While I appreciate the fact that most people who come to yoga, do so for reasons related to fitness, strength building, improving flexibility, and sometimes relaxation, I always think it so important to emphasize that the physical aspect of yoga is really just a very small part of the practice. I know – its GREAT to feel the physical changes in your body when you practice yoga regularly. Who doesn’t love to lose weight, see their body getting stronger, toned, more supple and not to mention being able to physically do things you never thought you’d be able to do. There is a huge sense of satisfaction and reward in that and I don’t want to take away from that element at all. I have personally patted myself on the back a few times for the physical changes that yoga brought to my body– especially during pregnancy – a time when most women have a sense of loss of control over the shape and loss of strength in their bodies.
Looking and feeling physically better is fabulous. But here’s the thing…this is why yoga is so amazing…not only do you look and feel so different – you actually practice things during your yoga that you hardly ever (or never for most of us) get to do elsewhere. You practice attitudes and habits that change your life to a more peaceful and happy place to be.
This is what you really practice when you practice yoga:
1. In yoga you practice ease in body and mind. For most of us, ease doesn’t come ….well, easy. We live a life of tension. We ‘try’ to do lots of things and the act of trying creates tension. We are consumed with thoughts around what we should and shouldn’t do or be able to do, and are constantly pacing and chasing. This manifests in our yoga practice – we come in and try to be flexible. We push ourselves to try to get into positions and postures – still plagued by the thoughts telling us – you should be able to do this – why is this so *&%&^% hard? It’s hard because your body is hard and your mind is rigid. You’re plagued with tension, everywhere.
In yoga you practice to ease up, let go of the tension in your body and in your mind. That’s why you feel so great when you practice yoga. It sets you free.
2. In yoga you practice being curious about your body and your abilities. From a young age we are measured against the developmentally appropriate milestones we are ‘meant’ to reach at certain ages. We are constantly bombarded with – this is what you should be able to do now – this is what good enough looks like, this is what not good enough looks (and feels) like. We learn to look at ourselves in that way. Measuring ourselves against some external source that may well be so far removed from who we truly are, that it really is like comparing apples and pears.
In yoga – once you get out of your mind which constantly harasses you with ‘you should’ and ‘you must’ and ‘you could/couldn’t’, you learn to look at yourself and your body and its abilities with a fresh pair of eyes. Like seeing yourself for the first time you can allow yourself to be curious. The good thing about this is that once you allow yourself to be looked at in this different way – your body just about always blows you away. It surprises you with what it is capable of when you meet it with acceptance and kindness. Your own ability to be open, be different, be fresh, be who you really are, surprises you as its so much better than all the expectations that you place on yourself, which doesn’t really mean anything to you. Being curious, like a child, is a refreshing, and life-altering bonus to what your yoga practice brings to your life.
3. In yoga you practice loving your body and yourself: With the practice of being curious, almost inevitably, comes a new sense of appreciation for what you and your body is really about. As a world of possibilities open up in terms of what you are capable of, both physically and mentally, you learn to appreciate who and what you truly are. Getting to know yourself in a way that is different from how you were ‘brought up’ to think about what is good and bad and correct or not so correct according to society’s rules, is liberating and once the acceptance of the amazing, yet different being that you truly are sets in, there is so much more room to love who you are and what you are about. ‘My body is mine and its not only perfect – its amazing’ is not a common frame of mind in this day and age. In yoga you practice to believe and inhabit that space in your mind.
4. In yoga you practice gratitude: Hand in hand with loving your body and who you truly are, comes a sense of gratitude. You are able to be grateful for your body, how it shows up and functions for you every day – despite years of potentially being beaten up by bad habits or negative thoughts. In yoga you practice functioning from a place of gratitude. Every difficult posture teaches you something else about yourself. These lessons improve your life, it helps you learn about how you can choose to change and improve. You therefore learn to be grateful for the ‘discomfort’ – on the mat and out there in life. The discomfort and the challenges shape you and that’s something to be grateful for. You learn to be grateful when the challenge comes…and grateful when it ends.
