#YogaMatters Blogging Contest: Winners Announced!
In honor of National Yoga Awareness Month this past September, MPH@GW invited bloggers to tell us how yoga affected their health for our first annual #YogaMatters Blogging Contest. We were thrilled to receive more than 30 thoughtful, inspiring responses to our query from yoga practitioners around the nation. The hard part? Narrowing it down to just three winners.
FIRST PLACE: Ashlee Skow (Reno, Nevada)
Several years ago, Ashlee Skow, 24, of Reno, Nevada, was told that it would be nearly impossible to recover her lung function after it dipped to a startling 50 percent — a consequence of living with cystic fibrosis. She entered #YogaMatters to tell her story and to encourage others who may be facing similar challenges. “Cystic fibrosis is a really hard thing to live with, and the last few months I have been out of work on disability,” she says. “So I just wanted to let people know that even if you are down and things get hard, they always get better. Yoga is about losing yourself and about the struggle to come back home stronger than before.”
“By the time I had found yoga, my lung function had crashed to an astonishing 50 percent. I grew up knowing that once your lung function tanked like that, there was no going back. This time, I wasn’t going to let a book dictate my emotions. I was going to make a change for myself. I was going to break the rules. I practiced, I cried, I sweat, and I hurt. Within nine months, my lung function was at 85 percent. This was the one thing that I was told couldn’t be done. A few months after that lung function test, I started my own yoga teacher training adventure.”
SECOND PLACE: Margaret Felice (South Boston, Massachusetts)
“I wrote about why #YogaMatters because yoga has seen me through my worst times and has taught me innumerable lessons about health and life,” says Margaret, who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease several years ago. “Even when I am tired or sick, yoga still has something to offer me, and I want others to know that no matter one’s fitness level or health setbacks the benefits of yoga are available to everyone.”
“My body is a mystery. It has always been, but now it is more so, as my immune system attacks me and my digestive system picks and chooses when it will behave and when it will scream at me. My body is my home. Both yoga and illness have taught me this in ways I never imagined when I nervously entered that windowed studio at the local gym four years ago. Each inhale and exhale remind me that my body is a blessing, no matter what.”
THIRD PLACE: Caitlin Grant (Providence, Rhode Island)
“When the details of the #YogaMatters blogging contest popped up on my Facebook newsfeed in late September, I knew right away that I needed to enter,” says Caitlin, who wrote about the ways yoga has helped her alleviate anxiety and stress. “As someone who is new to a regular yoga practice and to teaching yoga, I am constantly in awe of the ways in which these beautiful poses and focus on the breath can undo years of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual struggle. Yoga helped to redirect my life, leading me away from my anxieties and need to be perfect and into a place of loving awareness, and I wanted to share my story in the hope of inspiring others to come to their mats to discover what the practice has in store for them. Thank you to GW’s MPH program for working to shed light on the powers of yoga!”
“In yoga class we are encouraged to unite, but not in a typical fashion. We share a physical space, we perform synchronized movements, we breathe as one, but all of this is so each individual can feel comfortable as they go within. We quietly support and respect the courage it takes to join your body and your breath. We encourage the transformations that occur, and we recognize the light of our classmates in the hopes that they will provide all of the same support as we seek to brighten our own light.”
Why Does #YogaMatter to You?
Our bloggers all agreed that yoga has made them healthier and happier; the real question was “how?” A common theme among all of our entries was the importance of inclusion and acceptance. For some bloggers, that means practicing yoga on and off the mat, in every area of one’s life. For others, it means ensuring that yoga is accessible for everyone, in a practical sense but also a personal one.
To give you a more in-depth look at their responses, we’ve created a list of notable quotes and included a link to each entry.
“When you’re upside down, head pressed to the floor, toes pointing straight up to the heavens, there is no room for politics, no room for work, no room for networking or trying to impress others. There is only room for balance. All your energy and concentration is focused on strengthening your core, on protecting your neck, on keeping from tipping over. It’s in moments like those when you realize again that before you can save the world, you have to take care of yourself. To see the world clearly, you sometimes have to take a step back, breathe in, breathe out and refocus.”
“As others would be in pose on their mats and in deep thought, I would be squirming and day dreaming about what I had to do once the class ended. Others would leave class relaxed and refreshed. I left class neurotic and just waiting to pack up my mat and tackle my to-do list. In one particular class, we were told to get into child’s pose. It was then I felt it. No, not the tightness of my muscles. But it, the time of my life (my past) that I wanted to forget. The part of me that I wanted to stop writing about … and what I never wanted to be mentioned again. It was that class, where, in my crooked child’s pose, I felt a need to dig deeper into my old wounds and hurt. Since that class, I have been working on addressing things from my past that had hurt me and had me believing I was not enough. It is a journey of healing, and I am grateful for it.”
