Years ago, the therapist I was seeing recommended I try yoga.
“Ugh”, I thought. “Yoga is for hippies”.
But I went. I went even though I was wrapped up in thinking about how many calories I would burn during class. I went even though I thought, “this isn’t REAL exercise”. I went because deep down, I somehow knew it would change my life.
I wasn’t quite sure about yoga at first. But something kept me coming back.
I remember a teacher’s instructions in one of my first few classes: “Soften your body, relax your mind. Bring your focus to your breath coming in and out of your body.”
It was the first time I had ever been aware of my breath. The first time I had experienced ANY peace in my body. For someone who was constantly waging war with my body, this was huge.
My yoga practice soon became an integral part of my life. Seven years later, I am still doing yoga. Things have changed over the years- I’ve tried different styles of yoga, gone through periods where I felt stagnant, and experimented with different teachers and studios. But, the benefits of yoga have remained the same.
Yoga is truly transformational.
It Goes Beyond The Body. Yoga is one of the few exercises that emphasizes awareness and connection to your breathing. The word yoga means “yoke” or “union”. Union of the mind, body, and spirit. Each stretch and sequence brings a focus on movement with breath. To allow movement to be guided by breath, you first have to know what “following your breath” means. You have to slow down and be present. You have to stop all the mental chatter so you’re able to concentrate in the here and now. Yoga allows you to be IN your body, instead of being caught up in self-judgment and shame. And that is a small miracle for those obsessed with weight and body. To be able to live at peace in your body is one of the greatest gifts of a steady yoga practice.
It Teaches Care and Compassion. When you are battling your body and engaging in destructive thoughts and patterns, this attitude of compassion can seem foreign. But yoga gently nudges you to let go of self-punishment and strict control, and replace it with nourishment and love. Yoga is a healing art. Themes of self-care, kindness, and gentleness permeate each class. Yoga is empowering and positive, it focuses on what our bodies CAN do, instead of negatively criticizing what we can’t do. This attitude of compassion begins to extend not just to our body and ourselves, but to others, as well.
It Shows You How To Listen. Each time you come to your yoga mat you feel different. Some days you feel peaceful and content. Other days you feel frazzled and anxious. Yoga asks that you listen to your body, turn inward, and pay attention to what your body needs and wants. Is your body tense? Tired? Strong? Do you need a more restorative class? Or would an energizing, vigorous practice feel better? You begin to learn how to discern what feels good to your body and listen to what your body needs.
It Helps Retrain Your Thoughts. When you’re balancing in tree pose and your mind begins to wander, you lose your balance. If you’re in child’s pose plotting how you’ll check things off your to-do list after class, your body begins to tighten and tense up. The secret of yoga is that it uses physical postures to allow us to begin to retrain the mind. When thoughts arise, you bring yourself back to the present. When you find yourself obsessing how the pose looks in the mirror, you gently refocus your attention on your breath. Yoga helps you to retrain your focus, so you’re better able to disengage from excessive mind chatter.
The physical practice of yoga is a guide to something bigger: a balancing of the mind, body, and spirit. A steady and regular yoga practice can bring some amazing changes into your life. Have you ever thought about trying yoga? Do you already have a regular practice? Let me know how yoga has helped bring about changes in your life in the comments below!