I had to skip my yoga practice for four days last week. I’d pulled a muscle in my chest, and even lying on my side in bed was painful, so stretching and moving the way yoga requires was out of the question. And I could tell that I was missing out on the many benefits of yoga.
I swear I could literally feel my muscles tightening back up. But more than that, my creativity was dwindling. My patience was shorter. And my ability to keep my mouth shut so I could think first and speak second was not nearly as strong.
I’ve mentioned the benefits of yoga before, but I wanted to talk about it again because I think it’s really amazing what it can do for you, if you let it.
Yoga Is More Than Posing
When we think of yoga, for many, the first thing that comes to mind is the physical practice. Downward Facing Dog, Forward Bend, Sun Salutations – these things probably pop immediate images into your head, right?
But there’s a lot more to it than that. There’s actually what’s called the eight-limbed path, which is the eight parts of yoga – of which asana (the physical poses) is only one. And it’s actually third, not first. Meditation is another, and so is breath work.
I’m not an expert on all of them, though I have read them all. I work on incorporating them all into my life, though as a mom with two kids to homeschool and a career to build, it’s not always easy or at the top of my mind.
But the asana, the physical practice of yoga, is a part of my daily life. It helps me remember to try to incorporate the rest of the limbs, and it also helps me stay sane.
And I mean that pretty literally.
The Many Benefits of Yoga
I’ve only been regularly practicing for about two years, but the difference it has made for me is enormous. I practice every morning as one of the first things I do after getting out of bed. Meditation comes first, then yoga. Then I’m ready to face the rest of the day.
So what are the benefits, as I see them?
I’m less stressed
My stress level is much lower when I practice every day. You can’t hurry yoga. Well, maybe you can, but it won’t feel much like yoga if you do. A quality practice takes time – you might do fewer poses so that you can spend less time on it, but you still have to spend time on it.
This time, particularly because it’s at the start of my day, puts me in a more mindful and present state of mind. It sets the tone for the rest of my day, for taking my time and ensuring that the time and effort I put into whatever I do is thorough and complete.
I’m more patient
I love my kids, but I’m raising teens. We’re at that stage where a snarky attitude is pretty much the norm, and they think they know everything, and they want to argue with me and everyone around us.
Add to that, my boyfriend works long hours which generally leaves little time for us to be together, and then there’s my own business which I’m trying to build even as I deal with everything else.
It would be easy for me to get frustrated and snap at my kids for the attitudes, or my boyfriend for working so much, or a client or potential client for asking something unrealistic of me. But my daily yoga practice helps me bite my tongue and avoid that.
I still might get frustrated with those things, but I’m better able to take a breath, and consider whether snapping is really going to improve the situation. Most of the time, the answer is no. And because of yoga, I’m able to acknowledge that, take the time to think of a more appropriate way to express my frustration, and usually get a better response in return.
I’m more creative
I’ve always been a creative soul. Writing and photography were my go-to passions, but I also had a deep appreciation for sculpting, painting, and other forms of art. Creativity is more than that, though – it’s also being able to find out of the box solutions to problems, finding new ways to improve yourself, or coming up with new and exciting date night ideas.
Practicing yoga each morning is one of the few things I do that I can’t really multi-task while I’m doing it. It requires me to be there and pretty much focus entirely on what I’m doing. And this tends to shut my brain off in a way.
This shut-down, strange as it might seem, can often lead to a sudden clarity on things. I’ll suddenly have a new idea for a blog post, or a way to handle a sticky situation, or a new direction to take with something.
With the four days I couldn’t practice this week, I swear I could see my creativity dropping off with each day that passed. Ideas I’d had last weekend for blog posts turned into boring, complicated junk that I couldn’t even finish writing, much less would want to share with anyone.
My body is more flexible and comfortable
The flexibility that comes with a regular yoga practice is one of the things that many people talk about. But I’m also more comfortable.
What do I mean by comfortable? I mean a couple of things actually.
One is that I’m literally more comfortable. The things that might cause aches and pains in another person my age don’t necessarily cause them for me. I was sleeping on a crappy mattress for months because I couldn’t decide which new one to buy. I would wake up with back pain or hip pain, but as soon as I did my morning yoga, the pain would be gone.
The other is less about the actually feeling of my body and more about how I feel about my body. I’m a plus-size woman and there was a time that it really bothered me. But yoga has made me confident and comfortable with my body. I love myself, my boyfriend loves me, and that’s all that matters. Yoga helped me realize that.
If You Haven’t Already, Give Yoga a Try
Whether you want to go all out and incorporate all eight limbs into your life, or just want to practice the physical poses, yoga can help improve your life in all aspects. Problem at work, in your relationship, as a parent? Yoga can reduce your stress, ease your mind, and help you find solutions. Body aches, recovering from surgery, feeling sick? You might need the okay from your doctor or to modify some poses, but yoga can help with that, too.
It’s important to remember that yoga is not about perfection. That’s why they call it yoga practice, not yoga perfection. You don’t have to look perfect to do it. Your poses don’t have to look perfect. You don’t have to feel perfect. You just have to be open, willing, and present.
You don’t need to pay for a class either or worry about strangers judging you in one. There are tons of videos on YouTube that will help you develop a home practice. There are great books you can buy (I’m an enormous fan of Jessamyn Stanley’s Every Body Yoga personally), and hundreds or more websites that will walk you through the poses, offer videos or even written instructions, as well as help you put together a great flow. There are even apps for your phone so you can take it on the go with you.
Yoga is one of the most easily accessible things you can do that will improve your body, mind, and soul. Give it a shot. What do you have to lose?