Why is yoga so powerful to me?
Someone asked me a question the other day about why I practise yoga. Why I’ve become completely and utterly obsessed by it. And my answer? That it’s so powerful to me on so many levels and I hope that it’s made me a better person – stronger, less judgemental, happier, more balanced, more aware. There are three main areas that I’ve seen it impact me the most though:
The Physical Like pretty much everyone, I originally got into yoga for physical reasons. I could only touch my toes when sat in a squat position, I was always out first in the cereal box game and doing excessive amounts of cardio activity my whole life (running, hockey, tennis) my body probably had the flexibility of the average 60 year old. I knew that doing yoga would help improve the state of my physical body.
But it was only when I went and did my first teacher training that I fell in love with the power of yoga from a physical point of view. I was pretty far out of my comfort zone with 20 other super bendy (or in my mind that’s how I saw them) people on the course as I struggled to create any sort of form in downward dog. But yoga is not just about flexibility and over the month I saw huge, huge changes in my strength. I was empowered by being able to do things I never thought I’d do as 3 hours of yoga a day started changing my body.
I fell in love with Ashtanga on that course, a very physically demanding form of yoga. And as I start, with perseverance and patience, developing my practice I have started to notice such huge changes in my body’s flexibility. Every day I learn the power of letting go, the power of surrender, the power of just relentlessly turning up to the mat and then one day looking back at where you’ve come from and feeling that little bit of pride that all your hard work and patience is actually having an effect.
Emotional For me the most powerful part of practising yoga has been the emotional benefits I’ve got from it. Every day I get on my mat, be it in a positive or negative frame of mind, and every day I leave the mat in a better place. I have never cried so much as in Yin yoga (where you hold poses for 3-5 minutes, accessing the deeper tissue in your body) where suddenly you’re in a pose and a wave of emotion will just hit you and derail you. You don’t always know why you’re crying, you just learn that it’s ok to feel something, ok to cry. It’s ok to have emotions! Whatever they are stored deep within the tissue in our body, they are definitely better out than in.
I’ve learnt so much about myself through practising yoga, I’ve had the courage to explore myself and let go of so much negativity that was just hibernating inside me. I’ve learnt how certain poses can create emotional responses and how instead of running away from these feelings and coming out of the pose straight away, I can just hold and stay in them, waiting for them to release and pass. Learning how to completely and utterly surrender – something that has taken me so long to learn.
Mental Yoga is all about the breath - and the breath and the mind are intimately connected. When you are agitated and stressed you will notice you will have shallower breath, and when relaxed and at ease your breath is longer and deeper. Understanding this and practising long, deep breathing on a daily basis through my yoga practice has definitely helped to calm my mind down. I mean don’t get me wrong, I still struggle hugely with meditation but I can sit down more quietly. I can be with myself a lot more, happily on my own. I actually love the stillness of yin yoga, whereas before I would have been agitated the whole way through class, finding it boring or not physical enough.
I've also changed a lot about the way I think. Why do I react in certain ways, does my past affect my present, can I really just be in the now without thinking about what’s going to happen next…
This is the area that I know I need to work on the most of any. It’s the one I run away from, the one I don’t feel ready for yet. But yoga is a journey, a life practice and I know trying to force something doesn’t work for me, so I’m just going to carry on with what I’m doing and let it come naturally.
I can't think of many more powerful yoga poses for the mind than savasana. It's one of the most incredible feelings to have finished your practice and just completely and utterly let go, getting lost in time, not thinking, not doing, just completely being present on the mat.