Yoga Life – Beyond the Mat

As I am taking this journey with yoga teacher training and being exposed to different workshops and yoga texts, I am amazed each day on how yoga is impacting my life beyond the mat.  I know this list will grow as I expand my overall knowledge, awareness and appreciation for my yoga practice.  However I wanted to document them at this point and then circle back with an update in a few months as I continue to dive deeper into yoga teacher training.

Quick background = I have been doing yoga on and off since high school.  It was always like an old friend that I went back to when I was stressed out and did not know what else to do.  It gave me a sense of peace and a physical way to “deal” with my stress.  Recently since leaving my corporate job, I have been able to spend much more time with my practice.  It has become a daily part of my life.  This does not mean I roll out my mat and do a physical practice for one hour each day (on average this occurs 5 times per week).  What I mean by daily is that yoga is a part of me on and off of my mat.  One of my texts stated that to just practice the physical form of yoga is like working out only one of your arms.  That one arm gets super strong but the rest of the body is weak.

Here are the ways I incorporate my yoga practice beyond my mat =

  1. Self-respect, self-care =
    • Side-note, with this list I am not saying I am perfect and do these 100% each minute of each day.  However, I am much more aware and find myself taking notice if I am not taking care of myself.  Meaning I end up correcting my actions and intentions much faster than I would have before yoga.
    • Noticing how I am feeling, in the present moment = As I am diving deeper into learning about each pose and our anatomy (what is stretching, engaging, lifting, etc), I am finding that I am noticing small things about myself that I normally would ignore.  My habit is to be a pretty intense person.  If I put my mind to something, nothing stops me.  I don’t just do something, I attack it.  This can be a positive trait if not done in a way that invokes self-harm.  I would push myself too hard, not say no, stay up too late, not take a break, skip my time to eat a meal, etc.  My focus would be on accomplishing a task instead of taking care of my body.  My natural habit is to push myself to get something done.  However with yoga, I am finding myself stopping and taking a minute to check-in with how I am doing.  Maybe I had a list of 5 to do items on a day to get done.  But that morning I woke up and my body hurt or I felt drained/tired.  Instead of pushing myself, I would instead take extra time to take care of myself, maybe have a slow morning and then get only a couple of those to do items done.  Realizing that taking care of myself is my priority.  Otherwise I get tired, run down and basically end up getting sick.
    • Accepting how I am feeling, in the present moment = Just to give an example with a physical practice, in a yoga class you are reminded to respect where your body is on that particular day.  You should work to your edge but not push beyond it.  There is no reward for bending in half and touching the ground.  Using props like yoga blocks to bring the ground to you is encouraged.  You are also reminded that your body will feel different today than it did yesterday and will be different tomorrow.  Noticing and respecting where you are in that moment and not getting frustrated but easing into it is the goal.  Again, my natural habit is to have expectations for myself that are not in line with where I am on a particular day.  When I would run or do other exercises, I would push myself beyond my comfort.  Worse is when I took classes where they would yell “Give me 5 more burpees!”  How do they know that is what my body needed that day?!  The answer is they did not and it was a very unhealthy class for me to be in.  I push myself too hard normally, having someone encourage me to push myself beyond my limits was horrible and could have ended up being dangerous.  I did experience shoulder pain a number of times in that class.  Moving on…I no longer belong to that gym.  My point is that yoga teaches me to accept where I am on that particular day, in that present moment.  No judgments, just acceptance.  We are human, we are not super heros like in those Marvel movies.  We have limits.  Being aware of them and only going to your personal edge and respecting it without being upset that you cannot do more is a great form of self-respect.  Knowing what you can and cannot handle is important to not pushing yourself beyond your limits.
    • Setting reasonable expectations for the future = I would say that I am an overall patient person but not with myself.  I consider myself to be a fast-learner, I think at one point I even listed that on my resume.  I like to understand a new subject relatively quickly.  I remember when I was in school I would get so upset on my first day of class because I did not know it all already.  It sounds ridiculous to me now, but at the time it was a real struggle for me.  Yoga has taught me that if I try to understand or do something too quick, I actually make negative progress.  There is an actual word for this in yoga “pramada” which means haste.  If we do not spend enough time understanding, reflecting and analyzing what we are doing, we basically grind to a halt.  I am learning to pace myself.  Even with my new Etsy shop, I know that I cannot just spend a single day and perfect all of the photos.  It will be done over time.  I work on things like cleaning out closets a little at a time.  Some weeks I do not get much done with it due to other priorities and that is OK.  Even in my paper planner for the week, I have been writing only my absolute necessary to do items like appointments.  Everything else is left in a running list on the side.  I know that it will all get done eventually and there is no gold metal for me if I get them done by a certain date.
  2. Studying and learning = I do love learning.  I am naturally curious and want to know more.  Obviously I am doing yoga teacher training because I want to study the background and principles of yoga beyond the physical practice.  Being honest, I purchased the books for class before I even knew if I was accepted or not.  I would want to read them regardless.  I think staying curious, learning and knowing that I will never master yoga is a great concept.  I like having something in my life that I can continue to grow.  Meeting so many yoga teachers recently I have found they are very humble.  They have some information to share but they acknowledge that they are still on a continued cycle of learning.  Being aware that you will always grow and never reach a limit is freeing to me.  Just like wine, I will continue to get better everyday in my yoga practice.
  3. Meditation and reflection = I continue to write in my journal and reflect on how I am feeling that day or maybe something that happened which triggered an unusual response in me.  I even write down some dreams if I remember them.  When I practice yoga at home, before I start I sit in a comfortable position and just observe.  I notice my breathing and if I am holding onto tension anywhere.  This is my form of meditation at this time.  I found that doing this has interesting benefits.  I am more thoughtful with my actions.  I think fully through something and ask how it will impact me.  This even includes what I eat and how I eat.  I tend to naturally eat healthier because my focus is on how my body will feel afterwards.  I know that eating a bag of chips will not benefit me in the long term.  I will feel guilty and even have stomach pain.  Since I am reflecting on my thoughts and feelings, I can sometimes point to the true source of what is bothering me.  Which means I can confront it and move on without drowning it with junk food.  I have also found that writing my thoughts down stops them from repeating in my head.  It allows me to be more calm during the day and to sleep better at night.

I just want to mention in closing that yoga is accessible to everyone.  Even if you do not regularly exercise or have some old injuries which maybe impact you, there are many ways to use props and modifications to still get the benefits.  Yoga poses not only provide physical level benefits like muscles stretching and massaging of internal organs, it also has great mental and emotional benefits.  I am hopeful that after my training I am able to perform teaching in some respect where I can help those would think yoga is out of their reach.  It is never too late to start your practice.  I hope you are enjoying my yoga blogs as I continue my training.  Of course my time is limited so I will not blog with as much frequency as last year.  However, I hope I can inspire someone to look up yoga studios in their area or some free yoga classes at community centers.  Finding a place you are comfortable in is key.  Not all studios are the same.

Till next time, Namaste!