I've been practicing and teaching yoga for a while now, but I still remember how foreign and tricky it all once was (some of it still feels tricky, and that's ok). Here are 5 things I've learned through doing yoga.
1. Finding the right teacher is like a lightbulb turning on in the room.
There will be as many styles as there are teachers out there. If you're not LOVING yoga, keep looking for different class types and teachers. Something will give you the "aha" moment you know that yoga can bring.
2. You will get more flexible but it takes muuuuuuch longer than you think.
Be patient and keep at it gently. I came to yoga from running, and I was never much of a stretcher. If I had more time in my day, I'd choose to do a longer run rather than cut it short and stretch for 10 minutes, post-run. Yoga became a way of adding a weekly stretch session to my life. It was more than that, of course, because it's deeply soothing, strengthening, and balancing. But the physical stretching was a bonus. I was very inflexible, and I knew this would be a good thing to start. Over a decade later, I've learnt that I'm more flexible when I do more yoga and less running. But I love my running, and I can see the difference when I run more in a given week and do less yoga. I now see the cause and effect better.
3. You can shift your mood by moving your body.
Anyone who's danced will know this, and yoga is another example of the mind-body connection. In a funk? Do ashtanga. Wired before bedtime? Try a restorative class. Not impressed by the time of your alarm in the morning? Do a 15 minute gentle flow. You have the ability to flip a switch in your brain by moving your body and breath.
4. Make the poses work for you.
At first I'd try to match my body to what I thought the shapes were supposed to be. Then I started looking for how to make the poses feel good in my body. I'd bend my knees more in a forward fold and see that my lower back relaxed. I'd lower my hips and lift my torso in extended side angle pose and feel how much easier the breath flowed. I realised the poses were tools to help me unlock my body, rather than a way to further constrict myself.
5. How you are on the mat is probably how you are off the mat.
Notice your thoughts as you practice. Are you being kind to yourself? Critical? What's going on in that beautiful mind of yours? The way you treat yourself while you're doing yoga is probably the way you're treating yourself when you do other things. Because of the self-reflective nature of the practice, use this time to know your tendencies better and ask if they're helpful or hurtful. Choose how you want to be moving forwards. Let go of that which does not serve you.
Yoga is a wonderful tool for figuring all these things out. What have you found from your practice? I'd love to know.
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