What was initiated by the Indian government in 2014 quickly became a respected world day. Since 2015, June 21st has been the official "World Yoga Day" or the "International Day of Yoga", according to the UN. This day represents the importance of healthy living and the recognition that yoga offers a holistic approach to the individual as well as collective well-being and health.
As a yoga teacher and mental health coach, I am of course incredibly happy about this. When I found yoga seven years ago, it was exactly the year the first International Day of Yoga took place - and my life changed drastically.
So, in honour of this day, I'd like to share with you my own personal journey of yoga and give you a little insight into a philosophy that is thousands of years old.
If you're a yoga newbie or interested in bringing a little more balance and ease to your life, then you’re in the right place.
I’ve found that many people think of yoga as a sport or associate it with a physical practice on the mat. And that's partly true; it is a physical practice. But the longer I practised yoga, the more I understood that Yoga is so much more than just physical exercise; Yoga is a philosophy of life that you carry off the mat, and into your everyday life. A philosophy of life that you practice every day, whether on the mat or not.
Yoga is one of the oldest systems of thought and practice in the Indian philosophy of Hinduism and finds its origins about 5000 years back. As a science of life that connects the body, the mind and the spirit, it all started with trying to understand the nature of human beings and asking ourselves, “What does it take to find inner peace and happiness?”
What yogis thousands of years ago already knew was that there is an inner and outer world – and that we should put more focus on our inner world in order to better understand the outer world. The main goal of yoga is to let go of outer circumstances, and to realise that everything we need to be happy and free is already within us.
Have you ever had an experience where something changed your life completely? An experience where you have changed completely? That's exactly what happened to me when I took my first steps into a yoga studio seven years ago. The year 2015 was a very challenging one for me. Having been hospitalised twice for an extended period of time due to my struggles with anorexia, and having to take a break from physical exercise for almost a year, I knew that I needed a change in my life. I had reached the point where I finally wanted to be good to myself because for so long, I had focused on what was happening outside of me, and gave into the pressures of other people and society.
After recovering in a clinic for three months, I was finally ready to get back to my “normal life”. Exercise was always a big part of my life and I knew I wanted to get back into it in a way that was comfortable for my body. I didn't go back to my old, familiar gym at first, but decided to start in small steps. And so, not knowing what was in store for me, I ended up in a small, cute yoga studio on a chilly autumn evening. Who would have thought that those 90 minutes would turn my life around 180 degrees?
This yoga class was so incredibly magical for me. Never before had I felt so safe and connected to my body. Never before had I felt so energised and calm at the same time. This was the moment I knew that caring for my body was not about constantly pushing it to the limit, rather it was about being gentle and patient with it. I soon realised that yoga was nothing like the other sports I did before, because for the first time in my life, I felt pure balance and peace.
And so, after that one, 90 minute yoga class, I started to feel like myself again and was hooked. Yoga has helped me connect with my inner self and find peace within, giving me the power to carry this energy into the world as a yoga teacher.
The first phrase I learned in my Yoga Teacher Training was, "Yoga is non-competitive." Because yoga is not about comparison, nor is it about performance. I quickly learned that yoga is not about being good at something, it's about being good to yourself.
And that's what a yoga practice on the mat is all about. It's not about doing the biggest contortions or the most beautiful Instagram poses, it's about doing something good for your body and your mind. And that can look different for each person. Yoga is multifaceted and can range from gentle, calm postures to dynamic and powerful movements.
I find it helpful to go to the yoga studio regularly. There are classes for all levels, and most yoga studios offer a judgment-free, inclusive environment. Even today I still go to the studio as a student, because I enjoy being guided and learning from others. Trying something new is always a little daunting, so if going to the studio isn’t your thing, there are many beginner guides on YouTube or in apps. Some of my favourites are: Caley Alyssa, Mady Morrison, and the Alo Yoga App. There is really no right or wrong here, the most important thing is that you take the first step.
As soon as I entered the yoga studio, it seemed as if all the stress and all the tension was falling away from me. The yoga mat was my safe space to forget my worries, fears and self-doubt for a moment, and sooner than later yoga started to become something like self-therapy for me. The yoga mat was the space where I allowed myself to be good to myself.
After some time, I realised that yoga was not just a practice limited by the small space of my mat, because I began to integrate what I was learning in the studio into my everyday life. For example, when I learned to relax in a yoga class, and not to be affected by external influences and noises, I began to be able to relax in everyday situations, regardless of how noisy or hectic it was around me.
As I learned to treat my body with love, I began to think kinder thoughts about my body in everyday life as well. Time passed and I understood that yoga is not just a practice on the mat, it is a philosophy of life. What you practise in yoga will eventually carry into your mindset and help you be better to yourself and your body.
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