My yoga practice has evolved immensely from basic asanas to advanced and challenging poses with restorative breath-work. I love how yoga has transformed my mind, body and spirit for the better. Here’s my journey. Enjoy!
My early beginnings with yoga and meditation starting in 2010
When I took my first yoga class in 2010 at an upstairs studio in Harvard Square of Cambridge, Massachusetts, the basic poses of that intermediate level class seemed hard to me that day, but I soon adapted. I was already in good physical shape as both a fitness enthusiast and active duty Marine, but the ancient combination of breath-work and deep stretching propelled my fitness to new heights. There was something new and exciting about yoga, meditation, and the hip trend that was starting to boom in society.
I say this because it opened my creativity to working out. Yoga is a different kind of exercise. In fact it’s much more than just exercise. Although it targets muscle groups like other types of workouts, the practice directs you to focus more on yourself in the present moment, as well as cultivating appreciation for simple observations such as inner feels, moods, sensations, posture, and physical surroundings.
Before I started doing yoga I would always stretched after workouts, but yoga took my physical fitness to a new level. It also changed me spiritually in more ways than one—making me look at life a little different. My awareness was introduced to a totally new universe—and I truly mean that. I say “awareness” in both a practical and mystical sense.
There is so much about life that we cannot explain. This vast mystery seems to call out to us, causing us to explore and go deeper. Yoga made me yearn to go deeper in my soul toward experiencing the fullness of life, while not taking anything for granted.
When you start practicing yoga and meditation, you begin focusing on yourself in a deeper way: recognizing how you feel, memories come up, suppressed emotions emerge, etc. This is because yoga and meditation trigger the autonomic nervous system by taking you out of fight-or-flight and toward inner peace via the parasympathetic response.
The hormones and chemicals that change in the body from yoga and meditation are immense. Numerous studies have been done on how yoga and meditation practice changes your biology for the better. Truly a remarkable ancient discipline!
Here’s the abstract of one study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
Meditation and Yoga techniques are receiving increased attention throughout the world, due to the accumulation of evidence based research that proves the direct and indirect benefits of such practices. Based on studies conducted so far, it has been found that the practice of meditation triggers neurotransmitters that modulate psychological disorders such as anxiety. This paper will review the psychological effects of the practice of meditation, the role of neurotransmitters, and studies using EEG and fMRI.
The psychological and spiritual effects of yoga
Yoga really does bring you toward new insights in the mystery of life itself. When I first started meditating, I remember one session at home in my room while listening to a Deva Premal album. While sitting in a lotus-style posture, I had an emotional release that resulted in memorable tears of joy. This experience was unique from other previous ‘spiritual’ occurrences.
I began exploring the power of mantras and third-eye meditation. It resulted in more levelheadedness and inner peace—mainly because I could control my mind much better. Deva Premal is a German-born female artist who made a career singing ancient Hindu mantras from the Sanskrit tradition. She has a beautiful voice and her music is captivating. For some reason, I felt drawn to her CDs in the bookstore.
Check out Amazon’s Deva Premal music.
I think yoga and meditation changes the mind because techniques such as focusing on your breath, whether through sitting in lotus or doing asanas, creates new neural pathways in the brain. This phenomena leads to a popular field of science called neuroplasticity (see Amazon books).
Researchers in biology and the mind-body connection have written extensively on this phenomenon. It flies in the face of old, outdated science which states that cognitive neuro-circuitry is fixed throughout life. This is not true. You can change!
Finding resilience through yoga and meditation
We all know that life throws curveballs at us. This is expected. However, a major part of yogic philosophy is likened to surfing—we must move through the ocean of challenges and ride the waves of the storm. This can be fun. It all depends on how you look at life. If you see yourself as a victim of circumstance, then any disappointment becomes a weight that brings your spirit low.
However, if you see life as a learning experience in which you exist for a purpose, then you will take on setbacks in order to grow and evolve. This outlook pertains to the notion that you are here for a purpose—to reach your fullest potential in body, mind and spirit—and whatever happens is for a reason in order to reach that ideal.
Yoga can be spiritual instruction in the subtle way that it teaches you to center yourself through the challenging poses. As you move through various asanas, learning to breath with the changing pressure, you begin developing a sense of self-control no matter what ‘position’ you find yourself in.
Yoga is a form of psychological conditioning because experiences on the mat become fortified in how you relate to and approach life. It may sound cliché, but because there are biological changes in the brain and body from its unique nature, yoga changes the brain’s wiring.
I have personally found yoga to be an escape from all the hustle, bustle and rigors of life. Stress is inevitable, and yoga provides a way to smooth out the wrinkles of life in a tangible way.
