Yoga is More than Exercise
Why Yoga Can Help You Create the Life You Want and How to Get Started
The other morning, I got onto my yoga mat after not having practiced for a couple of weeks and I felt my whole energy change. It was like all of my cells exhaled. It was unexpected. The phrase that came into my head was that my yoga mat felt like coming home. Being that I’m a yoga instructor and I recognize what a valuable tool yoga is, you may think that I’m always super consistent in my practice and that I’m on my mat every day. The truth is that I’m human and so sometimes I let life get in the way. I tend to forget that even a little yoga goes a long way and that literally even a few minutes a day can really change the way the we feel in our bodies and in our minds.
While we know that yoga has countless physical benefits — increased muscle strength and tone, improved posture, improved flexibility, and decreased blood pressure to name a few — it may not be obvious that yoga is also a practice that can actually help us to create the life we want. In addition to bringing us physical strength, yoga teaches us life skills. The resources we gain through yoga are at the very foundation of what we use to create an empowered life — the ability to be present with our breath, to gain physical and emotional strength, to listen to the sensations our bodies create that tell us whether something is good for us or not, to make choices based on those feelings, and to act on those choices. These abilities carry over off of the mat and into the world.
I wasn’t always into yoga. I would take a class here and there and whenever I did I would feel great and wonder why I didn’t do it more often but I still wasn’t terribly consistent. Then about five years ago, I became interested in meditation. I had experienced some level of anxiety pretty consistently since childhood, I definitely have more of a type A personality, and over the years more than a few people had suggested that it might be helpful. I started slowly, first reading about it and then trying it, just for a few minutes a day. I worked up to a daily 10 to 20-minute mindfulness meditation practice. As yoga is considered a moving meditation, I was soon intrigued by what a consistent practice would feel like. But I didn’t actually begin to practice regularly until I was recovering from cervical cancer and my oncologist recommended that I try yoga. You can read more about how all of that unfolded here.
Before I began to practice yoga and meditate regularly, I used to read about the benefits and think that they had to be overstated because they sounded too good to be true. And it was difficult to wrap my head around a lot of the meditation instructions I came across. But I stuck with it and I found that the beauty of yoga is that no matter what you may be going through physically or emotionally, you can do yoga and feel like you are helping yourself, like you are becoming stronger. Through my yoga and meditation practice, I have become physically stronger. I have gotten to know myself better, to get out of my own head and my own way, and to see that I am able to shape my perceptions and in turn, my experiences, and the way I handle stressful situations.
If you are interested in starting a yoga practice but don’t know how to go about it, here’s my advice. Pick just three poses that make you feel strong or grounded and do them daily. Breathe through your nose, try to make your inhales equal to your exhales, and hold each pose for 5 to 7 slow full breaths. How do you know what poses might feel good for you? Try some and see how they feel in your body. And if you don’t know any, Yoga Journal has a directory of poses you can check out. Keep in mind that two people could have very different reactions to the same pose. I tend to gravitate toward poses that feel more grounded and strong in my body. Three of my personal favorites that just feel good to me are Downward Facing Dog, Warrior II and Extended Triangle. And when I feel like I need to regroup, I love Child’s Pose.
So give yoga a try, see what it might be able to do for you. And keep in mind that you don’t have to be flexible, or wear special clothes, or be able to stand on your head. You just need to show up on your mat, breathe, and notice what happens.
Thank you for reading, take care, and feel free to contact me if you have any questions or just want to let me know how things are going.