5 Things Yoga has Taught Me
1. Honor your body.
The tradition of honoring my body in yoga – respecting its capabilities as well as its limitations, and listening to what my body says it needs and acquiescing to that need – has certainly followed me off of my mat.
I eat more intuitively, I move my body when it wants to be moved, I rest when my body needs rest, and I drink water when I begin to feel even the earliest signs of dehydration. But to be completely honest, I don’t know that I’d even be in tune enough to notice these things and be able to remedy them. Learning how to introspectively check in with my physical being and silence my thoughts about what should be in order to hear what the body says is, in my yoga practice, has taught me to find that same quiet stillness of the mind to hear the body off the mat as well.
2. Let go of the things that no longer serve you.
We hear this phrase a lot in yoga, usually in relation to an intention set for or by individual students, or something like that. In my own classes, I invite my students to image using their breath, the inhale to draw in things like peace, joy, love, gratitude, focus, etc – whatever they will need, that will serve the purpose set before them or to achieve their intention. And then to use the exhale to send away that which does not serve that purpose – selfishness, complacency, insecurity, anxiety, or whatever it is.
Now, this is just an imaginary exercise designed to deepen the breath and begin to use the breath mindfully and with purpose. But there’s really something to be said about letting go of what doesn’t serve you.
So often, I’ve held onto things for too long, choking the life out of them, desperately clinging to a former need or just a past feeling. But through this mindful practice, I’m becoming self-aware here, and allowing my intuition to guide me, trusting that it senses something is off, and allowing myself to let go. Release, surrender, freedom. That’s what it’s all about (in yoga and in Christ).
Breath work. More breath work. And then some more breath work. Breath work is everything. Shoot, the word “yoga” means “to yoke” – to connect the breath to the movement of the body. The breath is our “prana,” our “life force” and deserves our attention because it has a crazy ability to affect the body and the brain.
When we stop in an anxious or stressful moment – with a high heart rate, racing thoughts or lack of focus, crawling skin, temperature rising, or however your emotions manifest themselves – to breathe deeply, we can essentially trick the body into calming down by breathing deeply like it is used to when we are at rest. Focusing on our breath also allows us to clear our minds, opening the door to think about and see our situation with more clarity, logic, and/or reason.
As a mom of three little ones, and as a human being with an anxiety disorder, I can’t tell you how helpful this has been to me to know, be familiar with as a practice, and to be able to pull out of my back pocket on the daily!
4. Be present and be okay with it.
Another one of the things I include in my classes often when we are settling ourselves onto our mats to begin is to invite my students to come into their mats wholly – mind, body, spirit, soul. Bring it all here. Forgetting what came before class and surrendering whatever comes next, and being HERE and only here.
And that’s a challenge for most people. We’re thinking about to-do lists and laundry and money and kids and Instagram and getting gas and a phone call that didn’t go well or an awkward interaction with a cashier or gosh, anything other than the present moment of our body’s contact with our mat, our breath leading our movement, and allowing our thoughts to be centered on our intention or prayer.
But how often do we do that? It’s certainly not just at yoga. It’s constantly. We do this everywhere, everyday. And learning this in yoga has given me the knowledge and the practice to allow myself to come into present moments, to soak up all of their goodness, and to push away anything that isn’t a part of the present in order to enjoy it to the fullest.
And more than that, trusting that is okay to do that. Releasing and finding freedom from the expectations and shame and guilt and anxiety and worry and pressure is never a bad thing. It allows us to operate and achieve from a place of freedom and openness, instead of one of striving and struggle and shame, making each moment full and glorious and life-giving, even when they’re hard.
5. You can achieve more than you think.
I wrote not that long ago about what it was like growing up with a super athletic sibling. My sister was an advanced gymnast at a young age, and when she gave that up, she went on to be a record-holding pole vaulter and sprinter. Me? I was the artistic kid. I drew and wrote and painted and read lots of books. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I certainly never imagined myself in a backbend like wheel, doing daily headstands at 30, or becoming a “fitness instructor.” That was my sister, not me.
But here we are! I teach yoga for a living, and I push my body to do all kinds of cool stuff I never imagined when I was young, or even 10 years ago. Yoga has been so good to me in that way, and I’m so thankful that it’s empowered me to know and believe that if I can achieve beyond my wildest dreams on my mat, I can certainly go beyond what I imagine in the rest of my life.