When it comes to fitness and exercise, I’ve always been more of a fast-paced, intensity-driven kind of gal. Whether it’s boot camp, HIIT, kickboxing, jogging, even Zumba, I like to move a lot and push hard. When I think about it, that’s been my approach to life, too. But I’m in a season of slowing down, in all areas, exercise and otherwise. I’m finding new ways of doing and being, both physically and mentally. As it turns out, yoga has become a new way for me to Breathe and Reboot.
I’d never seriously considered yoga, until a few years ago when an angry fitness trainer yelled, “You need yoga in your life!” because I wasn’t hitting 90 degrees with my squats. When I tried to explain that I have flexibility issues, including a tight back and hips, she wasn’t having it.
“Go to yoga!”
I gave it some thought. I checked out class offers on Groupon, but’s that as far as I got. I felt intimidated, I hated stretching anyway, and I didn’t see the point in spending the limited time for fitness that I did have, doing something that wasn’t burning calories and fat. (I am forever trying to lose weight). Also, it looked boring.
Fast forward one year. We moved to a new town and I joined a gym with a variety of fitness classes. After a session of Body Pump, I was speaking with the fitness instructor and explaining my limited range of motion and why I can’t squat to 90 degrees. (Because I am tired of hearing instructors yell “get lower!” and feeling anxious and limited when I KNOW I am the one who is not getting low enough). She suggested, of all things, yoga. Gah! At that point, I began to wonder if there was a conspiracy among fitness trainers to make me squat low, so I reluctantly gave in and decided to give it a try.
I’ve been maybe 10 times, so I’m still very new in my yoga journey. But let me tell you, I get it now. I am a believer! I see the light!
No, I still don’t squat to 90 degrees. I am not, suddenly, a magic bendy pretzel. Hips are still tight. Back is still stiff. But here is what IS better: my mental state. The more I show up on my mat, the more I realize I DO need yoga in my life. Here’s why:
MindfulnessYoga has introduced me to mindfulness. For a busy-minded person, mindfulness is hard. Sometimes, my harried mind has trouble just simply defining mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the state of being aware; focusing your full attention on the present; accepting thoughts and feelings without judgment.
Christopher Bergland breaks it down here and explains that it’s as simple as “Stop. Breathe. Think about your thinking.”
During my yoga practice, I am focused on being mindful. For me, that means: Being in the moment. Breathing deeply. Moving with intention. Not letting my mind wander to my never-ending to-do list, and instead, staying present.
I’m trying to transfer that practice to my life, by listening better during conversations with my husband or doing fun activities with my daughter. Slowing down. Taking in the sweet moments. Seeing the beauty around me instead of rushing past it.Self-Acceptance
Self-acceptance does not come easily to me. I’m still working on it, and it may end up being a lifetime process. If so, that’s okay, because it’s a journey, right?
Through yoga , I’m learning a simple concept; I am where I am. I’m starting to appreciate my body as it is, how it is today. It’s about becoming more comfortable in my skin. That means letting go of the judgment I feel when I see my “thicker” mid-section in the mirror. It means shutting down the inner voice that is critiquing my movement and appearance. It’s appreciating that I showed up on my mat. It’s realizing that yoga is a practice of understanding my inner self and eliminating the idea that I must look a certain way to e worthy of acceptance.
It helps me to stop the comparison game (a lifelong habit), and focus on my own path. It’s learning to be kind to myself, with my actions and my words. It’s embracing a judge-free zone; releasing judgment towards myself and others.
Yoga is teaching me to take charge of my life. Showing up on the mat is a small but powerful example of how I’m going in a new direction. It’s empowering to realize I am finally starting to be myself. It’s empowering to embrace who I am from the inside out. Practicing yoga with purpose and intent is also showing me how to live with purpose and with intent. Yes, life happens, and I can’t control everything. But I can control how I respond and react to life when it doesn’t go as planned.Emotional Release
So here is something I didn’t know. Sometimes yoga makes you cry. And not because the yoga makes your body hurt. But because life hurts.
My family is going through a sad season. My grandma is failing and is in what I would call her “end of life” stage. It’s heartbreaking and horrible. Not just because she is running out of time, but also because our family is hurt and broken from years of discord and damage. I have been distressed with sadness, anger, and guilt. Last week, towards the end of class, I was suddenly overcome with strong emotions.
Normally, I would have blocked them out. But that day, I let them come. Because, you know, mindfulness.
I scrunched my eyes tight to hold back a flood of tears. I fought down physical sobs rising up in my chest. I’m well aware that I have some heavy feelings to work through. I just didn’t expect this intensity, in this environment.
I was curious, so I went home and researched yoga and emotions. A few quick Google searches told me what I needed to know. Unresolved emotions and energy can be held in the body over time, and yoga can help in releasing and healing that emotional pressure. Even more interesting, I discovered that feelings of fear, sadness, and anxiety are stored in the hips. Ironically, we did a lot of deep hip stretching that day.
Coincidence? I doubt it.
We all know it’s not good to hang on to emotional baggage. While I’m not a fan of crying in public, I think yoga is going to be a good way for me to get the feelings out. And there are a lot of feelings.
That’s right. Bliss. I can’t even begin to describe how good I feel after a yoga session. My body feels loose and relaxed. My mind is clear. I feel like I can take on anything. My coping skills are better and the little things don’t bother me as much. Even better: I have so much gratitude.
It’s like I’ve been to the gym, church, and therapy in one session. Spiritually, physically and emotionally, I feel amazing, like “I’m the King of the World!” amazing.
It’s that good.
I’m still a yoga newbie, for sure. But I’ll keep practicing. I’ll keep on for the physical benefits but more than that, the emotional benefits.
I know there will be many more times that I’m uncomfortable; physically, emotionally or both. When that happens, I will remember to Breathe and Reboot. I mean, that’s what the journey is all about, right?