What yoga taught me was how to get out my head, listen to, and connect with the physical sensations in my body.
I initially hated yoga because it seemed all about the end game, your ability to twist into a pose and hold it for what seemed like an infinite number of incredibly boring seconds.
Plus yoga seemed to be an aesthetic I didn’t want to invest in. I didn’t want all the extras, the Lululemon clothes, the mat, the blankets, the blocks, and so on.
In recent years I’ve been working to make my mind a nicer place to be, trying to recognize and unlearn some of my reflexing patterns of thinking and reacting to the world. Yoga is perfect for this!
My War With My Body
For most of my life, I considered my body something that had to look acceptable to others, not necessarily feel good to me. In a different era, I would have totally been into whale bone corsets and foot binding.
I never gave myself a break for my physical issues or “failings”. I have been trying to lose the same ten pounds nearly all of my life, usually by severely restricting food intake, only to binge later. I was only concerned about calories, not the quality of what I was eating. For instance, 1200 calories of ice-cream and popcorn was a perfectly acceptable day! I just ignored how my body felt. I was one of those people who used to go to school and work even when I was sick.
As I got older, it got worse. I got so frustrated and angry at myself when I had a shoulder impingement, or when my hips hurt when I sat too long, or when my ankles gave out. Instead of giving myself the care and attention I needed to heal or feel better, I always tried to tough love myself out of pain.
The Teacher Who Appeared When I Was Ready
My teacher came in the form of Adriene Mishler of YouTube’s “Yoga With Adriene” channel. Somehow I stumbled across her and I liked her instantly. She was warm, friendly, and casual. Her videos are all about the journey to the pose and listening to your body — no pressure to nail it.
Early on, her mantra was for viewers to find what felt good, to find the just-right stretch. For her, yoga is a form of self care and self love, and her videos are filled with little asides about self-compassion and slowing down and listening to your body.
The setting is her home, not a zenned out or high end studio. She wears regular clothes, like you might find at Marshalls or Target, and you can do her videos with just a yoga mat.
In a nutshell, this is what yoga taught me.
What Yoga Taught Me
1. I can relieve tension and tightness in my muscles and joints.
Like when I’m stiff or sore when I wake up, gentle stretching / yoga can help me feel better and thus ready to face the day. My old strategy was to just be annoyed at myself for getting older (as if I have any control over that lol) and just sit at my computer. If I buried myself in my daily to-do list, I’d forget about the aches of my body.
Or if I can tell that I’m tense and tight before bed, a 5-10 minute stretch will squeeze the tension out of my muscles and my sleep will be so much more restful.
2. I can use my breath to control anxiety, irritability, and stress.
Adriene focuses on breath work during her videos too, and those simple breathing exercises can be applied off of the mat whenever I notice my mind racing or tension rising in my body. Like when I’m behind the wheel of the car and someone cuts me off or speeds up rather than let me merge. A few deep, slow breaths with some soothing mental talk has shifted my behavior and my irritability behind the wheel so much more than anything else I’ve ever tried.
3. My body is constantly sending me messages and I should listen to them.
My biggest takeaway from her is that my body is a messenger, and that everything else in your life functions better when you listen to your body.
It’s almost like learning a foreign language, when you start to pay attention to how your body feels. Like when I get up to get an evening snack, sometimes I’m actually able to identify what I REALLY want, which is usually not the snack. Maybe I want to stop working, maybe I’m actually thirsty, maybe I want to change activities, maybe I am tired and want to go to sleep. And without trying to stop my evening snacking, the net effect is that I snack far less.
I’ve noticed that I actually prefer nutritious food! I would take smoked paprika red lentil soup over fudge any day. I used to just opt for the fastest thing, which was usually processed or take out food. Now I make the time to find healthier options and prepare them.
I’m so much better hydrated, because I actually notice when I’m thirsty and I get a drink.
4. I can improve my mood even when I can’t solve a specific problem.
I love to do yoga when I’m feeling a little blue or sad, because it just makes me feel better. I think it’s because when you are focused on your physical body, you give your thinking mind a break. Setting down your mental load, like setting down a heavy backpack full of books. When you pick it back up, it feels easier to manage, you feel refreshed. It’s so nice to have a way to feel better even if I can’t solve the problem that is bothering me.
5. My body is not my enemy.
Another key takeaway is that my body is not my enemy. It’s an amazing piece of engineering, and it will last longer and function better if I pay attention to it and treat it to yoga.
Nothing has changed, it’s still aging, I still would love to drop 5-10 pounds to reduce my issues with reflux, but my attitude is much healthier because I accept myself where I am and I am taking good care of myself.
I suppose at some point I’ll graduate from Yoga with Adriene, but for now her channel gives me what I want. She has hundreds of videos for every conceivable need — Yoga for Text Neck, 5 Minute Desk Yoga, Unwind Before Bed Yoga, Yoga for Hip pain. I have trouble keeping track of my favorite videos so I use this yoga journal (Amazon affiliate link) to document them.
Photo Credits: Conscious Design and Shashi Ch
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