By Dr Eva Lantsoght |
Yoga and I, we go a long way back. It all started 15 years ago, when my best friend started practicing, and I could barely touch my knees in a forward fold (not exaggerating). There were no yoga schools in our area, but my friend had borrowed books about it from the library and started from there. She taught me a few things, and I did these irregularly.
Three years later, I entered university and took the “Yoga for Dummies” book that my mom gave me to my dorm room. Again, I practiced on and off, but only the basic stretches from the book. In 2005 I started going to the gym, and dropped into a BodyBalance class (combination of yoga, tai chi and pilates) every now and then. For the next years, I’d occasionally drop in to a yoga or BodyBalance class, but never got farther than some stretches and basic sun salutations.
Fast forward to Fall 2012, the time when I was finishing my doctoral dissertation. I discovered yoga videos on YouTube, and started practicing a little more regularly. After my graduation in June 2013, I even bought a subscription for a year to MyYogaOnline. During my first months in Ecuador, I did not go to the gym, but tried to practice yoga every morning with my online videos. Finally I joined a gym again in Spring 2014, started taking yoga classes there, and eventually shifted to taking hot yoga classes at Flow.
My first semester(s) as a young professor were painfully hectic: a 3-3-0 course load, a part-time research job on the other side of the world, lots of information from my dissertation that needed to be turned into journal papers, trying to advance my career through service to the engineering community and directing a lab-under-development. Yoga helped me cope with the stress of academia.
In a yoga class, I need to fully focus on the postures, otherwise I will lose my balance. I have to practice being in the present moment, and stop the ever-churning thoughts in my mind for the 75 minutes of the class. The relaxation in savasana (corpse pose) at the end of the class and the meditation exercises we sometimes practice all add to a balanced mind.
Another advantage of practicing yoga is that it improves the strength of your body. And we all know that a healthy body contributes to a sharp mind. A vigorous vinyasa (i.e. dynamic form of yoga in which you typically switch postures for every breath) class is a great full-body workout. After not practicing yoga for a while (for example, when returning from a conference) I will feel sore the next day after a class.
As with all exercise, it goes for yoga that you will feel more energized after working out. I tend to go in the early morning (6 am or 7 am, depending on the schedule of the day), and afterwards I will enjoy great focus and energy in my academic work.
The last reason I enjoy practicing yoga as an academic, is that it is playful and fresh. After grinding through research problems, sometimes we are weighed down by the seriousness and depth of our thinking. Yoga inspires one to play around with your balance and strength in a light and friendly way, and as such provides a nice counterbalance to research.
Feature Photo by Patrick Hendry/Unsplash