Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. ~ The Bhagavad Gita
”Yoga is the perfect opportunity to be curious about who you are.” ~ Jason Crandell
"A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms."
"You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside."
I am not so much a yogi -- time and family demands do not necessarily allow for that -- but rather one who loves regular-ish yoga practices. I didn't used to be, laughing off yoga as a time-waster and not worthy of my efforts. Then, after trying it, and realizing how much I benefited from it, I realized that yoga is a boon not just to physical well-being but mental and emotional as well. Still, I prefer my exercise bouts to be a good sweat-inducing heat-race increasing session; not especially patient enough for a slow-flow type of a yoga practice. Thankfully, there's a yoga type for that. In fact, one of the great things about yoga is there is a type that fits most personality types; it's worth exploring the options to see if one might benefit you, as well.
To try to encourage you to consider trying a class or two, here are 10 lessons I have learned from yoga:
Focus on movement - I don't think it matters what sort of yoga one practices; the mindfulness of each move, the focus on proper alignment and positioning is key to a successful practice. After a few sessions, the positions become more automatic, but still, the attention one gives each movement and position is important. This practice-specific attention translates to other activities I do, be it running, swimming or playing dodgeball with the kids. With proper alignment, the body is that much less likely to become injured or impaired ... and I don't know about you, but being put on the sidelines due to an injury would be highly inconvenient what with the list of things I do each day.
Focus on breath and connecting breath to movement - Nothing gives you power like a breath. Nothing gives you focus like your breath. In addition, linking your breath to your movement can help you get through other tough or challenging circumstances. I often rely on a deeper yoga breath when running up the hills we seem to come upon at every turn during our runs, or when trying to power through a more challenging HIIT session. Not to say I'm zoning out, but rather the focus on my breath helps me to get through the other physical challenge I am facing.
Body awareness - Not in a wow-isn't-that-bikini-awesome sort of a way, but rather having an intimate knowledge of your body, its movements and its abilities. And how far you can push yourself, which is an amazing amount farther than you think.
Introspection - Not often in this busy life do we get the opportunity to really focus on ourselves, especially after we begin our parenting journey. Having the time to think about ourselves - present, as well as past and future - in a detached manner is an opportunity to better assess the circumstance. I say detached because at the time, during your practice, you are not going to do anything about it, because you are in the middle of your yoga flow. Having the chance to gain some mental clarity on a situation is a gift of yoga. I do often find I have come to some sort of conclusion or have an a-ha moment, but because I am not able to immediately act upon it, I get the richness of added detail that I might otherwise miss if I were instead able to immediately act.
Mindfulness - While on the mat (and afterwards), you are given the gift of time to really turn off your brain from all of the little to-dos you need to accomplish. Instead, it is you, your breath, your mat, and the movements you are engaging in.
Peace - With each practice, you create a little bit of peace that you can carry with you throughout the day, and hopefully until your next opportunity to practice yoga.
Portability - all you need is clothing you can move in (and perhaps not flash anyone), a little bit of space, and the time to focus on your practice. You can do your practice anywhere you have a little bit of space and a little bit of time.
Your whole body, not just your big muscles - Practicing yoga increases your awareness of the importance of your supporting muscles as well as your main muscles. Without strong supporting muscles, many of the movements - especially those focusing on balancing - would be impossible. Kind of translates well to a real life lesson, don't you think?
Yoga is about you. It's about what you do today. There is no rule for how far/fast/strong you have to be, and it can and will change from day to day. Even so far as one side of your body being more open to the movements than the other, there is a forgiveness and acceptance in your own yoga practice that is as welcome as it is welcoming.
It's not something you HAVE to do, but something you WANT to do.
Yoga isn’t just for big people, either. Little people greatly benefit from time on the mat. Okay, my kids would likely laugh me out of the room if I were to suggest to them that they would benefit from doing yoga. But there are some elements of the practice that translate well to kids:
-It helps them to slow down and focus. Every day, they experience the inundation of the hurry-up world we live in. They are the perfect age to begin a healthy (hopefully lifelong) habit that helps them to tune into the timeline their own body needs.
-Physically, yoga is beneficial to kids and teens as it helps them develop a healthy body awareness, complements athletic abilities and endeavors, and learning proper alignment and breathing techniques will be a boon for them throughout their lives.
-Kids are under a lot of stress. Yoga offers peace and calm that is a gift they give to themselves. School, homework, even social pressures ... all of this is stressful especially as kids age and develop their own sense of self apart from you and your family as they develop their social skills. Having and honing self-relaxation, self-calming and focus skills as one does with a regular yoga practice, kids will be able to take better care of their mental and emotional states without relying on chemical interventions. So what does that mean to you as a parent? Potentially less risk of drugs and alcohol abuse.
-Helping kids to understand the gift that yoga can be to one's own well-being goes hand-in-hand with helping kids to learn proper nutrition, physical fitness and mental well-being. Kids who are yogis have a better understanding of who they are, how they fit into the world, and will in turn hopefully take good care of themselves. Music to a parent's ear, knowing that we will worry no matter what, but when our kids also contribute positively to their better health, we have a little bit of peace (or at least maybe less worry).
-Yogis in general have a better ability to offer compassion to others, as they regularly offer it to themselves during each yoga session. I whole-heartedly believe that a little more compassion in this world would be a good thing.