A friend from work introduced me to hot yoga 10 years ago. I really didn't have any expectations, other than knowing that emphasis is placed on moving with your breath. I loved the first class and as I purchased an unlimited pass for the first week, I started the habit of practicing three times per week.
Over the years I became stronger, improved my flexibility and balance but I wouldn't call these changes life changing. I had achieved physical improvements prior to practicing yoga through a regular exercise regime.
For me the life changing experience was that I learnt to control my breath and consequently controlled my mind.
Thankfully Yoga had found me 6 months before my Mum had a stroke which led to her death only 3 weeks later. I am convinced that I wouldn't have been able to manage me and support my Dad without the regular practice of yoga.
Since then, I have practiced various styles of yoga and studied to become a yoga teacher. - It was during my Teacher Training that I learnt that yoga originally was a spiritual practice leading to inner peace and self realisation. The asanas (postures) were a tool to assist in meditation. Only when yoga was introduced to the Western World it became more and more a physical practice.
Without going into the yoga philosophy and the 8 limbs of yoga, I can honestly say that if you use your yoga practice not only as a 'stretching class' and connect body, mind and breath for the time you are on your mat, you will be able to apply what you have learnt off the mat.
I compare the skills you learn on the mat to your First Aid training. When you need the skills your training kicks in, and you apply your skills. - Over the past 5 months I went through some challenging times which escalated last week. - For me, practicing yoga on a regular basis, doesn't mean that you walk around, cool, calm and collected at all times, that you never snap at anybody or never have a meltdown, but what it does mean that you can much easier come out of these situations when you remember to be still for a few moments, breathe and observe your thoughts. When you become the observer and create awareness, that's when you can decide not to get involved in destructive thinking and channel your thinking back onto a positive path.
So next time you practice on the mat, try it challenge your mind as much as your body: Breathe, focus and be in the moment. Try not to still your mind, as that isn't possible. Our mind will always be busy, contemplating the past and trying to work out the future. Acknowledge these thoughts and let them go! Focus on the current moment. - If you can achieve this on the mat, it can help you improve your mental health and deal with difficult situations in a more factual than emotional way.
For me yoga is definitely a livestyle!