When I tell people I teach yoga for a living, one of the first responses I get is, “I’m not flexible enough to do yoga.”
Yoga in the Western world is often equated with the physical practice of the asanas, and the more subtle layers are not as well known or explored.
Yoga postures shifted into the spotlight when yoga was introduced to the West as a way of getting people to practice, but originally the practice was not so much about touching our toes and more about shaping and calming the mind.
Here are five benefits of yoga showing us what lays behind the physical practice:
1. Yoga is a technology
It helps us connect to the part of ourselves that is unspoilt—the place that can never be hurt or damaged.
Within each and every one of us is a place that is not defined by who or what we think we are. This core of our being is pure in nature, unhurt, and unbroken.
Many of our troubles arise when we separate ourselves from this place and stand on the storylines of our life. This place can be found in the quietness of meditation, by staring up at a starry sky or by holding a newborn. When we put down the labels of who or what we think we are, then what we truly are can be revealed.
2. Yoga helps us to step out of our comfort zone
All our thoughts, actions, and words stem from our conditioning.
You would think that if we knew better, we would do better. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. We do what is easier, but changing our patterns of being requires practice, fire, and determination.
Neuroscience now tells us that the brain is plastic—that it can be moulded, shaped, and changed using conscious awareness practices. In reality, the constant slow medicine of yoga practice helps what no longer serves us to quietly fall away, which, in turn, changes our habits and expands our comfort zones in life.
3. Yoga transforms our perception of life
Have you ever laid in Savasana after practice and felt different, more at peace, or equanimous?
This is the power of the practice—it quietly irons out whatever we arrived with and brings us to that place within that is quiet and at peace.
When we feel balanced emotionally, physically, and mentally, we view life differently. As Anais Nin says, “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.”
4. Yoga teaches us to accept ourselves
There is no part of ourselves that should be left unturned when we practice yoga.
When we practice yoga, we get to experience how we feel in the poses. The mat becomes a mirror for who we are. How we do anything is how we do everything.
The trick is to see ourselves with loving awareness and without judgment. When we learn to make friends with all parts of ourselves, the shadow and the light, then we are practicing real yoga—there is no place for perfectionism.
5. Yoga improves our relationships with others
The most important exploration of yoga happens in the texts of the Yoga Sutras. Patanjali tells us that if we want to lead a harmonious life, we should first examine our relationship with others.
The Yoga Sutra lays out 10 principles we can incorporate into our practice, known as the yamas and niyamas. They are a universal and relatable map to help us navigate our world. This compass of human nature will help to direct our study, and in doing so, we will start to challenge some of our perspectives and ways of living.
When we take time to consider how the teachings relate to our own lives, when we start looking at our ethics and core values, we become the stewards of change.
To deepen our practice means a vote for ourselves. When we cease to be the placeholders of our life, we take a courageous step to invite change and challenge the status quo.