I used to think that yoga was simply a series of basic stretches combined with a chorus of omm-ing in a seated position at the end of class. I often thought to myself, “why would anyone put themselves through such torturous boredom?”
How wrong I was.
Fast forward a few years on, now I can’t stop persuading people to try yoga because I believe it can change their life just as it has mine. Don’t get me wrong, I am far from being what many would consider being a “good” yogi – I still can’t do the splits, inversions still terrify me, and my downward dog probably still looks more like a downward panda. I fall out of poses more often than I stay in them and have come very close to accidentally kicking people in the face on more than one occasion. Not long ago, I even fell asleep in a power yoga class!
“But that’s normal Shazza, many people fall asleep in yoga. You were probably very relaxed in savasana after a good workout.”
Well…I was snoozing away within the first 5 minutes of class during a breathing exercise, only to suddenly wake up to find everyone else moving into sun salutations *facepalm*. And JUST when I thought I could escape without anyone noticing, the cute guy next to me asks if I was sleeping at the start of class.
Dear God, please let the earth open and swallow me whole.
I could go on with more stories but what I would really like to share are the top 5 things I have learned with yoga, how it has impacted my life and perhaps it could benefit your life too.
1) Increased awareness of thoughts/choices/actions
Yoga has given me the space I need to turn my focus inward, listen to my body and find what feels good. I take notice of my internal dialogue and what I tell myself when I’m in a difficult pose, which has carried over to help me remain calm when I encounter challenging life situations. For example, if someone did something to upset me, the old me would have been very frustrated whereas the new me would observe the situation for what it is and respond in a calmer way. You start to find yourself respond more consciously instead of reacting instinctively, which would make your relationship with yourself and with those around you much more fulfilling.
2) Discover the endless potential of your mind and body
When I first started yoga and the teacher said, “We will rest for 5 breaths in a downward dog”, I would find myself mentally protesting, “This is not resting!” and fall into child’s pose because my arms would give out. But over time I found myself getting stronger, difficult poses became more accessible, I was falling less in balance postures. My mind would say “I can” more often than it would tell me “I can’t”. Things that you first thought impossible suddenly seemed within reach.
As you find yourself able to do more, you become more willing to explore and discover what else your body can do. And while it is always important to recognise your limits and consider any injuries you may have (this is the physiotherapist in me talking), you start to see that you can achieve more than you ever expected of yourself. The more you expand your mind and body, the more you realise that you have limitless potential within you.
3) Identify your fears and realise you are braver than you think
Fear is a natural part of life and in many instances may serve us as a protective mechanism. Even though my body was physically ready to practice handstands, having the fear of falling and smashing my face in the ground when lifting my legs up into the pose seemed very sensible to me. After all, gravity does not discriminate. I was putting my body into a position that it has never been in before and my instinct was to back away and not do it – and this filtered into many facets of my life.
But as you peel back the layers of your psyche, you realise that there is a fear of uncharted territory or the unknown that underpins many of our fears. Whether it is a fear of failure with starting a new business, fear of rejection when starting a new relationship, fear that you won’t be a good parent, fear that you are making the wrong decision when going against the grain, whatever it may be. I recently read a quote that said, “We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think we know about the unknown.” Essentially, we fear what does not really exist and worse yet, it is self-created in our minds! I’m not saying to bulldoze ahead irrespective of risk here, please employ some common sense when embarking on new projects. But the more you push your boundaries and break down barriers, the more you find that you have everything you need in you to overcome. We can either choose to live in the safety of what we now know, or live life adventurously in the exploration of the endless possibilities. Which will it be?
4) Letting go of things that do not serve you and live fully in the present
The first time I was introduced to breathing exercises in yoga I thought, “I must be in a pregnancy class or something. Why do I need to learn to breathe when I already do it automatically?”. And I know many people new to yoga who may express similar views. But over time the practice of focusing on my breath and becoming the observer of my thoughts without judgment has helped me to let go of things that no longer serve me. Not saying that this is ever easy.
We hold on to various things ranging from an old pair of jeans from high school that you hope you will fit into again, to bigger things like a past love, anxiety of the future, limiting beliefs or thoughts of “what if” and “if only”. We hold expectations from ourselves, others around us, and wider society telling us what we could be, how we should be. We become attached to people, things or desires in the hopes that they remain permanent when the reality is, they are not. The idea is not that we should never think of our past or plan for our future, rather it is about not losing ourselves in past regrets or future worries.
Just as letting go of clutter in your house frees up space for new things that bring you joy, letting go of mind clutter creates space for you to relax into who you truly are and be grounded in the present moment.
5) Acceptance of yourself and others
I am the queen of living in denial when something happens that I struggle to accept. Like when I gain weight and have to squeeze into my clothes. It’s not me that has become bigger…my clothes must have shrunk! And when I finally acknowledge I am actually fatter, I become very frustrated and unhappy with myself and find it hard to accept my new reality.
I used to think if I accept myself as I am, then it means I have no drive to improve myself. But acceptance is not passive resignation of how things are or giving up the will to better yourself. It is being happy with who you are now in all dimensions of your life, even if it doesn’t look perfect.
By learning to accept ourselves – the good, the bad, the ugly – without judgment or self-loathing, we eventually learn to accept others as they are too without wanting or needing to change them. There are of course situations and people we should remove ourselves from if it has the capacity to cause us harm. But acceptance of ourselves and others enables us to love deeper, to be more understanding, to show more kindness and compassion in a world where this is often in short supply.
In summary, yoga can help us increase our awareness, explore our true potential through self-discovery, overcome fear, let go of limiting beliefs, and accept ourselves for who we are.
Yoga is not about being flexible, eating tofu, chanting oms, or achieving the insta-perfect pose. Yoga is a journey but the journey itself is the destination. Do not compare your first steps to someone else’s 10th mile.
And if a not-so-bendy-sleep-in-class-klutz like me can do yoga, anybody can.
So yoga your way and see where it takes you.
- By Sharon Moh