October 30, 2009

Five things to love about yoga

It’s amazing how your view of things can change over time. When I was first introduced to yoga in 1996, all I could see was a pud form of exercise. I was attracted to it and  enjoyed it, but I didn’t really appreciate its potential, probably because I  wasn’t completely ready for it. I wish I had been. Life could have been better a lot sooner. This realization has made me feel obligated to share what little I know about yoga with others, in hopes they’ll discover its potential, too. Here’s what I’ve come to love about the yoga practice I’ve developed over the past few years.

1)Yoga makes you taller.
I feel a good two inches taller after practicing yoga. The reality is probably something far less than that, but all the work we do extending the spine and opening the body has a lengthening effect. It’s one of the first things a beginning student will notice after leaving their first class. After rounding the shoulders all day over computers, desks, steering wheels, and meals, it feels wonderful to counteract that.
2) All things are made clear through yoga.
Addictions, bad habits, unhealthy relationships, and imbalances are all laid bare in a faithful yoga practice. We come face to face with reality in a neutral way that somehow makes change more compelling. We are more drawn to studying sacred texts like the Bible and we see the world and ourselves through the lens of this timeless wisdom. Scary events and people have less power over us because we see them for what they are: delusions and distortions. Since we’re dealing more with reality, we’re less subject to lies—ours and other people’s. We don’t invest energy in things that aren’t real and true. That said, we respect the fact that our reality isn’t the only reality. We are less susceptible to work on changing other people, although we find that other people are often changed when we deal with reality. Since our egos are checked more rigorously, we know that we don’t have all the answers and we have no right to judge. That’s very liberating.
3) Yoga helps you connect with the protective power of God. 
I used to meet God with fear and trepidation. No wonder I found it difficult to develop some discipline around prayer and meditation. My yoga practice has encouraged me to spend more time with God. After I pour out my heart, we spend a little time just hanging out together—and I don’t mean that in an irreverent way. Afterwards, I feel cloaked by His love. When I leave those meetings, I feel more prepared to face the trials of life. I’ve come to see them as a necessary part of my development. I resist them less. Less resistance, less stress.
4) Practicing yoga surrounds you with other people who want to be well and whole. 
For the past six months, I’ve spent four hours a week studying yoga in a teachers’ training program with a dozen people. I’ve never felt more comfortable and safe in a group than I have with these people. Because we’re all striving toward similar goals, we’ve grown close, supporting each other through the burdens of life in the same way that my church family does. We pray for each other. Our study is intense so we move to the heart of most matters with clarity, speed and economy. This group has become like a force field in my life which I know will be with me well beyond the end of our class next February. Whether you intend to teach yoga or not, the deep connections you make with others are reason enough to enroll in a teachers’ training program. Yoga attracts people who are interested in being their best and being a positive force for good in the world. I’m not saying we have the market cornered on the pursuit of excellence, but when you join forces with that kind of energy, don’t be surprised at the improvements you can make.

5) Yoga helps you move through life more easily both physically and mentally.
The first and only time I swung a golf club this year, I was amazed at the fullness of my swing. I could move in a complete sphere. After a year of dedicated practice, I’m stronger and more flexible than ever—and not just physically. Noticing what’s going on in your body gives you a greater capacity to notice where you are tight and rigid in your life. As you learn how to turn loose physically, there’s a direct correlation to your ability to become more open and flexible in life. You bounce back from things easier. You greet challenges with more confidence. Conversely, you also know how and when to accept your own boundaries, understanding when you simply can’t go further safely.

I realize that I have been long on claims and short on explanations, but everyone has to discover the transformative power of yoga for themselves. I hope that my story will motivate someone out there to step onto a yoga mat and give it a try.

Good resources for beginning yoga students
Yoga Basics: The Essential Beginner’s Guide to Yoga for a Lifetime of Health and Fitness, by Mara Carrico; 30 Essential Yoga Poses, by Judith Lasater; and The Pure Heart of Yoga: Ten Essential Steps for Personal Transformation by Robert Butera.

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