Sure, I’ve taken a yoga class or two over the years, but I’ve never really felt like I knew what I was doing. It was more like I was playing solo Twister while peering through my armpit at the instructor trying to see which appendage I should move next. I always felt like I was missing the whole point.
That’s why in January of this year I decided to take a beginner’s yoga class. It seemed logical to start from the beginning and to pretend I knew nothing at all (which wasn’t hard to do since I didn’t). I chose a 6-week class series taught at a local studio here in Issaquah, Village Green Yoga. (I highly recommend them if you live in the area.)
I instantly knew I’d made the right decision when I met our instructor, Jean. She made us feel welcome the moment we walked through the door. She was patient, encouraging us to push ourselves – but also to stop if and when we felt discomfort. She also offered suggestions for modifications when we discovered that our bodies didn’t quite move the way we’d hoped. Probably the most inspiring thing for me was that she, like the rest of us, was imperfect. And she wasn’t afraid to say so. She recognized that she had limitations too, and that all of us were in it together – simply doing our best. It was such a great lesson in self-compassion.
Since there were 6 classes, I thought it would be symbolic to highlight 6 reasons that yoga has been a positive experience in self-love for me.
1. It’s helping me get to know my body. Having lived with myself for nearly 38 years now, you would think that I knew myself pretty well already. But I was utterly shocked to find out that there’s still quite a bit I don’t know about myself. For example, who knew I was so lop-sided?! Seriously. I don’t bend the same way on both sides. One foot flops further to the side when I lie on my back. My right leg goes to sleep when I sit in the sukhasana pose (cross-legged) too long. The other significant thing that I learned is that I can no longer move in some ways that used to. (Bummer.) Despite these discoveries, even after just 6 short weeks, it seemed I was able to do more than I could that first week. Success!
2. It’s teaching me how to breathe correctly. Breathing is something all of us do, but I’d argue that we don’t all do it well. I’ve always struggled with finding the right breathing rhythm while doing things that are physically demanding. I tend to hold my breath. No matter if I’m strength training or running, I sometimes just forget to breathe. And by the time I remember to, I’m huffing and puffing and feeling frustrated. I know that sounds silly, but I think it’s because I take everything so seriously. I concentrate so hard that I lose sight of the bigger picture. Yoga has taught me to find a sort of flow in my breathing, and that is what sets the pace for everything else.
3. It’s calming. I don’t slow down often, but yoga requires me to. The postures are relaxing and invigorating at the same time, and I can see how people become hooked on that sensation.
4. It’s challenging. It is somewhat ironic that most people tend to avoid things that are challenging – especially for things we do with our free time. But there’s something special about the way you feel when you nail a pose – or realize that you did it better than you did last time.
5. It prompts other healthy behaviors. Yoga makes me crave other healthy experiences. Healthy food, healthy relationships, healthy finances, positive thinking and gratitude come to mind. That is the kind of mind-set I leave with after every class. What a great source of motivation!
6. I understand more clearly now that I am, and will always be, a work in progress. Ah yes, back to the idea of imperfection again. Yoga has a way of making imperfection okay – normal even. It’s an acceptance of reality. Pretenses and perfectionism must be checked at the door because yoga encompasses the idea that self-acceptance and acceptance of others is core to our being, and to finding happiness.
What have been your personal takeaways from yoga?