These days it seems like everyone has a friend who absolutely swears by yoga, and I can't deny the number of accounts on my Instagram feed which appear to be owned by full-time yogis who are inhumanly strong, flexible, and at peace with themselves. But yoga is not an activity reserved for the uber-athletic or even the uber-zen. Yoga is for everyone!
As someone who would hesitate to call herself a yogi - or even particularly flexible - I can say with firm confidence that yoga has the potential to better your life. Without at least one weekly Vinyasa Flow, I tend to fall into a pit of anxiety, despair, and a poor relationship with my body. When I do my weekly yoga, the daily challenges of life seem a lot less daunting and depressing. This type of attitude adjustment, not to mention a good sweat session, should be good for anyone. If you are doubtful of the physical and mental benefits of yoga, here are three good reasons to give it a try.
1. You Can Do This
It is so easy to trick yourself into not trying something difficult, or not going for something new. Yoga teaches that a can't-do vs a can-do attitude is all in your head; there is an internal voice that either gets in your way or pushes you to break outside of the comfort zone.
In a good yoga class, you will push yourself to physical and mental limits by holding chair pose or doing one more yogi push-up. A good yoga instructor will remind you to breathe through the pain and to enjoy it, that if you actively tell yourself you can do this, your muscles will obey. Then, when you've powered through that third chair pose with a smile on your face and powerful breath coursing through your lungs, you can rest knowing that you did it.
The realization that comes from telling yourself that you can, and finding yourself obeying that positive voice, is powerful. When we carry that knowledge throughout our daily lives and tell ourselves, yes, we can talk to that person or we can accomplish that goal, we are empowering ourselves to be bigger, better, more confident human beings.
2. But It's OK If You Can't
On the flip side of you can do this, yoga teaches you to be kind to yourself when necessary. We all have our limits and some days what we need is some kind forgiveness, rather than an extra push.
When your yoga instructor reminds you at the beginning of class that child's pose is always available, you would do well to take that suggestion to heart. On tough or tired days, you may not feel comfortable with pushing your hips to take on that extra power lunge, or pushing your brain to write that important essay - and that is OK. On those days, you should not beat yourself up for taking a child's pose while the rest of the class is pushing that lunge, you should not lie awake chastising yourself for not getting the work done. Instead, forgiving yourself for taking a break and allowing yourself to fully breathe and restore your strength during that break is incredibly important.
Being kind to ourselves during particularly tough moments is a healthy practice that goes beyond yoga. Allowing for rest and relaxation can strengthen our stores of energy and power for the next day, the next challenge; and it is imperative that we do not beat ourselves up about taking these breaks. Taking a child's pose and giving ourselves permission to restore is an important type of work, in and of itself.
3. Just Breathe/Show Up
Knowing that you are powerful while being capable of forgiving yourself makes for a well-rounded and healthy outlook on life. You will feel confident and strong enough to push yourself while being kind enough to be OK with taking a much needed rest. For all of those moments, as well as the ones in between, yoga teaches you to just keep breathing.
The most impactful words that I've learned in yoga have been "show up." By showing up on your yoga mat, showing up for a day that you've been dreading, or showing up to emotionally care for yourself or your loved ones, you are enough. Good yoga instructors will remind you that it's not about how perfect you look in a pose, but about how you show up in that shape, being mindful of your body, it's power and it's limitations. When faced with a challenge, whether a particularly difficult pose or a tough decision in life, it is enough that you show up and give it your best shot. Giving up, shrinking away in fear or expecting to much and then beating yourself up for not meeting your own expectations - these are poor ways of meeting life's challenges. Instead, yoga teaches you to breathe through the pain and the hardship and to stand strong, to be there for yourself.
Breathing deliberately and showing up are two aspects of the same thing. In order to show up and be there, we use our breath to focus and sustain our physical emotional energies. Rather than giving up or expecting too much, yoga teaches us to be there, to keep breathing and to own what we can do while accepting what we cannot.
Do you yoga? What have you learned and how has yoga improved your life?