This past weekend I found myself on the yoga mat again. Yoga is a huge part of my regular routine. As I went through my flow, I was inspired to share what yoga means to me, and why I continually come back to my mat for more. But first – the 2 best quotes from a Yoga class I took this past weekend:
“When you are on your yoga mat, no one messes with you.”
“Practice breath work – pretty soon all you will have to do is close your eyes and it will always feel like there is sun shining on your face, even in complete blackness’”
1. It keeps me feeling BALANCED
My yoga practice helps me to physically be able to feel balance. Whether it is through a series of balance enhancing postures on the legs, hands, arms and feet or performing a series of postures to work and evenly stretch and strengthen each side of the body equally, my body’s balance is physically challenged each time that I step onto my mat.
Physical balance is extremely important. Maintaining balance and equilibrium prevents falls from happening as well as helps with the strength and quality of my workouts in the weight room.
My practice also challenges my mental and emotional balance. Often while practicing certain physical balance postures while in class, my mind and my muscles are screaming all sorts of different things at me. I have to challenge myself clear all of that away and remain steady & poised.
This mental and emotional balance that I practice while ON my yoga mat transfers directly to my everyday life. My brain as well as my muscles have become used to and expectant of challenges both physical and mental, therefore it is much easier to maintain a steady outlook when any adversity arises in life.
2. It keeps me feeling STRONG
Mental and physical strength is exercised in yoga. Physically, my muscles are challenged during each Yoga Asana. My legs must hold postures and my torso must keep me uplifted. My physical strength is challenged through the repetition of movement as well as the depth of specific postures.
My legs must be strong to hold me in single leg balances, lunges, warriors and bridges and my arms must be strong to hold downward dog, plank posture, upward facing dog and arm balances. Each time I am on my mat, my physical strength is tested.
My mental strength is tested even more. As an athlete I want to be able to succeed at every posture I attempt. I am tempted to force postures. The true purpose of yoga is to let go of that need to force and control the body. Yoga is meant to keep you feeling held and uplifted by your structure. Humility must be practiced, modifications embraced and owning your level is imperative for development of practice.
There are also days when my mind is running wild and I cannot slow down and just BE. My yoga practice helps me to clear my thoughts and enter states of meditation. Meditation is not easily understood and not easily obtained. It is also something that has a different meaning for everyone.
Ron Swanson during an episode of Parks and Recreation describes meditation perfectly without knowing it:
“And no, I was not meditating. I just stood there quietly breathing. There were no thoughts in my head whatsoever. My mind was blank. I don’t know what the hell those other crackpots where doing.” – if only we could all achieve this level of just being…
3. It keeps me feeling FOCUSED & DISCIPLINED
Practicing a series of postures for 30 minutes, 60 or even 90 minutes takes extreme focus & discipline. There are times when I do not want to stay in a particular posture because it is very challenging. There are also certain days when balance postures are most difficult than others.
There have been many days when my thoughts are controlling my practice –“this teacher is too slow, too easy, I wanted to start slower/faster, I need more of this/that/etc… ”
Getting through each class keeps me in line. I give my preferences over to the instructor and it transfers over to tasks in everyday life that I may not necessarily want to do but know that I have to do.
The days that I find myself being challenged in this way during my yoga classes I return to what I know helps me, my breathing. My breath work refocuses my energy during class and in my everyday life. When I am bring challenged in a posture during class, breathing makes it seem easier – makes my body seem lighter and more fluid. When I am being challenged outside of class, feeling stressed, sad, angry, or scared, if I can manage to slow down and truly breathe it brings me back to center and back to focus and discipline.
4. It keeps me feeling CALM
For yoga’s calming qualities I will first thank the breath work. Anytime that I am feeling stressed I now know to first check in with how well I am breathing. Often if I am experiencing a lot of stress I realize quickly that I am not fully breathing. In fact, I am partially holding my breath. The feeling of relief and calm that comes with a full and deep inhalation and exhalation is wonderful during a stressful moment.
The practice of purposeful breathing started for me in yoga class. Guided by an instructor I learned to slow my breathing down to fully fill my lungs upon inhalation and fully get rid of the old with each exhalation.
Try this – inhale your breath for 4 full counts – pause for 2 counts (not breathing in or out) and exhale all of the air out of your lungs for 6 full counts. You may find at first that this is a real challenge but I promise you with practice it will become easier.
Have you ever heard the phrase, “fake it till you make it” – this applies perfectly to exuding an outward vision of calm when inside you might feel a little crazy!
Holding certain postures are at times extremely challenging and at times – they hurt! A method that works for me has been to “put my game face/poker face on”. No matter what I am feeling on the inside I first will work to relax my facial muscles. Just that simple act eases some of the tension I am feeling in that moment. This exact same trick works outside of yoga class. I may be presented with what seems like an impossible task. First thing to do is to take a deep breath & relax (especially my face) before I respond.
When your first reaction to a challenge is to relax, it is much easier to truly believe – it will all be OK and it will all get done.
5. It keeps me FLEXIBLE & PREPARED for life
Flexibility is another case where it applies to the physically and the mental. Physically, the practice of yoga helps to lengthen out tight and sore muscles after a good heavy lift. It helps to open up my hips after a long week sitting at a computer or after a long drive. Flexibility also directly applies to the mental side of life.
Some of my favorite Yoga classes are the ones where the instructor keeps us moving at a rapid pace, changing the order of the vinyasa’s, leaving me no time to think only move. Sometimes the postures are challenging and unrelenting, other times the postures are gentler and breathing is easier – much like life.
You never know what life is going to throw at you. There are days that are a breeze and that you move through effortlessly. Others can be a bear! You may feel like nothing is going right and that it will never end. Being able to stay solid in a challenging posture during class directly crosses over to support me on the days that I wish I never crawled out of bed always knowing, this too shall pass. For each bad day or moment, for each deep and challenging posture, there is always a resting posture with deep breaths waiting for you just around the corner.
I’d love to hear your reasons for practicing yoga, or if you are not currently a practitioner I’d love to hear about your first experience!
If you need a few ideas for practicing yoga at home – check out a few videos that I filmed below:
Enjoy a wonderful week!!!
In Balance, Strength & Focus,