Through yoga, I realized the power to deal with things was all completely within my reach.
I have been doing yoga for a very long time. I spent years studying the philosophy behind it and as a philosophical junkie, spent a lot of time intellectualizing the process, which is awesome, but I needed more.
An embarrassing, stressed out “Incredible Hulk” moment rendered me broken and raw with tears flowing down my face. I didn’t want to, once again, explain myself away with psychological theories in the aftermath—as I had done previously to excuse these instances. I was tired—very, very tired. I decided to embrace yoga wholeheartedly and began a daily practice. It was hard and required—and still does—a lot of discipline I didn’t know I had, but with this decision, yoga and I became very, very good friends.
Yoga has become my life. I wake up and practice. I practice pranayama while I work. I am inspired by every teacher, school and expressive practitioner I can find in the world, studying their techniques and methods and listening to their wonderful stories. I am on a quest to read every single yoga book and article ever written and I dream about handstands and extra sticky yoga mats.
Here are six of the many ways yoga has turned me into my own personal superhero.
1. Flexibility, strength and contentment on the mat
Oh, my hamstrings! Seriously, it may take a lifetime to loosen these stubborn masses at the back of my legs. You know what yoga teaches me? That’s absolutely fine.
The discovery of new muscles that I never knew I had or used while paying close attention to every part of my body is liberating. Breathing into the tense tissues to help them relax and then experiencing them doing so is an accomplishment. Being able to rest in postures that I once struggled with is a beautiful feeling.
A lot of people say that they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible, but that’s why you come to yoga! Yoga is a lifelong process and what would it be good for if you came to the practice completely perfect? When you are kind to your body, and its limitations, your body is kind to you. You begin to discover all sorts of things about yourself when this union is established. You start to see how strong you actually are.
2. My personal and professional relationships
I used to have a tendency to blame a lot of my shit on other people, e.g., my boss, my coworkers, my parents, my professors, my friends, my dog. I resented them for not being exactly as I expected them to be and as a result, found myself quite bitter sometimes. I had been carrying a daily practice for about two months, when I stumbled across a quote on one of my teachers’ websites.
“If we want to test if yoga is working, then it should show in the relationships that we share with our family, our friends, our colleages.” ~ Desikachar
I had a moment and realized, “Yes, yes!” I was effortlessly working toward this without even realizing it. I wasn’t holding up that flashlight of expectations anymore. I was letting things be. I was laughing more, listening more and helping more which enabled me to be open to the same gifts being thrown my way. Cool! From time to time, human nature still gets in the way, of course, but my relationships have become a wonderful place to be.
3. Not caring what others think
I used to preoccupy myself with what people thought of me. The sad part is that the opinions I cared most about were those of people that, in general, weren’t even that important to me. We humans are funny like that. I began to recognize when I was restricting myself of my full expression because of someone else and could more easily stop the pattern before it took over. Now, I speak up for myself more and find myself expressing my opinions for fun. Imagine that!
When you are on your mat in a class full of people, there is a tendency to look around and compare. “I’m not as flexible as her.” “I will never be able to do that.” “He moves so gracefully in and out of postures, while I stumble to balance on two feet!”
As you continue, you will notice that the time you spend with yourself on the mat is valuable to you and looking around the room takes away from that. Just practicing this on your mat prepares the brain for you to be yourself, in real life, as you are, regardless of what others think. I like to think of my mat as a microcosmic scale of my life—an area to get prepared for the real thing.
4. Level of dedication
I have never been one to stick to something for very long. This happens for two reasons. One: I get bored way too quickly with things. Two: The idea of competing to become an expert in anything fills me with so much anxiety, it is always easier to just stop.
Enter yoga. The thing with yoga, is that it is all for you and even if, initially, you find yourself practicing to impress someone or to compete with another, you are reminded by your teachers, books, the practice and yourself that this is all for you. There is no pressure to succeed because success is not even possible. There is always something more, none of these “somethings” being better than the other.
There are a gazillion ways to approach yoga from a gazillion different angles, so the practice itself is really all that is important. There is a freedom in this. Dedication becomes easy because you are dedicating yourself to everything that’s around you, not just the light at the end of the tunnel.
5. Developing tactics for dealing with difficult situations
I would get a searing pain in the back of my neck and head that felt like rusted rods being slowly hammered into my brain from the base of my skull. This pain would last for days sometimes. Of course, this pain was caused by all of those dirty circumstances in my life—unpaid bills, uncomfortable confrontations, presentations, car troubles, etc. I was just trying to live a happy life but it all just became too overwhelming sometimes.
Through yoga, I realized the power to deal with things was all completely within my reach. Once I started to embrace this idea and use my personal power to overcome what I felt was impossible to overcome, those rusted rods came out. Letting go of things where my power wasn’t useful or was counterproductive helped me throw those rods off the edge of a cliff.
How did this happen? I started to breathe, really breathe. Breathing is such an important part of yoga. All yoga teachers would agree that without the breath, yoga is not yoga. Intentional, focused breath eases the mind and allows for organization of thoughts. When focused breath is applied as a tactic for dealing with stress, your body’s natural responses are relaxed and you can see things clearly, getting things done with fluidity and confidence.
6. Eating habits
I love cheese; I love fast food and greasy diner breakfasts. I love gummy bears and chips and on and on…and on. Through my time with yoga, I also realize I like a lot of healthy foods and dare I say, prefer them! Fresh, healthy foods chock full of nutrients make my body feel better and help me return to my mat everyday.
The physical practice of yoga alone may not help you get healthy (it is a wonderful start), but living the yoga lifestyle, you begin to reconfigure things and see the ways your eating habits affect your health. It just sort of happens as you practice. You don’t have to think about it. You just start to respect your body more because of the time you spend with it on the mat and you want to take better care of it. You even start loving it as it is!
Steph Richard is a lover of people, laughing, art, writing and most of all yoga. When she is not with her friends, who mean the world to her, she spends most of her free time centering herself on the mat, writing or laughing hysterically over a great stand up comedian. She is in the process of completing her 200 hour yoga teacher training and fantasizes of a world where people greet each other with downward facing dogs instead of handshakes. [email protected]
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~ Assistant Ed: Thandiwe Ogbonna/Kate Bartolotta