From Gym Rat to Yoga Mat

How yoga redefined my physical fitness journey



Yoga and strength training can complement each other through spiritual growth.


The new year is officially in full swing. January offers a fresh start for people to compile their ambitious resolutions to better themselves, their lives and their overall well-being. Some people are determined to learn a new skill or to save money, but perhaps the most prominent collective goal seems to be to get in better shape.

According to a 2021 survey by YouGov, 23% of Americans set goals pertaining to living healthier. Like others, I made a physical fitness resolution. I decided to switch up my typical routine to see how alternative workouts would affect my overall health and fitness. You can typically find me with the free weights, bench pressing with the bar or at the squat rack, but I decided to spice things up and give another activity a try — yoga. 

Yoga was nowhere close to being on my fitness radar. I had always been involved with some sort of sport and saw yoga only as a relaxed, spiritual pursuit. However, word had gotten around that there was a yoga studio close to Fordham Lincoln Center’s campus that was offering a full week of classes to students. I figured, why not give it a try — it could be fun, and it was free! I signed myself up and embarked on a revamped fitness journey. 

Yoga is a collection of physical, mental and spiritual disciplines meant to calm the mind and help practitioners deal with ​​mental clutter. It has strong spiritual roots, and many of the postures are said to strengthen your mind as much as your muscles. 

An active lifestyle benefits one’s body and rewards the mind. Exercise is known to help with feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

By developing the relationship between the mind, body and, most crucially, the soul, this ancient art extends well beyond the physical characteristics — and the body and postures are where it all begins.

Some of the most popular and well-known movements of yoga include downward-facing dog, mountain pose and warrior stances. Yet what people may not know about yoga is that there are different variations that incorporate cardio, high-intensity activity and core exercises. I participated in a style of yoga called “Yoga Sculpt,” which is a blend of traditional yoga and these cardio components. 

My experience with yoga proved to be very difficult at first, but I noticed benefits after practicing consistently. During my first few sessions, I was winded. It was atypical for me to do such intense and fast-paced exercises, including mountain climbers, high knees and jumping jacks.

Usually, my workouts with weights included sets and reps with breaks in between — but not during the yoga classes. Once the session began, there would be no significant breaks until the end. 

Yoga always starts with setting an intention and clearing our minds from any distractions or troubles, which I had never really found myself doing before a workout. My goal was usually just to get in and get out. Yet, there was a sense of security and tranquility while easing into the session with a community and an instructor. 

Typically, my intentions revolved around releasing any negative energy that I may be harboring in order to induce a peaceful state of mind. After the session, my mind always felt more calm, clear and positive. 

It was difficult to adjust to the new routine, but I developed an acute appreciation for the practice. There were elements of balance and endurance required from yoga that I wasn’t used to. I was pushed to test my limits with both my body and mind. It was challenging to keep up with the poses and pace, but it was invigorating. 

Finally, after sweating and stretching, the instructor guided the class through meditation practice to cool down. The act allowed our bodies and minds to rest and reset.   

After getting into the swing of things and adapting to the yoga lifestyle, I became more familiar with the names of poses and was able to transition more smoothly into them. Not only was my mind settled to the conditions but my body as well. I found the exercises more feasible. Soon, my knees would reach higher than before, and my stretching would reach up toward the stars.

As a result, I began engaging in the more complex variations of poses and used heavier weights for the weighted portion, honing in on my balance and control. My body felt more flexible and sturdy, as though nothing could topple me over. 

Once I completed my week of yoga, a certain gloom engulfed me — I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at the studio more than I could have imagined. But, I did not think of it as a permanent ending, rather a gentle pause. I knew that my yoga journey was only just beginning.

The mental liberation and spiritual growth with which the experience had graced me was something I could not give up. Upon my return to the weight room, I noticed that my lifts had improved. My form while engaging in specific exercises like single-leg lunges and squats was more controlled and precise. My body felt stronger, along with my mindset, as I pumped out those few extra reps. I could feel my core engage in more of my lifts and soon noticed the difference in my body. Getting involved in yoga not only shone a new light on physical and spiritual practice — it also refined my typical routine with fitness.  

An active lifestyle benefits one’s body and rewards the mind. Exercise is known to help with feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress. With the completed renovations of Fordham’s gym at Lincoln Center, it is now more accessible for students to engage in physical activity. Whether with yoga, lifting or cardio, staying active is invaluable for improving numerous aspects of one’s life. It allows individuals to challenge not only their physical strength but also their mental grit — and it’s never too late to start.