As a yoga student of 15 years and teacher for 6 years, I have discovered that so many people think yoga is simply a form of exercise (Note:I used to think the same!). It’s approached it like any fitness regime or plan. However, yoga is so much more than exercise physiology.
Yoga was actually developed by the ancients as a form of discipline to assist the body into a place of increased tolerance and comfort during meditation. This was to assist in the attainment of enlightenment. It was never a form of practice designed to exercise the body or create the now chased “yoga butt”!
This evolved as the tradition left the East and gradually came to the West.
Yoga was historically practiced by men only and it was an initially slow opening to women over the last 50 or so years. In our modern world it’s hard to believe this now when almost every studio class is filled with Lycra clad women and a whole industry and movement has been spawned.
So if you’ve only thought of yoga as a form of exercise here’s 5 ways its practice can change your life at a really deep level. These come from my personal experience on the mat over the last 15 years.
1. Connects You To Your Body
The regular practice of Yoga with the right teacher (one who is not practicing in the “yoga is exercise” mindset – so do your research!) can connect you to your body and your feelings. Many people are walking around disconnected from their body’s cues and signals.
When life gets tough and we don’t know how to process the sometimes overwhelming feelings that arise, we learn to dissociate from these sensations. We begin to live outside of our body and then develop this as a habit and become unaware we are even doing it.
And if there’s self-esteem and body image issues within this overwhelm of feeling it’s even more likely that we create distance from our body’s sensations. After all, we are most likely hating on it and will do anything we can to avoid those crappy feelings.
A regular practice of yoga can reverse this and bring you back in to your body in a more positive light (more on this below).
A pathway to self-love can be found as you learn who you are through yoga and positive movement. This is so especially when classes are combined with meditation (more on this below too).
2. Yoga Supports The Journey From The Head To The Heart
Not only can a regular practice of yoga connect you back in to your body physically, it can assist you out of your thinking mind and into the place of happiness – your heart. It is often said that the longest journey is the one from the head to the heart, yet the physical distance is actually quite short!
We all travel though the physical world in our egos/personality’s and for most this is a place of archetypical patterns of behaviour that actually cover and protect our true selves.
We’ve all been hurt and ridiculed in some (or many) ways and may not have had the teachers and guides around at the time to help us through these experiences in a grounded way. Consequently we have developed many and varied belief systems designed to protect our vulnerability. This may not actually serve us as we develop in to the adult world.
The practice of yoga can help us move out of this egoic habit and towards Soul. These experiences on the mat inform our life off the mat. And the place of Soul is the only true place of lasting happiness. So it’s a journey in to vulnerability that we would all benefit from taking. It’s the only place where deep and permanent change to our feelings and beliefs can occur and the experience of harmony and oneness with all things arises.
3. Practice On The Mat Informs Life Off The Mat
As just mentioned, you learn things on the mat that transform your life off the mat. The obvious ones here are balance, strength and flexibility. We practice each of these in various asana (poses). As our body grows in each element so too do we in the inner world.
One example is Vrksasana (Tree Pose – see image below)) and its variations. This pose on a physical level helps us develop balance and poise. It achieves this as it stretches thighs, groin, torso and shoulders. It also strengthens ankles and calves whilst toning the abdominal muscles.
And off the mat it improves our sense of balance and coordination. It also improves our ability to focus and concentrate in all areas of our life. Often when I begin to feel a bit scattered and “off balance” in life I practice this pose or one of the other balance poses. This helps me re-centre myself and regain focus.
Another of my favourite ways to assist yogis in growth is through the belief of “challenge” and “discomfort”. Many poses are in fact a challenge for the body. We are in the habit of moving away from any form of discomfort (often we turn to the tv or pantry!). Many times I will invite yogis to learn how to be in the discomfort. I’m encouraging them to sit with it without moving away in their mind or their body.
This practice is incredible in teaching us how to be more at ease in the many challenging and uncomfortable experiences that life brings to us. Yogis find their comfort zones expand after practice. So imagine if you’re are doing this for yourself on the mat regularly?
3. Yoga Helps The Body To Release Stuck Emotions
Our bodies are store houses for everything that we think, feel and do. Each thought we have creates a chemical release, which is what we perceive as the feeling. And many people do not know how to be with the extreme variations and intensities of these feelings and emotions.
Consequently this movement of energy doesn’t leave our body as intended. Instead it gets stored within us. We are walking around with these repressed and totally unconscious memories and their associated charge (feelings) stored in our muscles and joints.
Yoga was specifically created by the ancient yogis as a way of moving this congestion through the body to enable a free flow of energy. This helps the yogi to access deeper levels in their meditation. This will one day open them to the ultimate experience of “no mind” and beyond to enlightenment.
A regular practice of yoga can assist in moving these stored memories and traumas out of the body. There are times in class when we may feel a surge of emotion in a pose as the body releases the stored charge. As a trained Psychotherapist I always encourage and support yogis to be in the release. Encouraging them to allow the process to unfold. I have experiences of my own where this has occurred which powerfully informs my ability to support others. This is in addition to my Psychotherapy skills (learn more here).
And I find that the other class participants are supportive in this process too. Its like there’s a recognition of the potential of it happening to them too. The insight gained through these experiences can really help the person move forward from the stuck beliefs that have now risen in to awareness. Once we can see something we can do something about it.
4. Yoga Calms The Mind
One of my favourite things to experience in class as a yoga student, and to gift as a teacher is the calming of the mind. I only choose to attend classes with teachers who are walking the yoga walk, not just talking it. This means that the inner work they personally do can contribute to my own journey.
As a teacher on a devoted path who is practiced and trained in both meditation and qigong, I always incorporate the use of my voice and energy body to assist yogis to let go of stress and anxiety.
My classes always begin with pranayama (the practice of breath control. They end in meditation in final pose (Savasana). Often I incorporate a meditative theme throughout the practice. This really guides and supports people in calming a busy and tense mind. It also teaches them skills and develops abilities so they can incorporate such practices easily in to their own lives outside of class.
This is another example of how practices on the mat informs and supports life off the mat. A less stressed and tense person contributes in all ways to a kinder and more loving life for all things.
5. Creates An Open Mind
One of the most powerful reasons yoga is incredible is the experience of change. As the body changes in openness (flexibility), strength and balance, so does the mind. Positivity is a natural filler for the open minded space that is created.
I always find that as my core and legs gain strength, I begin to feel more capable and confident in other areas of my life too. The tendency towards negativity that I learned from childhood gets further away. This spaciousness allows me to access other potentials like happiness and joy.
An open mind is also one that can grow and develop. It allows acceptance of others paths and choices. It also allows new concepts in and is more ready and able to face new opportunities. In fact, its the openness that attracts all of this in.
It’s like all the previous points blend and we experience an elevated mood post practice, which lasts and is maintained by regular moments of practicing yoga. Oh! And this post hasn’t mentioned all the wonderful physical reasons to do yoga! But that’s for another post one day.
So why wouldn’t you give yoga a go and create it as one of your healthy habits? (Learn more about creating such habits here).
With a capable and well trained teacher, all yoga poses can be modified for where your body is at. There’s a multitude of adjustments and modifications available for all levels of practice. Every body can do yoga!
Note: Jo currently runs classes in Maude for beginners and those returning to practice after a break. She teaches the foundations of hatha yoga at 6.30pm on Tuesdays (booked out) and 10am of Thursdays. Bookings are essential.
You can learn more here or by calling/texting Jo on 0438 828 042: