Ahhhhh yoga – even the very thought of it floods my body with relaxation signals that tell me everything is going to be okay, just like a patient parent soothing a child when things feel a bit overwhelming, yoga is always there, a tonic for the soul.
The documented benefits of Yoga are wide and varied and it’s so pleasing to see that modern Science is now catching up with ancient wisdom and can credibly demonstrate how powerful a regular practice of yoga can be for the body and mind.
A great number of research articles can be found on places like Google, but I’d like to share some of my personal thoughts of how yoga has helped to shape me.
What has yoga taught me?
I am a typical Aries, with a longstanding tendency to ram into things, wanting results now, now, now, faster, faster, faster. Yoga has taught me to slow the F down and that long lasting change comes from small incremental steps repeated thoughtfully and consistently. Learning to slow down to see changes in my body and mind has given me a new appreciation for stability. At first it was a real challenge when I discovered that I couldn’t just rock up and use enthusiasm and sheer force to get into desired poses. Instead I learnt that strength and flexibility need to be built up slowly over time – creating a powerful and sturdy foundation that is supportive for the whole body. and system. This experience has wonderously spilled over into daily life and rather than trying to get somewhere or something fast, I’ve started to appreciate the benefit of applying patience, knowing that I will get there in my own sweet time through commitment, consistency, and dedication – not through ego and force. It’s a far more sustainable approach.
As the name of my blog may suggest, I am not the most graceful human to have ever walked the earth. It’s taken me a while to accept this but ironically nothing has helped me more than stepping into a yoga class full of seemingly perfect graceful yogis. The first instinct (and understandably so) may be to run away but stick it out, I promise its worth it. With time I’ve learnt to accept that other people’s bodies may trigger my insecurities and that that’s ok, as you dive deeper, the benefits of yoga far outstretch fancy looking poses and instead offer us a powerful opportunity to come face to face with our vulnerabilities. We get to experiment with how to treat ourselves in the face of insecurity. Instead of criticising myself for being shallow or judgmental,I’ve now become more comfortable to let these feelings flow and have been compassionate with myself whilst they are bubbling. The mat can be a transformative place if you are willing to notice what comes up honestly and with compassion.
No one likes being told what to do, even by myself (C’mon, I mean, who does really?)…ironically yoga has helped me find a new level of discipline. Getting up at 5am every morning for meditation and a yoga class before work has been a hell of a struggle. Admittedly its taken me 5 years to achieve the morning routine I aspired to in my mid twenties, but it has happened nonetheless. What I’ve noticed is that it’s set a template for behaviour that I have applied to other things, learning self discipline and consistency through my practice has enabled me to be more measured in other areas of my life. I don’t get it right all the time but I know it is possible which spurs me on. It doesn’t matter how many classes you commit to in a week, its the behaviour of going when you say you’ll go that will make all the difference, it also helps that your discipline gets rewarded with a delicious rest at the end of class.
Less bound by destructive behaviours
Although not solely responsible, my love of yoga has definitely helped me quit cigarettes and alcohol and dramatically change my diet. One of the beautiful things about yoga is that it helps you to turn inwards and deeply connect with and feel your body. You develop a new level of body awareness and appreciation which makes it far easier to notice the effect of behaviours and choices off the mat. It may take time, patience (that word again!) and consistency to notice these profound changes but as our awareness becomes more subtle, it is a lot easier to make beneficial tweaks that positively impact our sense of health and wellbeing.
Expanded comfort zone
Yoga expands as you do – no matter what your level, there will always be a challenge for the taking (and at times the challenge will be not to take the hardest variation). Because it’s unusual to go from beginner to headstand queen/king (I’m still not there) in a few classes, the practice demands that we push our comfort zones just a little bit each class to build on our previous skill level and repeat this consistently over time. In this way it becomes normal to try and fail attaining a pose a couple of hundred times before mastering it – and sometimes it may never be achievable and that’s okay too. This has taught me to have fun getting uncomfortable and to worry less about failure and instead generate an attitude of giving it a bloody good go. Yoga encourages us to always remain a student and to try new things and risk getting them wrong for the joy of trying something new and expansive.
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