If you can’t afford therapy, then do yoga.
Seriously, you should consider it.
I have already written about why I think self-experimenting is awesome and key in intentional living.
This Summer saw me forsake my preferred high intensity kind of training for the much slower paced and ‘less challenging’ (it turns out it’s not) pursuit of yoga. And I fell in love – with the ancient practice and myself.
This experiment sort of landed in my lap as I had rented an apartment right next to a yoga studio. Having been a flaky on/off student for several years, but being pretty convinced that the benefits would be unlocked as soon as I became consistent with it, I purchased myself a monthly pass and committed to attending class every day.
Initially I combined yoga classes with high intensity intervals style training which I would do earlier in the day. Later on in my 4 months, I changed that to doing yoga in the morning and evening as a way to finish the day. When that happened, the only other exercise I’d do is a bit of walking.
Yoga = personality gym?
I could wax lyrical about how yoga has made my body just as strong and healthy as other types of training, but mostly I want to talk to you about the profound psychological benefits.
Practicing yoga has made me a happier, more tolerant, patient, generous, present and loving human being. I also feel like it has upped the dial on my self-awareness, resilience, courage, ability to delay gratification and ability to witness/observe my shifting states and emotions.
Here is exactly how I think I have benefited from 4 months and around 110 hours of yoga.
1. Spiritual practice. First thing’s first: yoga is a ‘spiritual’ practice in that by design, it is supposed to unify your mind and body and bring you closer to ‘source’ (or your ‘essence’ if that word doesn’t make you cringe). Usually classes will incorporate wisdom from your teacher. You will be asked at the beginning of class to set an intention for your practice, and reminded throughout to return to the present moment.
As I am not the most consistent meditator, using my yoga classes as this daily ‘connecting’ with myself was powerful in and of itself. The only thing I can liken it to is returning to this inner source of bliss and contentment that eludes me when my brain is on high beta (thinking) mode. As soon as I have done a few sun salutations, given up control to the instruction of my teacher and focused on my breathing for a bit, I have perspective, mental spaciousness and greater self control.
This sense of peace and calm has spilled over into my life and has meant I have greater presence of mind when I face personal challenges.
2. Resilience. Any form of exercise will improve your physical endurance. I have found yoga extremely physically challenging so it has certainly done that, and I would also say that the resilience demands have been even greater because practicing yoga really heightens emotions.
3. Presence. I have definitely found myself a lot more able to resist the lure of my imagination and stay present in my daily activities, since starting yoga. When you are doing yoga, you really can’t get away with not being present. You wind up missing instructions and not getting the most from the postures. Whenever I was reminded of that in the class, it would be like an ah-ha moment; a powerful reminder that without anchoring ourselves to presence, life escapes us.
4. Patience. I am not the most patient person. I have grown a lot more patient in recent years, but practicing yoga daily these last 4 months has improved that even more.
What I have learned is, some days of a week, I can show up every day and not experience an improvement or a progression. But staying with it anyway, despite a lack of external validation of my efforts, was ultra rewarding as those efforts began to pay off with greater strength and flexibility through the weeks. Yoga has presenced me to the reality that small, consistent effort and devoted attention pays off. Always. No exceptions.
5. Self-compassion. Again, self compassion has been something I have needed to work on over the years. Like everyone else, the voice in my head left unchecked will default to criticism, blame and judgment. Taking the time for myself each day for yoga felt like such a loving act, that I found that my self-love cup was really full. Less of the chiding, more of the amusement and wonder at myself as I screw things up or act out.
6. Self-reliance. Practicing yoga has made me even more self-sourcing when it comes to my own good mood, happiness and fulfillment. It has taught me that we really can’t go elsewhere for that.
7. Equanimity. Practicing yoga has helped me to view my ‘good’ and ‘bad’ emotions equally as at best, temporary mental states. The power in that is just monumental. It means not investing too much in either, helping me to cultivate non attachment in my life. Cultivating equanimity and non attachment are key practices in reducing our suffering in life as we go through the various twists and turns.
Yoga saved my sanity
Practicing yoga has been life-changing for me.
I have found it profoundly useful in calming an overactive brain. That helps me to feel inspired and creative and fosters a sense of wellbeing that I didn’t have access to prior to practicing.
Checking in with myself on my mat each day has also been monumental in improving my self-awareness and ability to sit with negative emotions without judging them or trying to push them away. Being okay with all of my emotions rather than numbing myself or running from them has given me more power and confidence. In fact, I’d say it has raised my self-esteem significantly.
If I was in charge, I’d make yoga mandatory. This world would be a very different place.