Yoga, mindfulness, and finding your place in life

Yoga class

Whether you join a yoga class at a private studio or practice in the comfort of your own home, one thing is for sure — this ancient practice offers a wide range of significant health benefits.

The focus is often placed on the physical benefits of yoga, including flexibility, enhanced muscle tone, improved cardiovascular health, and more. The mental benefits may be less apparent. Those who practice yoga know it has an incredible capacity to transform people. It reduces your stress levels and improves your overall mental well-being.

Kelly Kelly, a certified Moksha Yoga Teacher from Moksha Yoga St. Catharines, explains why focusing on your breathing is a vital part of everyday life.

“You’re breathing in and out every single day, but what I am talking about is inflating the belly, inflating the lungs and then exhaling right to the bottom of the abdomen — and that’s going to control the mind,” said Kelly. “It is going to tell your mind that you are relaxed and that you are okay. If you start using shallow breathing in any situation, it’s going to make your heart race and that will tell your mind that it is not okay.”

Kelly has been teaching yoga for the last three years but, she didn’t start off her career within the wellness field. She had a corporate job for fifteen years. This job had her traveling across Ontario to various venues and working fifteen hour days. She had two small children and a loving husband at home.

“I had the four-bedroom home, nice cars and it all just came at a price. And that price was me figuring out that I was just existing and not living.”

Recalling her sister dragging her to her first hot yoga session, Kelly told her that she had zero interest in being in a room full of sweaty people. It took some convincing and when she finally agreed to go, she said she absolutely fell in love.

The Moksha Yoga St. Catharines studio is located on Glenridge Avenue. The studio has one hot room and one non-hot room. The hot room runs seven-days a week and you can head over to their website where you can look at what types of classes you might want to take. Kelly suggests starting at a 60-minute class and working your way up to a 90-minute class, from there you can try a flow class or a yin-yang class — these are harder classes. With a variety of classes, Kelly is confident that you will find one that is just right for you. “We talk a lot about leaving your expectations and your ego at the door and just being really, really present.”

Kelly has one simple word for anyone who has never tried yoga before but wants to — GO!

“I mean plain and simple, try it! Yoga comes from inside. It is not an external thing that we do, it is who we are. So, when you come into the studio, the only thing you have to gain is to become a better person. You can come into class and just lay on your mat for the whole practice and just focus on your breathing, meditate and try forcing those thoughts out.”

“You will leave feeling like a million bucks,” Kelly continued. “And I can guarantee that when you walk into the room, you will be very surprised by the ratio of men to women, the ratio of larger bodies to petite bodies — it is truly a kaleidoscope of absolutely powerful people that have stepped forward and said, ‘I want something in my life that is going to help me get grounded.’ And I believe that everybody needs that in this life…”

Jon Kabat-Zinn is one of Kelly’s biggest inspirations when it comes to mindfulness. Kabat-Zinn is a Professor of Medicine Emeritus, creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the creator of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts.

“He is such a master at mindfulness. He talks about being here right now and I really love that. In a world that’s going 500 miles an hour, no body puts their phones down, but in a yoga studio, we are all very respectful. The phones go away, the car keys go away, anything that makes noise goes away, so that you can be here now. And for an hour you don’t have to worry about the outside world. And Kabat-Zinn talks about that, you know, be here right now, on purpose and non-judgmentally. It’s really beautiful once you think about it.”

There are many assumptions that float around with the term yoga — leave them at the door and be open to your full potential.

“In today’s life, people have a hard time giving themselves the self-care that we deserve. What it really comes down to is that you don’t have the time to be kind to yourself and that is actually really sad,” Kelly continues. “That is a major misconception because everyone can squeeze in even an hour of their day — we’ve got classes offered from 6:30 A.M. to 8 P.M.”

Another major misconception is that yoga is only for women. Kelly debunks this quickly, “That is not true at all! Men are very good at yoga and I have seen it. In my classes, there is 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women. Men need to relax as well. Most of them have heavy duty jobs and yoga really helps them.”

What exactly is the goal of yoga? Here’s a little hint: It is not about getting your legs up over your head. It is to connect your mind to your body. It is about operating from a place within rather than outside in. One of the benefits of yoga is to actually understand that through breathing and mindfulness you are determining what is going to happen to you, every minute of every day. Yoga is also about being aware of your surroundings and what you are going through during the day.

“And even karma, you can go as far as to say that what you are doing right now is going to affect you in the future. Be compassionate. Be patient and I mean, patience is huge. And it teaches you physically that your breathing is going to overcome any situation. And I can guarantee that if you use a mindful breath and a little bit of meditation, even in the worst situations, it is going to calm you down and it won’t make your feelings escalate. You want that thought to stay as a thought.”

Meditation can happen anywhere. Kelly explains that you can meditate while sitting, walking or even laying down. “If you can do that with even five breaths, you take the belly and then the lungs expand and then you empty out all together. There are a lot of little things you can do to get your mind right here. And that’s what you want.”

Kelly says there is a difference between happiness and joy. “These are two totally different things! Happiness is saying, “Okay, I’m happy that I have a job and I’m happy that I get this pay cheque” but, what about joy? Joy is something that comes from within and you just light up! A lot of us are just existing and it makes me so sad because you’re just running, running, running from one thing to the next, and do we stop and enjoy? No! We don’t ever look at tree and think that is beautiful, I’m just going to enjoy that just for a couple minutes.”

“We need to stop the treadmill. We need to stop being so caught up with what can we buy…” continued Kelly.

“What can I stuff into my house that I don’t really need? Have I had any walks in nature in the past year? Have I been in-tune with what is inside and where I really want to go and what I really am passionate about and how do I get there? Do we stop and think, okay, I need to stop this craziness because I don’t feel good! I don’t feel connected to anything other than my work life and to be honest with you I don’t know if that is fulfilling for anybody.”


-Loredana Del Bello, Assistant News Editor

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