It might be a clichéd title, but yoga truly does (when practiced regularly) teach you many things. Over the past few months I have become increasingly committed to my yoga practice, it has been daily since the end of September. Whilst initially this commitment may have been out of my desire to be able to tell people I practice every day (ironic, because it is such an anti-yogic desire), it has transformed into something far more special. My daily practice can be anything from a few minutes of breathing and meditation, to a full hour class. It may sound terrible, but at the beginning it was somewhat of a chore, just another thing I did every day. Now it is a part of my day I can’t wait for and thoroughly enjoy.
It the midst of this daily yoga venture I completed the 30 Day Yoga Challenge with Erin Motz, thanks to DoYouYoga.com. It was wonderful to have these short, guided videos, from which I learnt lots of new flows and poses too. Erin, also known as the ‘bad yogi’ is a fantastic teacher, with a wonderful sense of humour and a very accessible approach to yoga. If you are interested in starting yoga, but don’t know how to, then I recommend the yoga challenge. Here is the day 1 video on YouTube, or check out DoYouYoga.com.
I have never stopped to think about all the things yoga practice has taught me, but a few days ago it occurred to me that I have learnt a lot. But like all things in life, yoga is a journey and so as I continue to practice I continue to learn new things about myself, yoga and life. Here are a few things yoga has taught me (and is teaching me):
Often on days I am very busy and feel like I need to do everything this instant I then remember yoga. When I do yoga I can’t multitask, I can’t do other things, I must learn patience. Everything will be done in due time, but whilst I am practicing I have to try to focus on my practice and not rush it. Admittedly I still have days when I spend the whole time making a to-do list in my head, but I am getting better. When practicing you must also be patient with poses, you won’t be able to do them immediately and perfectly, it takes time and patience.
Practice Makes Better
The old saying is that practice makes perfect, but perfect is just a little too vague and unattainable for me. But if you practice yoga regularly then progress and improvement is inevitable. You will become more flexible, stronger, looser, calmer, more focussed, more capable and you will be able to do the poses you always wanted to. But it will take time, practice and patience.
Listen To Your Body
This is a key aspect of yoga. You should not push to the point of pain, it’s all about listening to your body and knowing when to stop at the point of stretching and mild discomfort. Sometimes this is a battle between mind and body, as your mind (and ego) wants to go deeper and stretch further, whilst your body is calling out in pain. Listen. If you push to far you might hurt yourself. Also, some days you might not be as flexible or strong as others, or you might be sore, so you might regress for that practice. It doesn’t matter, each day is different, take it as it comes.
Don’t Compete and Compare
This is particularly relevant in a class scenario, where there are other people. I was that person who always had to be the deepest in the class, or do every advanced version of the posture. I wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t very satisfying. Now I realise that yoga is a personal journey, and each person experiences it differently. What I came to realise is that as soon as I stopped comparing myself to everyone else and competing against them, yoga suddenly became about me and my own improvement. And boy, did I improve. The thing is you might be a beginner comparing yourself to an advanced lifelong yogi. It’s hardly a fair comparison. If you just focus on yourself you will find you are satisfied, and one day you will be that yogi.
It’s funny that something so intrinsic and simple in yoga can often be the hardest thing to master. Breathing, or pranayama, is a key element of yoga. Throughout the whole practice your breath should flow consistently and calmly, without being forced or held. Often in the beginning I couldn’t physically breathe in some postures (a sign I had pushed too far), or I was so focussed on achieving the posture that I forgot completely to continue breathing. Sun salutations were a nightmare because I was always inhaling and exhaling out of time with the movements, it just didn’t feel right. Again, with practice the breathing in yoga becomes easier, instinctive even. And then one day you are breathing more deeply than you ever imagined you could and you can practically feel your lungs expanding with all the fresh air. It’s magical. This lesson helps me in life too, because sometimes I am so stressed, anxious and exhausted that I don’t breathe normally and my heart races, but I notice, take a few deep, long, slow breaths and suddenly I am calm again.
What has yoga taught you? Do you practice every day, or just occasionally? Either way, congratulations to you!
Keep healthy, happy (and don’t forget to breathe),