Seven Things Yoga has Taught Me

“True happiness is to learn how to live beyond the imperfections.” — Rita Maatta.

I’ve been practicing yoga for 3 months now. I have to be honest though, I didn’t faithfully attend class every week. There were times when I only did yoga once or twice a week. I realize that when it comes to exercise, consistency is key. So recently, I’m trying my best to do yoga as often as possible.

I know this will sound very much like an excuse. Well, maybe it is. Most of the classes at the YMCA start early in the morning. Okay, most classes start at around 10-11 AM. I’m not exactly an early bird. There are also afternoon classes, but my husband and I aren’t particularly keen on going to the gym twice!

The reason why I am doing yoga more often now is because my mother-in-law does it, too. I’ve taken classes by myself, and I didn’t mind it at all. I guess I just lacked willpower, and I felt more motivated when I’m not doing it alone.

Being the slacker that I was, I kind of think that I’m not in the position to talk about yoga. Still, I want to share how it has influenced my life outside of the mat. Practicing yoga has enriched my life in so many ways and I hope that it can do the same for you.

1. Breathe
In Yoga, every pose is done with an inhalation and exhalation. I’ve learned that it’s not about stretching your muscles, joints and spine neither is it about being able to touch your toes! It’s mostly about breathing. Of course the same applies to all kinds of exercises. Your brain and muscles need oxygen to do their duties properly. I found that when I do pose or a progression that is a bit challenging, I tend to stiffen my muscles and hold my breath too! It’s the same when I’m doing some HIIT and cardio exercises. I guess when our body or mind is under stress, we automatically stop breathing. Maybe it’s just me though!

By doing yoga, I become more aware of how I’m breathing. When I feel stressed out, I just stop what I’m doing and do some pranic breathing. It really helps me to relax and release some of the tension and stress that I’m feeling.

2. Acceptance
There are days when you just can’t plant your heels to the mat during the downward dog pose. Maybe your hamstrings are really sore that it’s impossible to do Utanasana (forward bend), or even a half forward fold!
But that’s perfectly alright.

I’ve learned to listen to what my body is telling me- to not force anything. If you can’t bend as far as you’d want that ‘s okay. Relish the moment and place you’re in. Breathe it, enjoy it, be happy in it. As that Rolling Stones song goes “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try you’ll find that you might get what you need.”

“If you’re forcing it, then it’s not yoga”.

3. No Judgement
Most yoga classes are packed with people. And it’s easy to get distracted and look at what other people are doing, especially if you’re new to the class or yoga itself. We might tend to glance at our neighbors and criticize them, or feel that we are being judged by them. I believe that our thoughts is a reflection of how critical we are of ourselves. After all, we are in the presence of ourselves 24/7; we see our selves every second of the day.

“I’m not (insert positive adjective here) enough.”

I believe that a simple negative thought can influence our mood, our attitude towards ourselves, and our self-esteem, but not in a good way. Refraining from judging ourselves all the time, is a way to be optimistic.

4. Surrender
Surrender can be interpreted as acceptance as well. In this case though, I’m talking about “release” and “relaxation”.
In this crazy world we live in, it’s only normal to be tense and stiff all the time. I confess that I find it hard to relax. My husband would always point out that whenever we go to the beach I  basically do everything that is the exact opposite of “relaxing”.

In yoga though, releasing tension and surrendering yourself to the earth is key. More especially when in the child’s pose, in various resting poses and during Svavasana. It’s a reminder to let go of some things in our hectic every day lives.

5. Gratitude
It might sound a little childish, but I always look forward to saying “Namaste” at the end of each class. There’s something about saying thank you that puts me in a great mood. If you look at other various cultures and beliefs you’ll that “gratitude” is one of their core concepts. Feng Shui, Kabbalah and Ho’oponopono, just to name a few.

Try it: When you wake up first thing in the morning, think of a few things that you appreciate in your life.
Better, say it out loud. It can be anything simple and mundane, like sunlight peeking through the window curtains.
It’s a great way to kick-start the day.

6. Receive
After holding a pose, our yoga teachers tell us to “receive” the light, or the energy. They ask us to see what the stretch did for our bodies. Why? I think maybe it’s because this leads to the development of oneself.

Our yoga teacher shared her experience on this today. When she turned 30, her co-workers threw her a party. At that time she didn’t fully accept their efforts. She didn’t feel like she was worth all the commotion. I’ve also encountered similar situations in my life and have reacted the same way as she did. Instead of simply accepting a compliment, I somehow manage to find a way to put myself down and to humble myself. I guess this is due to the fact that I grew up in Japan, where humbling oneself is considered politeness. There’s nothing wrong with that. Though I’m starting to think that accepting compliments gracefully, and the other favors that people do for us nourishes and enriches our lives and theirs in return. We give them and ourselves a chance to further our self-growth and to develop self-esteem, as well.

7. Look Forward.
Downward facing dog is one of the basic and well-known poses, yet it is also a challenging one. When I first started doing this pose, I always looked at my feet. “Your feet is there. It’s not going anywhere.” our yoga teacher reminded us several times. “Don’t look at what’s behind, look ahead.” She added.

It’s true that we tend to live in the past instead of looking towards the future. Why did I look at my feet anyways? Why do we dwell in the past? They both are there and it sure as heck that they’re not going anywhere either. It’s a subtle reminder to look forward, that way we’ll know where we’re going.

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