An advance yoga practitioner by 2012
Before resigning my commission in the U.S. Marines my last duty station was in Quantico, Virginia, not far from D.C. I belonged to a studio there in the District. There were some great yoga teachers there who taught me more poses that expanded my practice. The majority of my yogic fundamentals though, came from my early roots in Massachusetts. When I first started doing yoga and meditating in Boston, I belonged to a local studio in Newton, MA, called Down Under School of Yoga.
These were the good old days. Between spring of 2010 and spring of 2011 I was stationed on active duty in my home stomping-ground of Eastern Massachusetts. The teachers I had, such as Coeli Marsh and Jojo Flaherty, gave me my foundations. Lots of my personal techniques and unique ways of posturing come from the way these women taught me.
Yoga is definitely a ministry of lineage in which teachers pass on their wisdom and knowledge to subsequent generations. It affects you in a personal way as a student because their memorable imprint lives out in your own journey. Because yoga is deep, pervasive and life-changing, the subjective experiences you have on the mat and with others firmly affect your life trajectory.
By late 2012, I moved back home to Massachusetts upon my honorable discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps. Here, my home yoga practice really took off.
I stopped paying monthly memberships, not because I didn’t like the studios or the social benefits, but because I enjoyed practicing yoga at home in the privacy of my room. To be honest, I actually needed the extra money as well as more time to focus on my life goals. Yoga studios can take a lot from both your wallet and your schedule—because once you pay that monthly fee, you really want to get your money’s worth.
I did my first handstand as well as other advanced poses during this period in 2013. My daily practice got disciplined and involved. I would commit to spending on average an hour or two each day doing yoga.
Alternating between different sequences (standing poses, sitting poses, yin yoga, etc.) every other day was key as to not overwork any one muscle group. Just like with conventional workouts involving weights, calisthenics and machines, yoga is no different because you are still tearing down and building new muscle by using your own weight. Hence stretching can be overdone if adequate rest is not taken.
Then comes naked yoga
Naked yoga was always a part of my home practice since the early days. However, I enjoy both clothed yoga and naked yoga depending on now I feel. It’s all about flowing in the moment. Sometimes yoga is just fun and invigorating—like any other workout. Sometimes its sensual and sexy. Often it’s a combination of these experiences.
I came across Yoga Undressed The Goddess Series by someone posting the trailer on Facebook. I soon bought the four-set DVDs and benefited greatly from this production. The tantric-style yoga practice involving kundalini exercises combined with traditional hatha yoga made for an exceptional yogic practice. I still watch the DVDs through digital download on my computer whenever I feel like letting the video session guide me.
Purchase the full DVD series set on Amazon.
My yoga practice encompasses holistic restoration of body, mind, and spirit
As a biohacker, or one seeking to reach my highest potential in fitness and health, yoga covers everything that improves one’s overall wellness: (1) parasympathetic response through pranayama (breath-work) and meditation, (2) deep stretching to improve flexibility and posture, (3) building defined and toned muscles through weight-bearing exercise, and (4) detoxification via stretching and twisting asanas, which move waste out of the lymphatic system.
Yoga practice varies depending on what I go through
During touch times a yoga session may not be intense with body building exercises. However, it sure helps when you push through the resistance and get your heart pumping. Once endorphins are released in the brain through all that pranayama and flowing asanas, your outlook and mood can radically improve.
There seems to be constant struggles in life no matter how hard you work to make your life ideal. There are unexpected setbacks and challenges that you must overcome, whether you feel like it or not. Knowing yoga greatly improves your focus and mood concerning the tackling of these responsibilities, and knowing that it maintains age-defying health benefits and holistic improvements overall, consciously choosing to commit to a daily yoga routine puts you in the one percent.
Full 1 hour sessions and ‘quick’ 20 minute stints
The ideal yoga practice is a one or two-hour session in which all muscle groups are worked, with meditation and restorative inversions built in. The result is a full body workout that also has powerful mental and psychological benefits. This is not always practical though in the real world. Therefore, it is feasible to devote time to whatever yoga you can do.
Sometimes it’s reasonable to just do a few poses with sitting meditation. On days when I have lots to do and want to get moving in the morning on tasks, I just do some meditation along with a handstand and headstand. Maybe I will do some down-dogs with splits and chaturangas too. The point is, no matter how dedicated you are at yoga, there are times when you just don’t feel like getting on the mat.
Sometimes I have a lot on my mind concerning things that need to get done. Though the schedule I have created permits me to do a full 1.5 hour session, occasionally I just feel like getting the ball rolling and tackling the day. This is only human, and evidence of a healthy work ethic.
Yoga can get addicting if your priorities are not in line. Yoga practice is meant to enhance your life physically, mentally, and spiritually. It is not the be-all end-all, but an integrated ritual as part of a healthy lifestyle.
There were times a few years ago (around 2013) when I would escape into a long practice. Then, I would look at the clock after thinking of what needs to get done!
