When I first started practicing yoga, I expected to become more flexible, stronger, and balanced. I was aware of the numerous physical benefits of yoga and was excited to give my body the cleanse that it needed. What I didn’t expect, however, was the profound impact that yoga would have on my mind.
Yoga has taught me that the body is nothing more than a vehicle of expression for the mind. While maintaining a healthy body is important, the body is rendered useless without a healthy and focused mind. The realizations and breakthroughs I’ve had both mentally and emotionally through yoga have transformed me from the inside out.
Here are just a few ways yoga has changed the way I view of the world around me, and more importantly, the way that I view myself.
1. Wherever You Are, Just Be
It is frequent during a yoga class that I feel myself desperately wanting to come out of an uncomfortable pose. As my instructor tells me to breathe deeply and accept my body, I cannot help but silently mutter “Fuck that.”
On days I’m feeling flexible, I tend to avoid handstands and instead sit in deep stretching and restorative poses. Other days, when I’m feeling strong, I struggle to hold deep folds and crave to pop into crow or handstand. No matter where my practice brings me, I often find myself craving something different.
In life, there is always something that we are going to want to change, to tweak… just a little bit. If this or that was a little bit stronger, more flexible, more balanced… we’d be happy, or so we say. If only we had that nice car, or that job, or lived in this city, we’d have it all...
The Bottom Line: Yoga teaches us to stop craving. The only way to become truly happy is to be grateful and remain in the present moment. Be here, always. There is sure to come a day when you look back and wish you would’ve savored this moment.
2. Love Yourself
You might hear compliments and praise spoken from others, but how often do you compliment yourself? Have you ever spoken sweet nothings in your own ear? Have you ever written yourself a love letter and spoken it out-loud? Most people haven’t. Most people go to external sources for validation, praise, and confirmation when all they really need is to hear those things from one person, themselves.
I didn’t realize the truth of this until I joined Red Yoga. After entering this world of yoga, I truly started to learn to appreciate myself for simply being me. In a hot, strenuous vinyassa class, there are plenty of opportunities to feel self conscious about looks, skill level, and even personality. Through deep mindfulness and openers, however, you will begin to realize that the only person judging you is you. Everything you think about yourself is based on a story that you’ve repeated to yourself hundreds and thousands of times.
Yoga teaches us to love each other and ourselves. By rewriting the story you tell yourself, you can become the confident, generous being you once knew yourself to be.
The Bottom Line: If you don’t take a second to appreciate yourself (including your flaws), don’t expect anyone else to do the same.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, says that you can rid your life of drama by simply not making assumptions. He says, “whether it's about what your partner really means by that one-word text, how a friend could possibly be late to your big party or why a stranger made that odd comment,” you create what may be a false scenario in your head, putting you at the center of the latest drama.
This is one of the hardest rules to follow because making assumptions has become a habit in most people’s daily lives. And, like any habit, it’s hard to kick.
I began realizing how often I make assumptions in an early morning class a few weeks ago. Just a few days before the class, I had successfully mastered moving from a forward fold to a tripod headstand. However, when I tried that same series of poses in the class, I had no luck getting my body to get anywhere close to where I wanted it to be. I was shocked that my body couldn’t accomplish what it had recently done so easily.
The Bottom Line: Just as our bodies are different every single day, so too is the nature of life. Everything is subject to change. And so, making assumptions is a waste of time. Anything can cause anything. You are not the center of the universe.
4. Fall Early, Fail Often
Balancing poses do a wonderful job of exposing our deepest and darkest weaknesses. What you might mask with speed or strength, you cannot cover up in a balancing pose. Your vulnerability shines through and you are exposed. So what’s a yogi to do? The answer is hard to stomach for any perfectionist or any human that is on planet earth. If you have any hope of improving your yoga practice, you must fall. It is the only answer. And although it’s so seriously obvious, you won’t believe the lengths people go to so they can avoid falling. I know this because I was the master of avoiding this delicate and embarrassing art.
I soon realized that avoiding failure was incredibly inconvenient and mentally exhausting. So, I decided to succumb to the clichés and fail my way to success. I fell, a lot. I fell on my face, on my neighbor’s mat, and I fell on my ass. I fell like it was my job, and I was the CEO.
The Bottom Line: After falling and failing enough, you become immune to falling and failing. Shortly after building up this immunity, you will no longer view your falls as failure. You will see them as the tools that bring you one step closer to success. And then, after stumbling a little bit more, they will become just that – success.
I wish I could tell you that practicing yoga once a month or even once a week will heal all of your emotional, physical, and mental injuries. But the reality is, it won’t. Like anything in life, reaping the benefits of yoga requires daily practice. I’m not saying you need to attend an hour-long class at a studio like Red Yoga, but I am saying that you will see incredible changes in your happiness levels, physical abilities, and mentality if you incorporate even ten minutes of yoga into your daily life.
If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you might be familiar with these astounding benefits...
What are some experiences you’ve had with yoga that have made an impact on your life? We’d love to hear of your experiences in the comments!