Image Credit: Gadgetgirl
I have a confession to make. You ready? Here it is: I used to think yoga was girly. There. Out in the open. Take it or leave it. When I started my practice at the ripe old age of 21, I took my first yoga class as a result of my cousin’s encouragement and persistence. The only thing on my mind at that time? “I can’t believe I’m trying this, my friends are going to make fun of me…I guess I’ll tell them I got to take a class with a bunch of cute women.” Fast forward 4 years, and here I am now writing this article. Yoga has transformed my life in so many magical ways, I couldn’t possibly write everything in one article. From the places I’ve traveled, the friends I’ve met (and still stay in touch with), and the things I’ve seen, I thank my yoga practice…I couldn’t be more thankful for being introduced to this life changing practice.
Like I mentioned earlier, the reasons I started yoga are clearly the result of being around a bunch of…we’ll call them bros…in college. I was in the midst of my gym-rat phase, eager to find new and challenging ways to spruce up my fitness regiment-and maybe meet some women along the way. But looking back, my mindset has completely shifted. What I’ve learned from yoga is this: The poses, the strength you build, and the flexibility you develop are hardly the most important benefits from a consistent yoga practice. Unlike going to a gym to get through leg day or a few sets with the free weights, there is a certain type of philosophy that you begin to acknowledge when beginning your yogic journey. Below, I’ll break down some of the most significant philosophical elements I’ve experienced in yoga, and hopefully these will encourage you to start seeking your own true benefits.
1. It’s All About Play
I remember the first day I attempted the pose “Bird Of Paradise”. Yes, it’s definitely one of those postures you frequently see in a yogi or yogini’s Instagram feed. To me, it symbolized one of the most challenging, yet coolest looking poses in yoga. At the time, Yoga was relatively new to me, and my own priorities at the time were to try and build enough strength and flexibility to conquer these “advanced” level asanas. The more I could do, the better, right? Well, needless to say, the first time I attempted this pose I tipped over like a tree, feeling embarrassed and hopeless the entire way down. A teacher came to me at that moment and said the following “It’s all about play”. Then it hit me. What was I trying to prove? I just started my yoga practice and I”m already trying poses that take months, maybe years to truly develop. This phrase shifted my mindset completely. Rather than viewing yoga and it’s postures like badges on a boy scout, I began to shift my mindset to that of a child who just stepped foot onto the newest playground on the block. This playground, my mat, would become a place of freedom, play, humility, adventure, and experimentation…to try new things, fall, get back up, brush myself off, and most importantly-laugh.
2. Push Yourself To Your Edge, But Don’t Go Over
Lifting weights was leading me on a path to disaster. Day in and day out, I had my gym bag stuffed with my composition notebook and pen, quickly scribbling away my goals for each week. I would write down how much weight to increase for my next gym session, how I could change my form to better execute exercises, you name it and I wrote it down. Regardless of how I felt each day, I continued my routine of going to the gym, performing the “movements”, getting home, showering, and going off to class. I was on autopilot, which is never a good thing in any aspect of life. What yoga taught me is this: You need to be in tune with your body. You need to listen to it, hear what it’s telling you, and follow its advice. So you’re in your first challenging pose, let’s say Warrior 2. You’ve been holding it for about a minute when your instructor begins telling you a story about a challenge they might have overcome in their lives. All you can think about is how much your thigh muscles are going to punish you after this pose is over! Well, in yoga, you are encouraged to push yourself, but at the same time, you begin acknowledging when it’s time to back off. It’s fine to go to your edge, but yoga teaches you to back off when necessary.
3. The Journey Is The Reward
So often you see different fitness programs or merchandise that suggest you can get your body in top shape in only 80 days, or however long the program lasts. You end up buying the program, put all your effort into this endeavor, until you finally finish and perhaps notice a few results. Then it hits you…what next? The best part of yoga in my eyes is that it’s truly a life long practice. This is a lifestyle choice that will keep you grounded, happy, and fit; a practice you can explore well beyond your 50s, 60s, 70s and upwards. There is no endpoint, only the journey you are taken on. Namaste.