5. In yoga you practice being kind: You will often hear sayings in yoga like ‘listen to your body’ and while this is a well-intended saying, it can also serve as a cop- out – a get out of jail card – an opportunity to take it easy. Yoga is definitely not part of the no-pain-no-gain- break-your-body-down-before-you-build-it-up-again-its-cool-to-break-your-body-because-that-means-you’re-working-out-properly mentality. Thankfully. It is also not a place to shy away from that which you really need to face in yourself or in your body. So rather than saying – listen to your body – think ‘honour your body’ – with kindness. Honouring your body puts you in a place of knowing what your body needs, and responding in kindness. Listening to your body might sound like have a big slice of lemon meringue at Mug and Bean (because they are biggest and sweetest), but honouring your body might sound more like stay in side plank for 5 more breaths because you need to wake up the fire meridians in your body to cleanse, detoxify and renew and even transform! You approach your body and its needs with kindness and care. You know this is the only body you have. You know that this body has been there from the beginning and will be till the end. You know that when you love something, you care for it with kindness. This is VERY difficult for most people in yoga to get their heads around, because they are consistently plagued by the mentality of not being good enough, strong enough, flexible enough and resenting themselves and their own bodies for not being able to do things. In yoga you practice the opposite. You practice acceptance, and kindness to yourself – all the time and under all circumstances.
6. In yoga you practice compassion: In order to be kind to your body you have to begin to cultivate the most beautiful quality out there: compassion. We lack compassion so much in our daily lives towards each other, because we lack compassion for ourselves. In yoga you practice being compassionate. Your body is tired today? You’re body is restricted, and even paralysed by tension? You don’t condemn and judge yourself, make yourself out to be less than average. You practice compassion….
Your body has been holding tension for you for years. While you ignored it and pretended it wasn’t happening, your body held onto it for you. Have compassion. Have compassion for yourself. Have compassion and know that everyone out there is fighting and inward battle…it’s not always easy. We all deserve a little compassion.
7. In yoga you practice patience: Yoga postures, and the qualities they aim to instill in each of us who take to the mat, don’t come easy. You will always have good and bad days. You will always with the best of intentions not fully get to where you want to be. You will fall out, your mind will wander, you will get angry when you ‘should’ feel compassion and you will get frustrated by slow progress. Certain postures may elude you for years and you will doubt yourself. In yoga you practice patience with yourself. When you learn to be patient with yourself you become patient in general. The world needs more patience.
8. In yoga you practice being present: any good yoga class invites you to take the time to become still and present. 99.9% of our daily lives is spent either in the future – worrying, or in the past, contemplating. Neither of those (the future or past) serves you, as the past is gone and the future might never happen. Being present is a place of freedom, of joy, of pure and utter bliss and release from tension. Because it is NOW – it is what it is – free from anticipation, regret, or worry. It just is what it is. It’s a funny thing to get your head around and we spend years and years trying to learn and appreciate the value of staying present. In yoga you have a great opportunity to be present. Through connecting with your breath and giving yourself permission to let go of everything else out there, you connect to the present moment. Freedom. You begin to see where your mind goes when it does wander. You begin to feel what it feels like, when you do let go, even for a moment. You create a space free of tension in body, mind and soul for your body, mind and soul to be free to be limitless as they were intended to be.
9. In yoga you practice how you want to be: Bringing your body to stillness and then moving in and out of postures with varying levels of difficulty, and addressing various aspects about yourself, and your life on the mat brings you face to face with what you’re really like. How you respond to challenges, how you respond to failures (perceived or not), and success. What motivates you? Are you driven by what others see in you or can you bring your motivation inwards and be your own driving force in a kind and compassionate way? How do you limit yourself – do you give up before you’ve tried and can you overcome your fear of failure and allow yourself to be vulnerable. In yoga you practice being how you really want to be. A softer, easier, kinder, more compassionate, patient and present person.
Author: Tanya Kemp
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