindfulness may seem crazy to some because sitting in a quiet space and focusing on clearing your mind is incredibly challenging. However, by focusing on breathing, like inhaling for four counts and exhaling for four counts, you can clear your mind of any stressors in your life and truly pay attention to what your body needs.

Trust me, meditation continues to be a struggle for me. But by practicing regularly I have seen tremendous improvement in my overall awareness. It is crazy how unaware we are of our breath, breathing patterns and how our mood/posture affects our breathing. Because I have become more aware, I have learned how to adjust my body in specific scenarios to optimize my oxygen intake. 

My favorite thing about yoga, however, is the relaxation portion of practice. For 20 minutes during every class period, our instructor has us lay on our yoga mats in a pose conveniently titled “corpse.” After pushing your body to do uncomfortable poses for over an hour, corpse requires you to do absolutely nothing. You are supposed to unplug your consciousness and just melt into your yoga mat. 

Now I was skeptical of just laying on the floor for 20 minutes. I figured I would go stir-crazy as I waited for the class to be over. But, the past three times we practiced corpse pose in class, I fell asleep on the mat. And by asleep, I mean deep sleep. 

As I am jolted awake by my instructor’s voice asking me to return to consciousness, I am impressed by the effectiveness of the practice. I am very thankful I decided to take this course because yoga is something that I anticipate practicing for the rest of my life.

Editor’s Note: The North Wind is committed to offering a free and open public forum of ideas, publishing a wide range of viewpoints to accurately represent the NMU student body. This is a staff column, written by an employee of the North Wind. As such, it expresses the personal opinions of the individual writer, and does not necessarily reflect the position of the North Wind Editorial Board.