“Yoga is a mental, spiritual and physical workout. I have to make my body align in certain positions, but also focus my mind. I have to accept where I am that day — whether energized for endless chaturangas or a little worn out and distracted. I have to put all my thought onto my breath and forget about what is going on around me. I find peace in the focus, and come out feeling more calm, but also sweaty and fatigued. It is a whole body workout.”
“I loved that yoga required nothing. Sure, I had a mat, but from the beginning and until this day, I practice yoga on the carpet at home more than anywhere else. I was introspective before I began practicing yoga, but yoga felt like home. It felt like a way to go deeper into my self-discovery on many levels at once from the physical to the much more subtle.”
“I had started a meditation class and figured it would give me what I was looking for. I was happy but knew I needed something more. After much contemplation, I took the plunge and invested in Bikram yoga. I had heard much about it and out of curiosity wanted to find out more. Bikram was a beautiful experience, due to my sense of ease in life after every class. I would leave the studio and feel refreshed. I enjoyed releasing toxins and stretching my body in places I never knew it could. It felt really good, too.”
“Inject well-being into your life. Let it flow through you, with you and all around you … and then maybe you too will start to ‘Benjamin Button.’ How do you inject well-being? More joy … more love … more yoga.”
“Yes, my blood pressure has lowered, pounds have been lost and my skin cleared up. These physical benefits are just the tip of the iceberg of the changes that I feel happening inside me. Mentally and emotionally, I am no longer chained to arbitrary external worldly standards. I am a happier person and no longer feel guilty for admitting it.”
“I always felt like something was inherently wrong with me and that my anxiety would always be an obstacle for me. I often felt hopeless, lost and unable to cope with life the way everyone else seemed to be able to cope. When I would get dizzy and short of breath, I would say to myself, ‘This is my anxiety … I have no control over it … There is something wrong with me … I need to be on medication….’ Yoga has changed my inner dialogue, and in doing so, it has changed my life.”
“I know now that even 10 minutes of focused breathing with or without asana will improve my mental well being. I know cat-cow keeps the scar tissue around my abdominal incision moving so it doesn’t pinch. I try to remember that pain-free running is only possible when I maintain my hip-knee alignment with a regular practice of hip-opening poses, or at least spend some time in pigeon post (or mid) run. I still gather my shoulder blades under me when I lie on my back, encouraging that stubborn supraspinatus to do its job. When a yoga instructor tells the class to ‘enjoy your breath,’ I think ‘you have no idea.’”
“Yoga became even more powerful when I learned that I can take the practice anywhere. I can practice yoga without ever having to touch my toes, or be in a class or even wear yoga pants. Sometimes yoga is sweaty and bendy, and I’m sore the next day. Other times, yoga is completely restorative, and I’m invited to surrender completely. Sometimes I practice yoga in a studio, and other times I practice yoga sitting in rush hour traffic … my yoga practice starts from the inside out.”
“For the first time, I was able to see my body as it truly is — strong and flexible and capable of amazing things. I connected with my body. I became comfortable in it. I learned that my body is good, that it wasn’t what people did to it or said about it. I’m learning to love it, listen to it, nurture and care for it. I am finding that I can accept it without judgment and enjoy it without reservation.”
“I immediate fell in love with vinyasa. It proved my assumptions and predispositions as to what I thought yoga was wrong. I loved how each movement involved moving through the flow of your breath, how gracefully the instructor and her students engaged in their practice and how I had underestimated what an amazing work out I could have been doing years earlier if I had not been so stubborn and unwilling to give yoga a try.”
“Yoga also helped me discover my belief that anxiety and depression are really a result of losing contact with one’s core self and living a life that is disconnected from that self. Yoga led me back to myself so that I could help others do the same. While I love yoga and think it’s an amazing tool, I know it’s not for everyone. My goal is to help others find the tools that will reconnect them back to their core self, so that they too can create their best life, one that is congruent with their beliefs, values and purpose.”
“I’ve been 99 percent pain free and have never needed another cortisone injection. I can bend over and twist. With my pain-free back, I exercised more and lost 27 lbs. Now I weight lift five days a week. My squatting weight is 70 percent of my body weight. I credit my mobility, great health and beautiful body to yoga.”
“Yoga was drawing up all the grief I’d been holding in that was dying to get out. I didn’t know how or why, but I knew the way out was through my body and breath. Later my answer became more defined, more refined. I do yoga so that if and when my world comes crumbling down again, I won’t. I did yoga to stay sane, to stay healthy and to get strong psychologically.”
