23 Dec What are you practicing for?
When preparing for this blog post, I searched “benefits of yoga” which yielded almost seven million results in just 0.17 seconds! After clicking through a couple of the links, I decided that instead of rattling off an impersonal list of benefits that yoga is widely known for I’ll share with you the ways in which yoga has benefited me. Although I initially started yoga to get in shape and deal with stress, the reasons that keep me coming back to my mat have changed. I now see that these benefits are interdependent, build on each other, and continue to evolve and deepen.
I am stronger and more flexible.
Before yoga I tried many other physical activities – running, lifting weights, stair climbing, bootcamp, and kickboxing to name a few – all with limited results. Instead of feeling energized and light, I felt tired and tight. Then I walked into my first yoga class. At that time, I wanted the most bang for my (student) buck and I thought yoga was perfect – you stretch, sweat, and even nap in each class!
Unlike the gym, yoga works the entire body at once. When a part of the body is stretching, there are other parts that are strengthening, and vice versa. With thousands of yoga postures to draw from and multiple variations to go deeper, plateauing at a particular level of strength and flexibility in yoga is almost impossible. What is amazing is that after more than a decade of practice I still continue to get stronger and more flexible.
I am more confident and playful.
After months of regular practice I noticed the benefits in my yoga practice were in my life. As I got stronger I became more confident. Yoga taught me that if I persevered with patience, my hard work would pay off. Additionally, as I got more flexible I became more playful. Trying difficult and sometimes scary poses and variations that resulted in me falling on my butt or face in a room full of strangers, taught me how to laugh things off. These benefits are particularly noticeable around children – my strength and flexibility, confidence and playfulness keep me young and allows me to jump and crawl with the best of them.
I feel connected and calm.
In yoga we are always playing with our edge, which is our limit in stretch, strength, endurance, and balance. It is also where real transformation begins as it is just outside our comfort zone. However, in order to walk the line of my edge, I have to be acutely aware of my body’s messages in each pose so as to not injure myself. These messages appear as subtle changes in sensation or breath, and this fine observation increases my concentration and connection to both body and breath. Consequently, when I’m feeling connected, I also feel calm as I am often not thinking about anything else in those moments.
I am able to tap into my intuition and creativity.
With increased connection to my body, I became more familiar with my “gut feeling,” which I learned is, in great part, my intuition. In life, when I have an uncomfortable gut feeling I refer to the tools that yoga has equipped me with – grounding myself by coming back to my bodily sensations, observing my breath, or, if necessary, making adjustments to come back to balance. It was this intuition that gave me the courage to leave my marketing job. Even though I didn’t know what I would do next, the answer of “NOT Marketing” came from such a deep place inside of me I knew I could not ignore it.
Regarding creativity, in my younger days I was quite uptight about making art as I was very afraid of being made fun of. Over the years, yoga has helped me loosen up and I have started creating in my own ways – molding play doh creatures, making collages, colouring mandala stencils, and arranging flowers. Creating in these ways has proved to be meditative and fun – it gets me out of my head and into the moment, leaves me feeling spacious, grounded, and most importantly, playful.
Yoga is extending off the mat and into the rest of my life.
The benefits of a yoga and meditation practice are so rich I started to feel them overflow off my mat and into the rest of my life. These “pockets of retreat” are a part of my everyday and help me stay grounded and aware despite the intensity of city life. It looks a little like this:
- Starting my morning with personal quiet time like meditation, writing or a hot, candlelit bath
- Eating at least one meal a day in a quiet place, free from distracting conversations, loud music, and things to read or watch
- Single-tasking instead of multi-tasking (especially at work!)
- Taking a few deep breaths of fresh air daily
- Spending time in nature regularly
- Keeping as simple a life as possible to support all of this
Doing so allows me to integrate playfulness, confidence, calm, connection, intuition, and creativity into my daily life, where it counts most. After all, that’s why I keep practicing – not because getting my feet behind my head is important, but because I want to be a better person for my students, colleagues, friends, and partner.
As one of my meditation teachers, Phillip Moffit, says “It doesn’t matter why you practice but that you do.”
So, what are you practicing for?