What’s so good about yoga anyway?
There is a plethora of information on the internet about yoga benefits. I could re-list them here, but instead, I’ll let you know the benefits that I have experienced.
When I began yoga, it was all about the physical practice. Yes, your strength increases, your stamina increases, you get more flexible. Areas that were once tight, might still be tight, but they are less tight. They feel more open, there is space where once there was none. Your flexibility over time, increases. Your breathing becomes fuller and more restful when you’re not practicing. Your posture when sitting, walking & driving improves, and your awareness of your body’s movement increases. My energy levels also increased. I felt like eating healthier foods, my inclination to drink alcohol decreased, yes I may still indulge in the odd glass of wine, but most of the time I simply don’t want it.
Things that in general that would bother me in other situations, did not bother me in yoga and at the beginning I couldn’t understand, why?
Picture this; You walk into a standard yoga studio and the walls are lined with mirrors. If the room is busy, you practice right beside someone else. If it’s super busy there’s someone on all four sides of your mat and it’s the same across the room – with the associated dread of “what happened to my personal space!”. If it’s not so busy, there may be just two or three of you and the teacher – with the associated dread of – oh! there’s nowhere I can hide!
There you are in the mirror…………… staring at all the things that bother you about your body…………….. and you start comparing your self to the skinniest person in the room. Your inner competitor comes out in postures, wanting to push yourself, go deeper, to nail it. Meanwhile, you’re observing your red sweaty face, wondering why am I the sweatiest person here? Am I struggling? or am I just being lazy? Maybe I should take a drink of water? The chit chat of the monkey mind, giving you an on board commentary about how inadequate you really are, and why did I think I could even do this?
Somewhere along the line, you start to notice that nobody else in class is aware of what you are doing. They are concentrating on their own practice, they don’t care about how strong, flexible or skinny you are. You have the odd chat with people in the room before and after practice- including the skinny ones. You realise they are just people too and they also have their own issues. You realise that everyone is open and flexible in some postures and not in others – and that it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it can be obvious when a person can really get into a posture when others can’t – and that person just might be you, everyone takes a turn at surprising themselves. You realise that there is no envy, or shame and that everyone is there for their own reasons. You start to leave your self-limiting thoughts , prejudices and expectations at the door. Because of that, you are freer. You start to accept yourself on the day for who you are – sometimes full of energy, sometimes tired and stiff, sometimes emotional. You learn to listen to the signals that you’re body is sending you and you listen to what it needs in that moment.
While these physical benefits were happening, I also noticed changes in my mind. An immediate one that I was aware of, was that my sleep improved. I felt calmer, more grounded & centred. I started to feel less impatient and more aware of my thoughts and my thought patterns. I started to challenge old negative thought patterns and found they no longer had such a powerful grip.
I also noticed a growing sense of inner calm. I started to realise that the real work and journey of yoga was happening on the inside and not the outside.
Yoga gives you time for yourself, with no expectations, it teaches you humility, it teaches you to get out of your own way and not to limit yourself by your own prejudices. Yoga teaches you that maybe things are possible, where you didn’t think it before. It causes you to reflect on your thoughts and actions. You realise that it’s not about “getting” the posture but the journey to it and the lessons you learn on the mat start to come off the mat and creep into your every day life and that you are the better person for it.