It’s good to be good to yourself.
I’ve always been an active person, give or take a little. When I was young I switched from sport to sport as I grew tired of one and curious for another. That, or I realized I wasn’t going to be an Olympic gymnast by age 8. Swimming, cheerleading, cross-country, basketball, a few failed seasons in soccer--I learned from a young age that exercise is important. Somewhere in that process, my young mind, like many others I imagine, decided that good quality exercise needed to be painful. A good workout = sweat, tears and blood. Maybe this became my reality because I spent so much time in middle school running as punishment. Or maybe it’s because when I was even younger than that, I assisted my Army Ranger dad in his workout regimen, holding down his feet for sit-ups and sitting on top of his back for push-ups, counting like a drill sergeant the whole way. This, of course, after he had completed a long run with or without a forty-pound rucksack. Talk about pain…
Yoga has begun to shatter this equation: that exercise has to be rough on your body. Yoga can be hard—don’t get me wrong. But if you’ve experienced even just one yoga pose, a downward dog, perhaps, you know that it’s a different feeling than what you’d get after, say, pounding the pavement for ten miles. I love running. Everyone already knows this. But I know that each time I head out on the Monon, my hips, knees and ankles are screaming, “Stop it! We are all going to get arthritis, you fool!”
Listening to and getting to know your body is important for everyone, but especially if you tend to push yours to any sort of limit. Yoga kindly points me toward my weak spots, my tight spots, and then works on them for the better.
Slowing down is healthy.
Living life at 100mph is not sustainable. For anyone, I don’t care who you are.
People work out to relieve stress. I do. But often, I find that the workouts I choose can sometimes be more stress inducing than stress relieving. During a run, it’s very easy to get caught up in your watch and focus too much on the numbers instead of how you’re actually feeling. Cycling down Indiana back roads past green, gorgeous cornfields is one of the most relaxing things I can think of. But trying to cycle through Indianapolis traffic (which isn't even that bad)? Not so much. Of the three disciplines I focus on, swimming is the most relaxing. But going back and forth over and over again usually becomes a chore at some point during the set.
Yoga, on the other hand, absolutely forces you to slow down. Even if you don't want to which, let's be honest, I rarely do. If you focus on making the most of a yoga practice, you’ll ideally be connecting your breath to each movement, drawing everything out as your breathing allows. This takes a lot of focus, and once you get it down, it empties your mind. Maybe I’m stating the obvious, but when I first started yoga, I didn’t feel that way. Yoga can be intimidating, especially if you’re in a class with some hardcore lululemons who look like they could balance on their pinkies. You get caught up in how you look, if you’re moving too slow or too fast, you get nervous trying to listen to an instructor’s detailed cues. But once you let that go, you allow yourself to relax, and finally enjoy the process of slowing down.
Strong > Skinny.
Many women (and men I guess, though I can’t speak for them) workout to be thin. I do, too. It wasn’t until I a few months into yoga that I decided instead of trying to be thinner, I should workout to be stronger. And just like that, yoga showed me how weak I really was. Sure, I'm strong in a lot of ways. But there’s a difference between being able to jog for long periods of time and being able to hold a handstand in the middle of a room for two minutes (… which I cannot do, by the way). Yoga is showing me that just wanting to be skinny is kind of ridiculous, and more than anything, unrealistic. It is possible, however, to get stronger, and that’s what I’m doing each and every time I step on a mat. Chatarunga is hard as hell, but I know that every time I at least attempt it, something is happening in my arms. It's also kind of cool that yoga is a strength building exercise, but you never touch a weight or any other piece of equipment aside from your own body.
Be nice more often.
This one is different than the rest, I know. But often when I go to yoga class, and I listen to what the instructor has to say, something will dawn on me as I’m working on my mat, and I realize that maybe I haven’t been the person I want to be today. Maybe I was grumpy walking into work and didn’t say hi to a co-worker. Maybe I snapped at a family member or was short with a friend. But for what? It didn’t make me any happier, or make me any less stressed about anything, that’s for sure.
I’m working to eradicate unnecessary stress in my life because I believe it to be the culprit for so many of our bad behaviors. I’m not a doctor or a nurse or a health and wellness expert by any means, but I know that life is short and there’s no reason not to be a joyful person. Why not try and just be pleasant to each and every person you encounter? You have no idea what the person on the next mat over is going through. Kindness goes a long way and yoga is helping me to remember that more and more. Usually after a yoga class, I am on top of the world—carefree, relaxed, helpful. Wouldn’t it be nice to feel and be that way all the time? And who says I can’t? It’s making a conscious effort, that’s all.
Thanks for reading everyone, namaste.