“Yoga matters because the mindfulness that is encouraged in the practice can have amazing effects. The attentiveness to my body’s needs helps me to make better choices (such as having a salad with my dinner instead of fries and taking a rest day when my body is exhausted). Letting go of some of my more selfish, shallow worries frees my energy up to focus on being a better friend, girlfriend, daughter and citizen of the world.”
“There are days when yoga frustrates me. I’ll have trouble finding my center and be thrown off balance, or I won’t be able to clear my head to concentrate on my breathing. I’ve walked out of a yoga class before only to wonder why I don’t feel any less stressed after my practice, or have an internal debate about whether or not it’s really worth it for a recent college graduate to be spending hard earned dollars on a yoga studio membership. On those days, I remind myself to come back to why yoga matters to me.”
“Yoga helps me find coping mechanisms so stress doesn’t take over my life. Deep breathing, inversions, meditation, silence, creating intentions for my behavior — all of these form my practice. Practice is the right word, because yoga is never perfected. Yoga is an ongoing journey that depends on my mental and physical well-being, and that changes from day to day.”
“I am not a wondering helpless soul any longer. I am the woman I should have been all along. I am the daughter, sister, granddaughter, friend, cook, blogger, fitness lover and yogi, with a head on her shoulders full of knowledge and power, strength and courage.”
“I have found that it is impossible to be upset when I am doing yoga and when I leave yoga, because yoga has become something that I never leave. In a literal sense, yes I do reluctantly leave the studio each day. But it is the flexibility, balance, strength, stability of the mind and focus that have made my life so much better.”
“First, challenge yourself and go for the impossible because you really don’t know what you’re capable of. And second, don’t be afraid to try new things. Life is awesome and it’s here for you to experience it fully.”
“Yoga is also an unlearning process. When we practice, we start to unlearn all of our doubts, worries and concerns. Yoga empowers us to think big, live in greatness and view a world full of possibility.”
“Since I started practicing on a regular basis — and seeing the results for myself — I’ve become a big proponent of using yoga as a small-scale practice for working through the mental barriers that hold people back. I don’t know what it is about accepting the way you’re built and achieving flow during class that helps you create the mental synapses to do it outside of class as well. Yoga has helped me so much with own sanity that I feel compelled to reach out and offer it up as a gift for people who are also struggling to keep theirs.”
“My practice is still evolving, and as my body changes, I will continue to change with it. Yoga has made me aware of issues such as muscle imbalance, weaknesses and instabilities that I was not aware of before but am now working on correcting. It is a journey into yourself, without a map, and the guidance you receive is by listening to your own body and tuning into what is happening within your body and how it feels as you practice — being completely present and aware in the current moment.”
“When I say that yoga has completely changed my life, I mean it. Everything has improved from my physical health to my mental health. I have become much more toned, and I sit up straighter without even trying to. Most importantly, I have stopped having pain!”
“My mat was my safe haven that served as my sanctuary and the space my beating heart needed, away from all negative influences, especially my own. Symbolically, my mat served as a magic carpet, taking me to a place I desperately longed for but didn’t know how to tap into. I brought every problem and every solution to my mat with all my good days and all my bad days. Happy or sad, I confessed it all in my practice.”
“With my very special autoimmune version of colitis, yoga gave me twisting and cleansing postures that helped ease the worst of the pains and even helped me cut off symptoms before they flared too badly. Yoga taught me that my issues with food, the size of my jeans or what I thought I saw in the mirror didn’t matter, and then it went on to help me develop significant strength.”
“I could cite studies on the ways that yoga, meditation and breath work affect the central nervous system, cerebral health, thought and behavior patterns and even physiological responses to stress or rigorous physical activity, but to me no recounting of a study could have the impact that sharing my personal experience can. Yoga healed me, and without it, I have no doubt my life and health would not be what they are today.”
“Unlike almost any other form of physical activity, yoga integrates the body, mind and breath. It engages the whole person, and its benefits are rooted in physicality, but go deeper than the physical to beautifully counteract the stresses and impact of daily life. Mindful yoga practice helps you cultivate the ability to discern, to develop greater self-awareness and to know your body, mind and breath better so that it’s easier to listen to your needs on a moment-to-moment basis. This is the magic that, like Dorothy in her ruby slippers, you’ve always possessed. Yoga just teaches you how to access it.”
**Ineligible for consideration
Looking Ahead to 2015
MPH@GW thanks all of those who participated in, shared and supported #YogaMatters. In the interest of coordinating this opportunity again next year, we want to hear from you. Do you have feedback or suggestions for #YogaMatters 2015? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.