Depending on the style you choose, yoga can be relaxing or challenging.
Editor's Note

Hart House Ambassador and featured blogger, Kaylah Krajnc took up Ashtanga Yoga for a simple change of pace. What happened next surprised her. 

I used to think yoga was only about breathing and deep relaxation. In fact, I didn’t even realize there was more than one type of yoga until I took Hatha Yoga at Hart House last year with the goal of de-stressing during a really busy semester.

This year, however, I decided to change it up a bit, so I  took Ashtanga Yoga instead. And so I walked into the first class not knowing much about it, confident that I was in for another relaxing session.

Imagine my surprise when I had to take a break halfway through the first class because it was so physically demanding. (For the record, I’m into strength workouts, so my need to rest wasn’t due to a lack of training.)

Not only did I have to rest, but I also  woke up sore the next day!

In time, I discovered that Ashtanga Yoga is about learning a series of movements, but even more so, learning how to connect my breathing to my body movements. I really came to appreciate the strength and focus that it takes to commit one’s body and mind to a yoga practice.

While we were always encouraged to listen to our bodies and their limits, I sought to challenge myself, to experience some self-growth. After just a few classes, poses like plank—yes, plank is a yoga pose—actually became my resting position because compared to all the other movements we were doing, it was the easiest. 

Between planks, lunges, headstands, and handstands I have definitely grown stronger, working muscles that I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to target with a set of weights. And not only has it helped me build strength, it’s given me more awareness of my body and how my muscles work to support simple and complex movements. This is especially true with the many balancing poses we do–I’ve never been more aware of the many things required to balance then when I was doing a series of movements that forced me to continuously re-find my centre. Even the direction of my eye gaze had a big impact!

Over the past couple of months, I have seen my strength and focus improve a lot—movements that I used to find difficult to maintain are slowly becoming second nature to me. I also used to have difficulty figuring out how to breathe into my movements, but now I do it without even thinking.

One of the most satisfying moments for me in yoga is when I’m able to do a pose that I’ve struggled to get to, and when my focused breathing actually helps me relax and become comfortable with movements that would otherwise seem straining and awkward to me. I had one of these moments a few days ago when I finally did a successful headstand. My next goal is to master that even trickier handstand. I’m looking forward to continuing my practice with the more advanced class next semester!