Doing more than just yoga (kettlebell squats, outdoor activities, etc.)
Truth is, yoga can be enough for total body fitness depending on the result you want. You can do pure 1 – 2 hour yoga sessions and target virtually every muscle group, toning and strengthening the body along with increasing flexibility. However, if
If you really want to develop healthy musculature and resilient strength, then doing weight-bearing yoga poses just isn’t enough. You need to incorporate some weight lifting to resist your natural body weight. This isn’t everyone’s preference, but for me, I like the way my lower and upper body looks after doing intense squat repetitions with a pair of 52 lb. kettlebells.
After a couple weeks, it really makes a big difference. I see my leg and arm muscles more defined and even bigger.
Not that doing only yoga for two hours a day won’t build muscles and make you strong, fit, and sexy. I’ve seen my lower and upper body muscles get bigger and more defined during the times when I did only yoga in 2014. My butt and leg muscles definitely benefited from all the standing poses, flowing chaturangas, and inversions. This is great if all you’re looking for is sleek, toned muscles and improved flexibility.
Nevertheless, I have seen profound improvements in not only my physique and muscle tone, but even flexibility. It sounds counterintuitive, because you might assume building bulky muscles by lifting weights will only impede range of motion. This is not the case for me. Because I alternate between doing squats and full yoga sessions every other day, I maintain optimum flexibility. Thus I usually integrate some yoga during those weight training sessions.
This takes HARD WORK and DEDICATION. Can you tell? It’s not easy, but the rewards are fantastic!
The reason I have seen increased flexibility after doing kettlebell squats every other day is because it gets blood and other body functions working significantly. Intense weight-bearing exercise that target large muscles groups, such as thighs, gluteus maximus, and upper body, have been shown to increase human growth hormone (HGH).
Progressive resistance exercise gives your endocrine glands a boost in production. Doing intense yoga may do this too, but science proves that lifting heavy weights significantly kicks your hormones into gear.
Going with the flow of life vs. adhering to disciplined routines
There are times when I just don’t care about keeping up with my scheduled fitness and yoga routines. I do not see this as procrastination, but FREEDOM. There is a difference between compromising on regular workouts due to letting the hardships and curveballs of life overcome my resistance, and allowing myself space to grow and navigate this journey. I have seen various seasons in my life come and go, to produce growth and wisdom in the long run.
Sometimes I have taken minor breaks in my workout routines, with the thought in the back of my mind that I would soon pick back up again. I always do.
In a perfect world we would eat exceptionally healthy at every meal, do yoga for an hour or two each day, and integrate whatever fitness exercise we see as ideal. However, this is not how life is. The universe is a mystery. Reality is often unpredictable.
This past year I have been adjusting to my new location in San Diego County, California. Having grown up in Massachusetts and having lived around the East Coast all my life, this was my first time out West. I really like it here, but I’ve rolled with the punches this past year since I decided to withdraw temporarily from law school. I will be returning soon.
There are different aspects to my personality, character, and overall psychological makeup. There is my creative side that wants to enjoy the mystery of yogic discipline, and travel through the realms of body, mind and spirit through tantric kundalini. I love to experience the little things in life, to take hikes, swim in the ocean, and enjoy the sunset. I love eating plant-based, as it has improved my overall health and well-being. I am a flautist, and I also enjoy oil painting.
That said, there is another part of me that is deeply philosophical. I treasure meaning and purpose. I feel that I am on a mission here. Everything that happens under that sun has a reason and ultimate justification form my view, even if life seems unfair at times.
Yogic philosophy such as Vedanta as well as Tantric ideology leads toward one aim—LIBERATION. Hence, if life has no meaning, that what are we doing here? Why are we striving so much to make desired outcomes happen, and why do we even get out of bed?
That said, what makes me do yoga anyway? There are a multitude of reasons. I do yoga and other forms of exercise, eat an optimal plant-based diet, and meditate, because I want to be the best version of myself. I want to reach my highest potential, and know that my physical health and well-being is directly correlated with my psychological and spiritual state. It’s all holistic. Life is holistic. What a thought.
Yoga poses that I want to master in 2018
This year I want to achieve two asanas that have been knocking at my core to learn: Eka Pada Sirsasana (both feet behind head) and Advanced Locus Pose (Salabhasana). I have been eager to experience the sensation of these poses, and I know I will master them through time and commitment. It gets back to what I was saying before about devoting myself to routine with discipline and focus.
Nothing in this life comes with a free lunch. We often have to sacrifice one thing for another, one activity for a separate one in order to accomplish whatever is on our horizon.
As I strive forth into this summer I want to take hold of every opportunity that life presents concerning my physical fitness and overall wellness. This journey comes with friction (aka. challenges), but pressing through the resistance and overcoming always leads to ultimate rewards and satisfaction. ~ Sat Nam