Despite more than a decade of off-and-on yoga classes, I don’t think I ever fully grasped the benefits of yoga until I really started practicing it. Once I moved away from being self-conscious and beating myself up for not being able to do poses properly, only then did I truly believe (despite having heard this for years) that yoga isn’t about how well you hold a pose or how flexible you are, but about how you are.
Earlier last year, I started practicing yoga at home more frequently and always on my own. Learning to fully be while on my yoga mat not only made me a better yoga practitioner, but it taught me some invaluable lessons, which I never would have experienced had I remained fixated on trying to touch my heels to the ground in Downward Dog (Adho Mukha Shvanasana).
1. It Taught Me How To Be Present
As someone with a very ‘jumpy’ mind, being in the present moment has always been hard to do. I thrive on multi-tasking and now when I look back on my work life, I was always a ‘one hand on an email and the other editing an article’ kind of person. And so when I first started practicing alone, my mind would drift to how I looked, to what to have for breakfast, to the flashing Whatsapp messages and anything else but the asana I was in. Eventually, this was not only very distracting, but tiring and I had to really force myself to stop monkeying around. These days, I have learned that it’s okay to give myself to the practice and I’m a lot more present on my mat. To me, staying present is the best way to show love and respect to myself, knowing the wondrous benefits a yoga practice brings.
2. It Humbled Me Into Respecting My Body
I think yoga taught me to be humble and respectful. When I was younger, I remember always wanting to get into the full expression of a pose even though I didn’t have the strength or openness to do it. (Hello, Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)!) Even if I was experiencing pain I wouldn’t give in. It was very much ego-driven motivations that led me to do so. Conversations like, ‘Of course I can touch the ground, I’m not that inflexible!’ played in my mind as I stooped and compromised my asanas to reach my ‘goals’.
It wasn’t until I really started paying attention to my body that I started respecting it. I learned to put aside ego and embraced the humility that came with acknowledging that I wasn’t doing right by my body, by forcing it into uncomfortable or painful positions.
3. Dedication Became Easier For Me
As I started to respect my body and where I was in my yoga practice, appreciation and love for myself started to grow. I was okay in knowing that I wasn’t able to come into a full Bakasana (Crow) pose for example, but I also knew that with patience, practice and self-love, I would get there. I had already experienced this with other poses. Once I had a better appreciation and understanding of myself, I didn’t feel discouraged or beat myself up so hard anymore, instead I chose to support and love myself. With this, my dedication towards bettering myself and my practice grew stronger.
4. I Became Conscious Of My Breath
It’s always challenging to stay present in a pose that is difficult for me. But it is even more challenging when the pose is an easy one, like Savasana (Corpse Pose) for example. For me, it boils down to being able to stay in the present moment with my breath and yoga has taught me how to do that. From breathing evenly and patiently when my hips were too tight to come into Pigeon (Kapotasana) to breathing restoratively and with intent in Balasana (Child’s Pose). With each practice I notched up, the more I noticed how I breathe makes a difference. Even when I was not doing Ujjayi breathing, the presence of my breath had the ability to calm, energise, open and encourage me. These days, whenever I’m in an emotional situation, I take a deep, conscious breath before I make my next move.
5. I Gained A Better Attitude
It’s safe to say that yoga has definitely helped me develop a better attitude and approach to life in general. The lessons that I’ve learned about myself on the mat - tolerance, flexibility, patience, respect and mindfulness have also come with me off my mat. The ‘physical lessons’ like the tight stretches, falls and challenging asanas have also helped me become more self-confident, loving and gentler to myself.
Today, I’m a stronger, more dedicated and happier yoga practitioner than I was two years, or even six months ago. It has taken me a while to truly understand what yoga really is about and how this physically and spiritually inspiring practice truly is a way of life. My heels still don’t reach the ground in Downward Dog, but I know in my heart that I’m better for it.
What has yoga taught you?