Five Unexpected Results of Yoga
Okay, going into this, by no means am I a yoga expert. DUH. I am just a girl who likes to try new things and new workouts. I have been attending yoga classes (in studios and at home) on and off for a little over a year now. I have learned some things that I'd like to share for anyone considering taking a yoga class or two. They are not the expected "extra flexibility" or "sweet poses" that I originally began taking yoga to achieve. Though these are both fabulous goals, my outcomes were even more fulfilling. Rather, they are small areas in which I grew in unexpected ways.
1. Heightened awareness of my posture
Basically, my posture stinks. No joke. I have terrible posture. At the beginning of class, my yoga instructor directed us to sit up tall with legs crossed and our hands on our knees. Needless to say, my back had to be drastically adjusted to reach the correct position. I was hunched over, neglecting the use of any core or back muscles. I realized that this is the position I sit in most hours of the day. At work, my back is hunched, shoulders turned forward, chest closed. After quite a few yoga classes, I became increasingly aware of this lethargic-looking posture, and mindful of the correction that needs to occur. I now consciously recognize my back's poor position and adjust accordingly. This positive new alignment uses my muscles while seated, and this body language seems to encourage an openness to new situations and positive thinking. I feel more confident than ever. Who knew that changing my posture could do all of that?
2. Sensibility to tensions in my body (specifically my facial expressions)
My biggest spots of tension are in my face (particularly in my forehead) and in my shoulders. I feel my forehead muscles tense up as if I am squinting with no real cause. My mind feels muddy and my muscles weak. Yoga brings this to my attention. I now take a moment a couple times a day to breath and consciously relax these specific areas of my body. It rejuvenates my energy and allows me to paint a clearer, brighter picture of the day. Take one minute right now to breath. Close your eyes and let your shoulders soften. Allow your facial muscles to lighten as your lips slightly part and your teeth unclench. Slowly breathe in, hold for three seconds, slowly breathe out. Continue this for 20 more seconds as you consciously lighten your muscles.
3. Appreciation for my breath and my body
Breath is such a cleansing action. Breathing in stimulates fullness, while breathing out encourages release and cleansing. Through practiced breathing exercises, I found how profound an inhalation can be. The intentional control of your breath is key in understanding it's importance. It is so much more than just a subconscious activity. Its power is abounding. It provides refreshment to your mind and your body. A simple breath brings life to your insides. It wells up and has impact on your mind, your muscles, your organs, your strength. Capturing the power within a breath allows you to achieve more than you originally thought. Controlling your breath during difficult poses allows you to sink deeper into them, and deeper into your strength. I never realized how important my breath is to me. It helps me survive, to live, to grow. A breath brings clarity, purpose, renewal. Breathing is a source of power and release.
4. Increased understanding of the effects of day to day life on my mind
Each day effects your mind, body and soul. Yoga has helped me understand this and discover ways to cope with the wear and tear of daily life. Emotional build up, stress, and worries impact your life more than you may be aware. It is when you recognize the tensions in your body, the racing of your mind, and the uneasiness of your breath that you see what life can do to your body. You may feel heaviness, not only in your mind, but also in the weight of your body. The heaviness weighs on our shoulders, on our feet, and pulls our body down. When we take time to reflect on the worries of the day and just release them, that is when we grow. We first need to understand the effects of each day before we can try to cope with them. I use breathing techniques, prayer and reflection to let go of my worries, and embrace peace.
5. Recognition that challenge creates growth
If you ever thought yoga wasn't challenging enough to be considered a good workout, you are dead wrong. I was dead wrong, too. I was hesitant to start practicing yoga because I felt that working up a sweat on the stairmaster or with weights would be "better" for my body composition goals. Oh how I was wrong. I remember my first class, it was challenging and located in a hot yoga studio. I sweat so profusely that my mat was soaked to the point that I was slipping during downward facing dog. I thought it was just because of the heat in the room. Nope. The next day I woke up barely able to get out of bed. I was sore in places I didn't know could get sore. I was hurting in places that never ached before. Moral of the story, I challenged my body in NEW ways. This new workout challenged me physically with balance, and core and arm strength. A couple months down the road, my arms were less sore holding poses that initially caused me to shake. I was gaining strength and endurance. I was growing physically. I was also growing mentally. My mind was able to find peace in the shake. I could push through the mental aspect of "failing" at a pose or falling out of an asana. I was challenged to leave my worries at the door and just be. I grew. I grow. I hope to continue to grow. Challenge creates growth. I'm up for the challenge. Are you?
These five unexpected outcomes of yoga have not only influenced my practice, but they have influenced my life. I am grateful for my body. I listen to it better, fuel it better, acknowledge the gift it is to be healthy.