7 Lessons Yoga Taught Me
...it's being good to yourself. Well hello there! We are already way halfway through 2018 and my, oh my! How does everyone feel about that? Mid-year is when I take those dusty New Years resolutions and put them back into perspective. Quick question: do you make resolutions?! Let me know why or why not in the comment section please! One of my goals for years now has been to become more flexible and today I’d like to talk about not only the benefits but the functional life lessons practicing yoga has taught me.
Flashback to high school. Grade 10. That’s when I was first introduced to yoga. One of my options was dance class and every week we had a yoga instructor come in to teach us a class.
I fell in love with the inclusion mindset yoga stands for and to this day, I clearly remember thinking to myself “no matter what I do, yoga must be one of them”.
Now fast forward to winter 2017. A good 5 years since I retired from my high school days. And you must have guessed right, yoga was nowhere near my exercise routine. One night I was browsing through the thousands of Youtube videos when I found my go-to channel called Yoga With Tim. Tim has helped me get back into yoga, especially with his newest challenge which I have done a handful of times because of how effective it is. I highly recommend his videos, especially the Body Mind & Spirit 30-day challenge which walks you through the fundamentals of yoga and is a great workout for all fitness levels. Start Day 1 of The Total Body Yoga Workout:
Without further delay, here are the 7 lessons practicing yoga taught me:
#1 THE ART OF ALLOWING
Let’s start with defining the verb ‘allow’ which goes as follow:
To give permission for something to happen or somebody to do something, or take no action or make no rule to prevent it
To let somebody or something enter or be present in a place
To let somebody or yourself have something, often a benefit or pleasure of some kind
The art of allowing can be simply understood as releasing all need of control, power, and greed. In the biggest possible sense of the word, means an overall state of letting everything be okay with you, exactly as it is. For example:
Allowing yourself to be happy with yourself even if you are 20 pounds heavier than you wish
Allowing your neighbors to be noisy without getting upset about it, because you can choose to practice focusing on something else
Allowing other drivers on the road to behave as they do, affirming for yourself that you are safe, and that you remain in pristine condition wherever you go
Allowing economic problems around the world to rage-on around the world and consciously decide for yourself that it is not your problem to fix (even if you could)
Allowing yourself to love your kids, your spouse, your friends, your family even if they don't do what you want/think they should
Allowing yourself to see beauty and find small pockets of comfort, even if there is pain around you
Allowing other people to make their own choices (and live out the consequential experience of those choices) for themselves, knowing that your guidance is for you and only they can create for them
In other words, doing whatever you can to let life, other people, and all situations to be as they are - no matter how challenging that may be to do sometimes...That is the Art of Allowing!
#2 THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATH
Well not just any kind of breath. Breathing consciously is the essence of yoga as it assists us in connecting with the subtle energy within. When you breathe consciously you activate a different part of your brain. Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain stem, the primitive part of the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain, in the cerebral cortex. Conscious breathing stimulates the cerebral cortex and the more evolved areas of the brain. This practice sends impulses from the cortex to the connecting areas that impact emotions. Activating the cerebral cortex has a relaxing and balancing effect on the emotions. In essence, by consciously breathing, you are controlling which aspects of the mind dominate, causing your consciousness to rise from the primitive/instinctual to the evolved/elevated.
What’s the difference between meditation and mindfulness? And what are they both, really? Aren’t they the same thing? Let’s take a deeper look.
Meditation is, according to the Buddhist Center, "a means of transforming the mind." It’s an intentional practice, just like yoga, but one that focuses inward to the mind and spirit to induce calmness, heightened concentration, and emotional balance. While the goals of meditation are usually presented as mental ones, your physical state can help you get to the right place to practice meditation—gentle stretching or even a full yoga practice can help you feel more settled in your body and get out any restlessness that may tend to intrude when you attempt meditation. Meditation usually begins with deep breathing in a comfortable position (which doesn’t have to be seated), bringing all your awareness to your breath’s rise and fall, and trying to clear your mind of any conscious thoughts. So where does mindfulness fit into all of this?
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to start working toward a fully-fledged meditation practice.
Being mindful is simply stopping to ask questions like:
Why am I doing this?
Does this make me happy?
Could I be doing this a better, healthier way?
Does this feel good, physically and emotionally?
Mindfulness comes into play in every choice we make. A great example of being mindful is when we are asked to pay attention to our breath. Our attention is called to a very simple, minute behaviour that we perform thousands of times every day without thinking about it, and yet by being mindful, we can take intentional breaths with our movements, breathe away negative emotions and breathe in calm, using our breath to manipulate our bodies and our feelings.
The same could be said of eating. Eating mindfully may mean to you savouring each bite, taking more time to chew, asking yourself if you’re really hungry or if there may be another motivation behind your desire to eat something in particular—for example, most cravings are entirely emotion-driven, not a physical need.
There is often a belief that individuals need to fit their body into a certain shape in order to 'do' yoga. This couldn't be farther from the true definition of yoga. So how did I find love on a yoga mat ? I became familiar with my body and turned the edges of my mat into a safe zone filled with positive self-talk, constant reminders of the power of my breath, body, and self. These moments of physical difficulty turned into quiet declarations of the strength and capabilities. Remember, your body is telling you a story and often has the intellect to guide you into a pose that feels good, and caters to your particular needs. You may need and want to adjust, take a different variation, or even change a pose, in order to make it accessible, beneficial, and enjoyable. When this happens—do it.
The core of yoga is learning how to accept ourselves in this moment, not be apathetic about it. It teaches us to not get stuck apologizing who we were in the past, or hyperventilating about who we might be in the future.
As Fulton Oursler writes, “Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves - regret for the past and fear of the future.” In other words, we aren’t trying to “fix” ourselves as if we were broken. When we allow ourselves to accept our innate goodness, we begin to ask ourselves better questions and listen to the answers:
What do I want?
What do I feel?
What do I need?
How can I give myself what I need right now?
"Accepting means you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling at that moment. It is part of the isness of the Now. You can't argue with what is. Well, you can, but if you do, you suffer." --Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
Give yourself and others around you a break. Compassion is the action we take to support empathy. It can be in the form of words spoken aloud or inside your mind. It can be in the form of action, such as when we treat ourselves gently and with love and care.
When we accept what is happening, when we stop resisting, we can consciously make a decision to be compassionate. Acceptance doesn’t mean that no further action takes place! It means you can see where things with you truly are and decide what steps to take next. Compassion is a multi-step process. This process can occur so quickly it often seems like a single step, but when you find it hard to find compassion within, go through the steps so you can get there. When we practice compassion with ourselves, we better extend compassion to others because we know how to do it.
The last lesson but certainly not the least is action! I can think of doing yoga, imagine myself in the most intricate position and feel as if I’m doing yoga. However without any physical practice, I’m actually not doing anything. Pretty simple, right? Yet this is the most undervalued and most effective lesson. Ever. Probably also explains why it took me so long (over 5 years) to really get back into a practice. Cheers to being back!