8 Lessons Yoga Taught Me
I overcame my skepticism and gained invaluable life lessons in return.
Yoga was one of those things that I knew could benefit me, but it took me a long time to actually consider it. I was very skeptical of the so-called benefits. For me, it wasn’t a sport, and I’m not flexible anyway. I guess some things need time to mature.
A little over two months ago, I started living with my girlfriend. Turns out she’s been practicing yoga regularly for over a year now. She does something like three 30-minute sessions a week, following the moves on a free app called Fitify (the same one I used when I decided to work out every day).
She offered me to join her for a session. I hesitated, and then I gave in: I did it. That was two months ago. Since then, I joined her on almost all her sessions, and I even do some regularly on my own. I’m glad I overcame my preconceived notions. Yoga has taught me a lot.
“My mind is empty. My heart is full. My body is busy.”— Ryan Holiday
1. It’s not about performance
There is a posture that involves sitting with your legs apart, and leaning to the side with one forearm resting on the inside of your knee, the other arm curved over your head. Whenever this posture is mentioned, my girlfriend and I can’t help but laugh in anticipation. She says, with great love, that I look like a beetle on my back.
I thought that was funny. One of the things that kept me from trying yoga was the fact that I am anything but flexible. I can’t even touch my feet when I’m standing with my legs straight. I can barely sit on my butt and stretch my legs out in front of me.
But yoga is not about performance. It’s about doing your best. No one cares if you can’t reproduce the postures perfectly. My only goal is to feel my muscles stretch. When it starts to feel too uncomfortable, I don’t try to go any further and hold the posture, going slightly out of my comfort zone but not too much. And guess what? I’m getting better!
2. Yoga IS a sport
I was very skeptical. To me, working out meant going for a run, being out of breath, and sweating. Doing something slow, peaceful, and not exhausting made me wonder if there was any point to it. Turns out, yoga is a sport. But a different kind than we’re used to.
Exercising is simply about moving your body. Sure, yoga isn’t the best way to burn calories, and it’s unlikely you’ll end up in a pool of your own sweat. But it does have many benefits:
“The relaxation techniques incorporated in yoga can lessen chronic pain, such as lower back pain, arthritis, headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome.Yoga can also lower blood pressure and reduce insomnia,” explains Dr. Nevins to Osteopathic.org.
According to the same website, the physical benefits of yoga also include:
- increased flexibility;
- increased muscle strength and tone;
- improved respiration, energy, and vitality;
- maintaining a balanced metabolism;
- weight reduction;
- cardio and circulatory health;
- improved athletic performance;
- protection from injury.
Not bad, for something that doesn’t feel like a sport.
3. It’s almost as effective as a good run for my mental health
When I go for a 30-minute run, I come back with a clear mind, a sense of accomplishment, a relaxed body, and an overall feeling of joy. I started running for the physical benefits, but what kept me going and even looking forward to lacing up my shoes were the mental health benefits.
Yoga provides almost the same benefits. I love this way of getting out of my mind and into my body. I feel more connected to reality, get rid of tensions in my body, and feel great for having done something for me.
About the mental benefits of yoga, here’s what Dr. Nevins says:
“Regular yoga practice creates mental clarity and calmness; increases body awareness; relieves chronic stress patterns; relaxes the mind; centers attention; and sharpens concentration.”
4. It’s the perfect break from work
I work from home, sitting on my butt all day, staring at my laptop screen. Sometimes I get bored and tired, and I need a break.
Grabbing my phone doesn’t feel like a break. Instead, here’s what I do: I close my laptop, ditch my pants, and do 20 minutes of yoga in my underwear on the mat. By the time I’m done, my brain has rebooted, I don’t need to shower or anything, and I can get back to work.
It’s the perfect mind-cleansing break.
5. The less you think, the easier it gets
At one point, I said to my girlfriend, as we were doing a random pose, “I just realized something!” That something was that the less you think, the emptier your mind, the easier it gets. Yoga is about getting out of your mind. Strangely enough, when you have an empty mind, the postures become much more accessible. Maybe because then the barriers come down…
This posture, which is called “Crow pose”, is difficult. But now I can hold it for the full 30 seconds. However, if the slightest thought crosses my mind, I fall.
And I’ve found that it works the same way in life: the less you think when it’s not time to think, the better.
6. The mind stills when the body moves
My mind tends to go in circles quite often. And it doesn’t do me any good. I end up thinking too much and focusing on the negative, creating “problems” where there are none. Except I’ve found the remedy: my mind calms down when my body moves.
And yoga is the perfect way to get my body moving while clearing my mind. As Ryan Holiday wrote in “Stillness Is the Key”:
“My mind is empty. My heart is full. My body is busy.”
7. Here’s what “focusing on the now” really means
Sometimes a pose is hard to hold. It hurts. It’s exhausting. But I realized something: when I look at the clock, I get out of the moment and the purpose of the exercise. It feels longer and harder. Instead, when it’s hard, I tell myself this:
“Don’t think of it in terms of time. Just do it, as if time no longer exists. Empty your mind, give yourself entirely to the pose, and do it as if you were to hold it your whole life.”
This is how yoga taught me to focus on the present moment.
8. Taking time to inhabit your body is crucial
We tend to stay in our heads all day. We lock ourselves in the attic, and we forget that we are also a body. A body that has needs, not just sleeping, peeing, and eating.
Yoga has taught me to honor my body in another way. As my friend Mariam El Boudi once wrote:
“Every time you unfold your mat and slip on your yoga pants, you are saying to your body: thank you for carrying me throughout the day. Here is my gift to you.”
Get inside your body. This is not a waste of time, quite the contrary. When you return to what you were doing, you will feel that your still, empty and relaxed mind will bring you much more insight.
Living in your body is crucial to your overall balance. And yoga helps you do that.