How Yoga Helped Me Change for the Better
Four years ago I completed yoga teacher training. What I learned on the mat I was able to take with me out into the world that resulted in more joy, an improved mind body connection and ultimately improved overall fitness. But why? What is it about yoga in particular that led to long lasting change when there are self-help groups, therapists and gyms all across the country? It wasn’t a replacement for any of those things but it changed my approach to improving my mood and fitness level. Here is how…
Mindfulness and Being Present
Through practice I learned to stay in the present. By literally learning to stay on my mat and continue to focus on my breath I was able to stay in the here and now and notice what comes up. Unexpected emotions, grocery lists, negative self-talk and endless chatter came into my awareness. By noticing these thoughts or patterns and learning to stay in the present more I made room for more joy. Turning inward and being less distracted or focused on the next thing helped me take in the good feelings and experiences that were happening now. If you aren’t tuned in to what is good it gets missed and I missed out on some joy.
Exploring an Edge
An edge in yoga being going to the next level in a pose or being willing to try something new. I learned to be curious about just how far I could go. As a result of approaching each pose with curiosity over and over again and being willing to try I found myself in new places I didn’t know my body could go. I learned to have a willingness to simply try and see what happened. The first time I got into a backbend I was completely astonished. I imagine it being like the feeling a child has when they take their first step. I had no idea I could do it that day and had tried before but on this particular day *BAM* I got it. Learning to step outside of my comfort zone or see how far I could go helped me try things in my life I hadn’t before and be ok with falling on my face getting back up and know I would be fine.
I am trained in a heated practice that can have relatively long holds in poses. Hanging out in a warrior pose when you are tired and sweating bullets can be uncomfortable. I learned how to approach my discomfort differently. Rather than pushing and gritting my teeth I would explore can I hold it for one more breath? can I deepen my breath?, can I find a way to soften in a strong pose? Not only did I learn how to stay in a pose but that discomfort is impermanent. Everything is impermanent and by learning to stop pushing I carried this into my life by knowing I don’t have to hold on to everything and difficult times wild pass. It helped me not become fused with my sadness or overwhelmed with every challenge that came my way.
Being in Your Body and Acceptance
Yoga is about being in your body and tuning in to what comes up. Unlike going to gym
Where you might run on a treadmill or lift weights with headphones on there is a different atmosphere and focus in a yoga practice. Connecting to your breath and feeling what is physically happening changes the way you mind and body connect. It also makes space for being amazed at what you can do regardless of your shape. Accepting where you are and what you are able to do on your mat translates to accepting your body and appreciating what it can do right now. I remember being in a practice where the teacher said “when we forget our own divinity we suffer”. I learned by having more appreciation for all the things my body does for me every day and focusing on the positive I was inclined to take care of myself from a place of compassion rather than criticism.
• Builds flexibility
• Builds muscle strength
• Improves posture
• Boosts immune function
• Increases blood flow
• Reduces tension
• Weight loss
There are a number of physical benefits to yoga. Some the items listed above can lead to better bone health, improved blood pressure and mental focus. Click HERE for a more exhaustive list.
Staying Out of The Story
We often tell ourselves stories about what we can and can’t do. Sometimes we tell ourselves stories about how other people feel about us, as if we are mind readers. I remember taking a class with a teacher at my studio that it seemed everyone loved. It was the hardest class I had ever been to. I made up so many stories at the time it colored my experience. I was convinced the teacher hated me, I would never be able to do half the things people were doing with their bodies in that room, and I may die from the heat! Looking back now I realize all if those things were stories I made up in my head that were not true. Through the practice of yoga and learning to be present I learned to stay out of negative stories or projecting out into the future. Rather than being miles ahead in my head I am in the here and now that allows for more enjoyment of what is happening in the present or a more realistic view of what is actually happening. It can help alleviate anxiety related to things that are out of your control. Rather than the story being “I can’t do this, it’s too hard” the mindset is I am doing this and I am ok.
It can be difficult to know what and when to let go. At the end of a yoga practice there is Savasana or “corpse pose”. This is where you lay down on your mat, allow the practice to integrate and relax with attention. Essentially you let go for a few minutes or try to. It is after all a practice. Sometimes the idea of surrender or relaxation feels like a loss or certain death. By learning to relax I came to understand it is possible to surrendering into something else that may be better.