The Benefits of Yoga In alex words: What yoga means to me

I didn't always do yoga. Anatomically I don't have a super bendy body, I don't "just love being upside down" and I most certainly wasn't born doing Surya Namaskar A. It took me a long time to get comfortable with arm balances and consider inversions - I feel like I only just managed to learn headstand even though I have been practising for years.

Sometimes Downward Facing Dog doesn't feel right and that I am learning it all over again.

So yes, I love yoga, but it doesn't come naturally. And it isn't always easy.

But that's why I love teaching yoga. I understand the struggles, the pain, the anguish. The not touching your toes, the two steps forward, three steps back, the not binding, the I-will-never-get-this pose. The Sanskrit names. All that is where I come from.

The point isn't what we CAN or CANNOT do, it's what we learn about ourselves in the process.

And that's exactly the point - we are always learning.

My job as a yoga teacher is to welcome you to the path. I am not only teaching you yoga asana, I am providing access to a technique where you can go as deep as you want to learn about you. The art of your forward fold isn't what I am interested in.

I am interested in you coming to the mat, making space for yourself and listening to you.

That's the message you need to hear.

That's what I love about yoga.

For me, yoga is about managing life - and everything it can possibly to think to throw at me. It's unlikely that I will get out of a tight spot with Dancer Pose, but the focus, the resilience and the strength that I learn on the mat is what I will later rely on to get through the hard times.

Using the breath to stay in the present moment, which we might learn in Headstand, or Chair Pose, will keep us rooted strongly when we suddenly find ourselves stretched to the limits.

And we will certainly be stoked full of joy ready to make the most of the good times when they roll in.

Let's review some of those tremendous benefits of yoga....

  • It increases your flexibility.
  • It calms you down and relaxes you.
  • It can help you heal from injury and increase strength.
  • It can teach you mindfulness and breath technique.
  • Resilience, tenacity, clarity.....
Yes to all of the above.

But I wanted to share with you the benefits that yoga brings specifically to my life ...... the reasons why I love yoga.

1. It gets me unstuck. Difficult decision lying ahead? Procrastinating? Straight up denial about a problem? Roll out the mat. Breathe. Move through the asanas and let the mind settle as you flow. A regular yoga practice cultivates a clarity and a focus that can facilitate some out-of-this world cognitive efficiency, allowing a solution to calmly rise to the surface, to allow the issue to resolve itself cleanly - no drama, no overwhelm.

Yoga helps me move forwards.

2. It makes me a better person. I'm terribly sorry, but it appears I got up on the wrong side of bed this morning. Everything crashing down, and all I have is rage? Yes, that happens from time to time. Doing yoga doesn't make my problems go away, but it does provide a simple system for putting them in perspective and sorting out my shit. The mat gives me a path out of crazy, allowing me to navigate back to myself. Before I get on my mat there might be all sorts of nonsense going on upstairs, but largely by the time I have got myself through to savasana, it has magically melted away. I can step off the mat with love, kindness and compassion, a clear mind and a clear conscience. And that certainly makes me feel a bit better - a bit more hinged.

3. It is cheaper than therapy. This is kind of related to the above point, but rather than looking forwards, this is about understanding where you have come from, and accepting yourself as you are. The patterns of behaviour, the stories we tell ourselves. Yoga is a process of self reflection - understanding who we are, and owning it. It also it gives us the clarity and the strength to embrace the good bits, and let go of the bad bits. I grew up knowing I was a bit different. Right. I could have paid someone a lot of money to try and figure it out, to fix me. And all I really needed to do was accept myself for who I am, and indeed, be MORE me.

Every time I step on the mat, I have the opportunity to check in with myself. This is the power of yoga.

4. It changes you. Get ready to meet your best self. Not sure who that is? I am pretty sure you will meet them on the yoga mat!

One of my favourite anecdotes at the moment is about a cigarette-smoking yogi travelling in India. She worried initially that smoking would affect her yoga practice, and a guru reassured her: "Don't worry about that, but know that yoga will affect your smoking."

Whatever you were before, be prepared for the change. For me yoga empowered me to make the transition fully into my own skin, to accept myself. Slowly but surely the yamas and niyamas (the moral code - if you like - of ashantga yoga) filtered through to my subconscious. In a slow process, I feel like I became an overall better version of me - kinder, more forgiving, leading a cleaner, healthier lifestyle, losing weight as I gained strength, being more resilient to change and to difficult circumstances. These were not choices. I didn't ask to be gluten free or less messy. These drivers come from such a deep place that it doesn't feel like me, but beyond me - I am just driven to be the best version of me that I can be. And yes, sometimes it is weird when I find myself cleaning the entire house before I can step on the mat, and then I smile and remind myself... That's just my newfound saucha streak.

Yoga is both the process, and the result.

5. I can head stand (= I can manage fear). I have to add this in here - it would be dishonest to talk about how much I love yoga without mentioning the sheer pride in being able to overcome MASSIVE challenges - like gravity. I always thought I would never get over my fear of falling, hurting myself or worse - hurting others. I thought my own physical movement was permanently restricted - never mind my hips not lying, my hips were for a long time in some kind of stasis. Yet in a regular practice, we learn to keep showing up, to keep knocking at the door, learning to accept where we are on our journey, and making space for those doors to open. Sometimes the journey goes quickly, sometimes not.

So yoga is most certainly a process to shift your expectations, upgrade your ability and overcome your fears. On the mat - and off.

IT is HUGELY empowering.

But hold up.... I am definitely not saying I am done here...

this is the best version of me and you are welcome!

I am just saying, there is a reason we are all on this path together. We are all just doing our best, to be our best. And I love it. Yes it's hard, rocky, sometimes painful.

But it is also beautiful, well worth it, impossible to stop, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

So here's to you feeling the yoga love too, and to being on this path... because let's be honest, it probably wasn't really a choice.

It chose you.

In future blog posts I will look a bit deeper at some of the principles that sit behind yoga, like the yamas and niyamas, but if you want to know more right now this minute you beautiful-impatient-curious thing, have a look at this inspiring article here.

Namaste for now,

Alex x

Credits:

Karolina Grabara Espen Helland Alex Turner

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