When I think of yoga, three words immediately come to mind: MISS + JENNIFER + ANISTON.
Just kidding… although I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Jennifer Aniston was the first person (whom I’ve never met before in my entire life) who raised yoga-awareness for me. A long time advocate of the beneficial, miraculous virtues of yoga, Jennifer Aniston has publicly showcased her yoga-toned, yoga-leaned, beautifully taut body as a physical inspiration for people everywhere, most notably-stocky, semi-sinewy me (that’s me, top right-mid Warrior 2 Pose).
In an introductory, promotional spot for her yogi Mandy Ingber’s video, Yogalosophy, Jennifer Aniston formally thanks her yogi for bringing yoga into her life: “[Mandy] brought yoga into my life,” says Aniston. “[And] it completely changed my life.’” And I feel the exact same way about yoga: it’s completely changed my life, and I really owe one big, grandiose, gratitude-filled “Namaste” to my beautiful, amazing yogi-Jenny Ahn.
Although I’m not a former sitcom star with a killer bikini bod being watched day and night by the paparazzi (oh trust and believe, I’m on my way to being all of those things), I’d like to pay homage to my yogi in the same way that Jennifer Aniston has paid homage to her yogi – by bringing awareness and positive attention to my personal experience with the ancient art of yoga.
When I first started practicing yoga about one year ago, I did so because I was looking for a new workout that would lengthen and lean-out my body. Throughout my life, I have been an avid fitness fanatic (do you guys hear Olivia Newton-John’s ‘Let’s Get Physical’ playing in the background? Because you should). From playing football for 8 years to running track for 4 years to achieving a black belt in Tae Kwon Do to countless years of weightlifting, I have indulged in many different forms of exercise.
In training for my black belt, I had to teach over 80 hours of stretching poses (flexibility is everything in Tae Kwon Do), and in doing so, I became fascinated with my body’s ability to contort and strengthen itself via stretch. This sparked my curiosity in yoga, since strength and flexibility are fundamental components to yoga. Now that I have officially joined the “Sisterhood of the Traveling [Yoga] Pants”, I’d like to spread the gospel to my fellow brothers and sisters about the astounding benefits of yoga!
Stretching my way to lean and mean: I’ve seen immediate, noticeable results, and so have others (I’ll refrain from bragging about all the “OH MY GOSH, YOU HAVE LOST SO MUCH WEIGHT!” variety of compliments, as they cut me with pride and embarrassment simultaneously). What I also love about yoga is that you don’t have to be in Jennifer Aniston-shape to enjoy and reap benefits from yoga, as it’s great for people of all shapes and sizes. Case in point: even the famously voluptuous Coco of “Ice Loves Coco” fame is getting in on the yoga action.
Just like Coco, I’ve got curves, and I feel like yoga is a really great way for me to tone up (while enhancing some of the more relevant curves [gluteals]). Another great benefit to yoga is its centering, therapeutic effects on the soul. Since I’m not engaged in active, weekly therapy right now, I view yoga as my alternative weekly therapy. It’s replaced my “But Dr. [Redacted], I really need to see you twice this week!” with being able to just breathe (and that’s not just a callback to my favorite Michelle Branch song, ‘Breathe’).
Breathing is absolutely crucial to practicing yoga successfully. Whenever I’m in the midst of a truly difficult, body-bending pose, I focus on my breathing as a means of training my mind and body to endure the challenge and hardship.
In a parallel manner, I find that this emphasis on breathing can be useful for everyday life. As life throws us challenges, hardships and obstacles to overcome, so must we breathe and center ourselves to embrace all of this. To draw a basic analogy: pregnant women breathe via Lamaze, because breathing allows them to relax and address the pain (and distract them from the visceral, painful thoughts of squeezing out a human football from their delicate maternal orifices).
According to my yogi Jenny, this duality of pain and life is one of the central truths of yoga: “Yoga teaches us how to work through hardship. By creating physical strength and stamina through the poses, this creates discipline and focus in our minds. In doing so, we are creating more peace, and this allows us to harness our emotional beings. “
Since I am a man of action, I’d like to show all of you what yoga is really like with some active yoga moments captured by my good old friend, Instagram:
1. Warrior 2: That’s my yogi, Jenny (far left) and my best yoga buddy Cristina (Italian, earthy goddess with a body to die for), captured mid-warrior 2 (and reverse warrior 2) pose. Personally, I think they look like elegant, stretchy swans, but there is also genuine power in their poses. According to Jenny: “Warrior Pose teaches us how to be strong and firm, yet flexible and able to go with the flow. Warrior 2 poses are great for strengthening the legs, opening up the hips, opening up the shoulders and working our abdominals.” And a strong core never hurt nobody (I realize it’s “anybody” but I like to keep things grammatically fresh)!
2. Head Stands – Jenny will be the first one to tell you that “headstands build confidence and courage”. And she ain’t lying! The first time I ever did a head stand, I was quite nervous about falling forward and snapping my neck, and not in the fun, sassy way; but in the painful, “requiring immediate medical attention” sort of way. However, once I mastered the head stand (I use the term “mastered” loosely), it’s like I gained this new level of confidence in my body, and that confidence has allowed me to push my body further and further to its limits.
3. Warrior 3 – Jenny says that learning how to stand on your own, learning how to achieve balance in life is the underlying symbolic and physical meaning of Warrior 3, or Virabhadra. Since life is all about finding balance, this pose teaches us how to achieve this. One of the best lessons I’ve learned from Jenny about yoga is: “Yoga is not about being perfect.” That’s just meant for everything else in life (excuse me while I tame my inner Monica Geller)! On so many occasions, Jenny has reminded me – “Sometimes you fall, and sometimes you don’t, but when you fall, you learn from it. Learn from the fall. Each time you do it, you get better at balancing.”
Falling is okay, because when you fall, you get right back up, dust yourself off and try again (yes – that is a definitive callback to pop singer of yore, AALIYAH). Overall, my experience with yoga has been abundantly uplifting. Over the past year, I have seen changes in my body (the guns is vicious), and I’ve also been able to incorporate the spiritual aspects of yoga into my life as a means of reducing stress.
While I understand that yoga may not be for everyone, I truly believe that if you tried yoga for a week or two, you might be pleasantly surprised (and eventually addicted). As Jenny says, “Yoga teaches us to become the witness and step out of ourselves and see the bigger picture. It teaches you how to really respond to life.” Maintaining solid grounding in life is crucial, and I believe that maintaining solid physical footing helps keep you rock steady.
Photos courtesy of me and that’sfit.com