For those of us who practice yoga, isn’t it often difficult to explain how transformative a yoga practice can be?
Yoga provides many physical benefits, such as improved balance, strength and flexibility. However, there are also so many wonderful lessons to learn through yoga.
1. To Love My Body. Today we are bombarded with images of perfection through advertising and social media, and it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we should look a certain way. But the more I practice yoga, the more I appreciate my body for the way it moves, rather than the way it looks. I am thankful for its strength and flexibility, and for its absolute magnificence in the way it functions. Studying anatomy has fascinated me, and it’s also made me extremely appreciative of the way my own body moves, especially in my 40s.
2. To Be Patient. In today’s society, we do not really have to be patient. If we want to buy something, we can order it online and have it delivered the same day. We can talk with people instantaneously and order our coffee on our phones, so we don’t have to wait in line So, I feel like I have become less patient as I get older, but yoga has taught me that good things come to those who wait. More challenging poses seemed elusive when I started yoga, but with regular practice and perseverance, I have been able to learn poses that once seemed impossible.
3. To Be Open to New Things. When I took my first yoga class, I had no idea what to expect and was a little nervous, but I was instantly hooked once I realized the movement was similar to dance and gymnastics, which I had done as a kid. Had I been too scared to take the class, I would have never realized how much I loved it. In addition, I’ve been practicing yoga for almost 10 years, and I still learn something new in most classes, which keeps me inspired to learn new things in everyday life.
4. To Not Compare Myself to Others. I’m not going to lie, this is a hard one. I can honestly say that I do not compare myself to other people when I take yoga classes anymore. Believe me, I used to feel very inadequate, especially in more difficult classes. I would feel like I did not belong or have a right to be there, but I have realized that each of us has our own journey. Some of us are dealing with injuries, and some of us have more time to practice than others. So I am able to focus on my practice and movement without being distracted by watching other people. And if I do somehow get distracted and see someone else doing something really challenging, I am inspired by their dedication instead of being jealous.
5. To Listen. When I first started yoga, I had to watch the instructor intently because the poses and terms were new to me. But over time, I have been able to move through my practice by listening to the teacher’s cues; sometimes I even close my eyes to help myself focus. This translates outside the classroom and helps me be a better listener to my friends, family and husband.
6. To Slow Down. Since I started teaching yoga, I have been able to watch a lot of people practice, and my own practice has improved from what they have taught me. I noticed that people who move slowly are incredibly strong and have good alignment, so in my own practice, I started focusing on taking the entire breath for each movement and have noticed a change in my practice. This has also helped me outside of yoga. I am able to stop and smell the roses, instead of running from place to place. I allow myself time to relax without feeling that I must always be doing something.
7. To Be Present. For the longest time, I could not articulate to other people why I loved yoga—but then I had a teacher talk about being present, and it clicked for me. When I am on my mat, I am only thinking about what I am doing and nothing else. Each pose requires focus and concentration that forces me to be present. This is not easy for me outside of yoga. As a very organized planner, I usually get consumed about something in the future. Being present is still a challenge for me, but I am much more aware of my ability to get caught up in future events and am able to bring myself back to the present moment. This has helped me better manage my stress and realize I can plan for the future but cannot control it.
8. To Breathe. Before I started yoga, I had no awareness of my breath. Thankfully, we are able to breathe without thinking about it! As I learned to breathe in yoga, I started to become more aware of my breath outside of my practice. I was able to notice how my breath changes when I am nervous, and how I can focus on deepening and slowing down my breath to help myself relax. Focusing on my breath is one of the easiest things I can control, and I can do it anywhere at any time.
9. To Be Less Anxious. If controlling my breath is challenging, I can use my yoga practice to be less anxious. If I cannot get to a class, I find a place to do some sun salutations. Being able to focus my mind on moving my body and breathing is very therapeutic and calming.
10. To Be More Confident. Although many people think that yoga is just a physical practice, it is a mental practice too. I used to tell myself that I could not do things because I have always been inflexible and not strong. But over time, I have built up strength, and I’ve realized I can do things I did not think I could. So now when I am faced with a new and challenging pose, I have the confidence to believe I can do it. And this has trickled into the rest of my life—I quit my job to teach yoga at age 40, and even though it was terrifying, I had the confidence to believe I could teach and help people.
11. To Change My Perspective. Yoga has taught me that we tell ourselves stories that are not always true. The more people I meet, the more I realize that my perception of myself is not how others perceive me. Over time, I have been able to change my perspective and see a more accurate picture of myself. I have also been able to change my perspective in other ways. For example, I hate grocery shopping and always wanted to get through the grocery store as fast as possible. But now I find myself being thankful that I can buy groceries and eat healthy food. When I have to wait in line, I use that time to think about something rather than just getting annoyed. These changes in the way I think have made grocery shopping a more enjoyable experience.
12. To Be Compassionate. I have learned that everyone feels vulnerable at some point when they come to their mat. My vulnerability has always been arm and core strength, but strong people often feel vulnerable when stretching. No one is perfect, and no matter how confident they seem, they are probably fighting a battle that not many people know. So, I have learned to love people, to be able to peel back their layers and to see who they really are and what challenges they face. This is not always easy, but it’s definitely worth it when I am able to get past facades. It also allows me to connect with people and be vulnerable.
13. To Be Vulnerable. This one is very hard for me. I always want people to think that everything is perfect. My yoga practice has taught me that I am not perfect, and I am not fooling anyone. No one is perfect, and that is okay. As long as I give my best effort to something, that is all I can do, and I can be proud of that.
14. To Work Towards a Goal. (But Not Fixate on It.) Yoga has taught me to enjoy the process. I have been practicing my handstand for a while now, and even though I used to get frustrated I could not do it, I started to realize I had fun just practicing. There is something exhilarating to me about being upside down on my hands. So whether I can hold a handstand for one minute or not does not really matter; I can have fun along the way.
15. To Trust Myself and Others. The mental part of yoga has taught me to trust my intuition. I have always listened to my gut, but my awareness of my body has made me even better at listening to what my body is telling me. In addition, I have learned to trust other people. A couple of years ago, I went to a class with a teacher I did not know. During a sun salute, she came up to me in downward dog and told me to jump to a handstand. I had never done that, nor ever considered doing that. But at that moment, I knew that she believed in me, so I tried it. I almost knocked the poor girl over, but she caught me and inspired me to think I could do it. Two years later, I am getting more consistent at doing that, but if I had not trusted that teacher, I would have never tried it.
Although many people come to yoga for the physical practice, I believe that people keep coming back for all the other wonderful benefits that yoga provides. If you have never given yoga a chance, I encourage you to try it. These things I have mentioned above do not happen after one class, but if you stick with it, you might just find yoga will change your life in many beautiful ways!
Author: Cara Fraser
Image: Instagram @benditlikebay
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina