There is a reason ‘balance,’ ‘flow,’ and ‘flexibility’ are words so strongly associated with the practice of yoga (and I don’t just mean the physical kinds.)
Although the pursuit of these concepts is not what led me to yoga in the first place (who else tried yoga as a workout before they realized it was much more a philosophy than a form of exercise?) it is what has kept me committed to showing up to my mat.
Why yoga? What started as a small part of my college exercise routine has grown into a daily practice and lifestyle that has taken me around the world and back. I have practiced yoga everywhere from the floor of my apartment to cramped hotel rooms, from open air shalas in Bali and Costa Rica to the mountains of Nepal and the beaches of Mexico. I even lived in an ashram in South India for a time and experience the roots of yoga at its origin. I can think of nothing more crucial to my mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
After travel, and relationships, yoga is my greatest teacher. It tends to nudge me towards introspection and a search for meaning or and deeper understanding — not far from the way a long solo journey in a foreign land does (except it doesn’t require a plane ticket.)
Whether you enjoy an extra long savasana, or the thought of bending over to touch your toes makes you weep, I hope that these words that ‘flowed’ after my last couple of classes ring true to you, and encourage you to pursue whatever it is that makes your life more internally sweet and rich.
1. Caring for yourself means knowing when and how to slow down.
For me, slowing myself down is an antidote to the pressures of modern life. Whether it is the fast speed of my thoughts or of my daily life and activities, it has become normal to operate from a place of overwhelm and trying to stay on track with our ever-expanding inboxes and to-do lists.
On top of that, our world seems to operate at a faster pace with each passing year. Whether or not you live in an urban area, are in a high-stress work environment, or are constantly on the go, modern technology alone runs at a rate that can leave us feeling exasperated and without pause.
Is this you? Recognition of this feeling is not meant to add further stress, but rather to empower us to make a change. It’s all too easy to live in autopilot, only to realize we’re burnt out by changes in energy, sleep, motivation, or mood. Awareness of this speed is the first step to slowing down!
Yoga teaches us the value of tuning in and slowing down. Once your mind is able to go there on the mat or in a meditation, it is becomes easier to extend a slower pace to the rest of your life.
Some great ways to slow down include:
- Becoming aware of our breath. Watch the inhale and exhale that takes place in your body with zero effort.
- Focusing on a single task at a time. (Close the 18 tabs open on your browser or in your brain!)
- Mindfully sipping a cup of tea. Or sitting down to dine and savor every last bite of a delicious meal. (Who here has eaten a meal without really tasting the food?)
- Sitting in stillness. Observe the energy of your heartbeat, perhaps by placing a hand on your midsection or heart. Listen to some slow music or appreciate a few minutes of complete silence.
- Picking up a good book or going for a slow, solitary walk. Choose a peaceful activity that grounds you in the present moment.
2. There is a sweet spot between effort and surrender in all pursuits.
Every pose requires some effort and some surrender, and some ask for a little more of one than the other.
No yoga pose has taught me as much about effort and surrender than headstand. Even after years of practice, it wasn’t until I studied at the ashram that it finally clicked for me.
There, the teacher whispered to me, stop trying so hard.
All it took was a few small adjustments in my alignment (if that’s not a metaphor for the rest of life, I don’t know what is) and for me to stop forcing with effort and breathe with a little more trust and surrender to finally get there. When I did, it was like something had clicked — as if I knew how to do the pose all along.
Headstand has shown me that while I had to do the work — show up to the mat, lift my body, and have strength in my core — I could not ‘effort’ my way into it. For years it was a pose I would watch others do, but the key to doing it myself was nothing more than letting go a little.
An inversion, the act of going upside down, requires trust in yourself and a willingness to fail or fall. “
That is the true meaning of surrendering, in a pose or in life. And it’s where the magic happens.
3. There is so much value in sharing experiences with a community, and it is best felt when you also feel connected to yourself.
Why do we practice yoga in a class setting? Whenever I’m trying to budget, I think to myself that I could cut my (expensive) yoga costs by practicing at home — to free YouTube videos or even audio tracks. Often I am in my own little world listening to the instructor, or I’ll place my mat at the back of the room where no one really sees me anyways.
So why do I continue to show up to practice yoga in a group? Because there I am part of a community. There is power in the collective, in the energy poured into the room by the others who have gathered for the same purpose if only even for that hour. To me this is a little like why we work well in teams and value connection to others, even when we’re focused on our own activities and goals.
The second merit of practicing in a group is the ability to notice if you’re comparing yourself to others. There are times that I notice how someone next to me is or is not holding the pose in the same way that I am, or honestly even that they have a better outfit on than I do. This doesn’t make any of us less of a yogi — it simply allows for me to be aware of when I need to ‘keep my eyes on my own paper,’ so to speak. Usually, if I’m comparing in a yoga class, I’m avoiding going deep or looking within myself.
I’ve found the same to be true in life. Again, awareness is the starting point from which we can begin to choose to live differently.
4. There is lasting power in connecting your mind, body, and spirit.
The most powerful thing about yoga to me is still the actual definition of yoga, which is the union of mind, body, and spirit. In this case, moving your body in a specific manner allows your spirit and mind to follow suit.
I’ve also noticed positive changes in my body after healing something in my mind or spirit. Yoga remains the best thing I know of to remind me of the connection between, and importance of syncing, all three.
5. Life flows beautifully when you are able to tap into your intuition, trust it, and live from that place.
Similarly, when we are able to connect our mind, body, and spirit, we are able to let our spirit have a voice in a conversation where our mind and body often speak loudest.
The best days of my life have followed after quieting my mind so that I’m able to hear my intuition. This will never be possible 100% of the time, but I now view yoga (and meditation) as tools to help me live not from what my mind thinks but from the cues of my body and the strength of my intuition.
Just like the headstand example above, when faced with a problem…yoga teaches us to ask:
What would this look like if it were easy?”
The answer is often simpler than our mind wants to admit.
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