Yoga is the dance of self love! It has many amazing benefits for your body, mind, and spirit.
In summer 2016, I decided that yoga was the only form of exercise I wanted to do for the next 30 days. After a session, I felt uplifted and grounded.
What I wasn’t expecting was how wonderful I felt by the end of that summer. I felt so connected to my body and strong.
I rediscovered moving for the joy of it, rather than something I felt I had to do to burn calories, or “sculpt” my body.
We all know about yoga's incredible benefits for strength, balance, and flexibility. In fact, that’s why I committed to doing 30 days of straight yoga, and no other movement (apart from walking).
But after that 30 days, I discovered some amazing self love benefits from yoga I wasn’t expecting.
#1: YOGA TEACHES BODY ACCEPTANCE
So much fitness focuses on future goals and keeps nothing for the present moment. It constantly asks you to measure up against your future self.
Yoga is different.
It instead asks you to show up on the mat, as you are, today, and bring full awareness into your body.
It inspires deeper self awareness and self compassion, by inviting you to connect to your body in the present.
I love that it is acceptable in yoga to be able to get deep into a stretch on one side and only halfway into it on the other. With acceptance, breath, and awareness, sometimes you can ease through it – but if not, that's okay too.
It fascinated me that some days I could bend into an advanced posture with ease – yet two days later, I hardly managed the beginner modification.
Everyone's journey in yoga is completely individual. There’s no pressure to compare yourself to anyone else’s journey, or posture finesse.
It's a process of self-discovery and self acceptance, with an element of playful curiosity.
Yoga taught me the art of self compassion, and self acceptance – to be okay with where I was today. It was the beginning of learning to accept where my body was today by bringing my focus back to the present moment.
#2: YOGA IS A GREAT WAY TO MEDITATE IF YOU HATE SITTING STILL
Most of us know the benefits of meditation through mindful connection to your breath.
Yet I can’t tell you how many clients and readers struggle to start meditating, especially if they are anxious or have short attention spans.
This is totally true for me!
Sitting still with my breath and trying not to think about things is a recipe for disaster!
Yoga was a perfect way to ease me into meditation. It taught me how to connect body, breath, and the present moment in a way that didn’t provoke restlessness.
It's easier to “zone out” and focus mindfully on breathing when I’m flowing through an asana.
Once I've finished the session, it's much easier to lie down for Shavasana and focus on nothing but my breath. My muscles are stretched and floppy, my breath is slow, and I’m happy to lie still with a blank mind for five minutes.
#3: YOGA TEACHES YOU HOW TO DEAL WITH DISCOMFORT
The only part of a yoga practice I don’t love is any part where I have to move into a downward dog.
Does anyone else struggle with that pose?
Through daily yoga, I learned to sit with discomfort, rather than ignoring or running from it. This was invaluable.
I learned to turn inward. To learn from it. Where in my body did I feel the discomfort?
What was I really uncomfortable about? Was it that the pose was physically uncomfortable?
Was it growing pains as I gained strength and was improving my pose, or was it that I was impatient at the stillness?
I also learned to focus on my breathing through the discomfort. It was here, on my yoga mat, that I truly perfected my box breathing practice.
No entire yoga class is just holding a downward dog (or any other uncomfortable pose) for 45 minutes. I learned that the discomfort temporarily hangs over you – but it doesn't last forever.
You will move out of it. You will begin to flow again. Breathe. This, too, shall pass.
Being in those uncomfortable poses on my yoga mat wasn’t just a lesson in discomfort on the yoga mat.
It also taught me how to sit with and get through discomfort in life.
Sit with and accept the feeling, rather than ignoring it or running away from it.
It’s a lot easier to get through discomfort with deep, slow breaths.
Discomfort won’t last forever – it will pass.
#4: YOGA HELPED ME REDISCOVER MOVING FOR JOY
My first foray into the world of exercise was through Carmen Electra’s 00s fitness classic: the Aerobic Striptease series. I had the box set. I loved it.
Then one day, I took as gospel one comment from a bodybuilding colleague at the time who said the DVDs “won’t do shit” for weight loss.
Without pause, I banished poor Carmen and her seductive hip rolls to the back of the DVD cupboard, swapping her for exercise bike sprints, running, and Body Attack. (None of which I particularly liked.)
Somehow, from that one comment, I formed a belief that “the only way fitness can be effective is if it burns a lot of calories” and “fitness isn’t supposed to be fun or joyful”.
And for years afterward, I chose to punish my body with workouts I hated in favor of the “calorie burn”. I completely shunned the movement I enjoyed because it wasn’t “extreme” enough.
I didn’t think you could be fit and enjoy movement at the same time. Hence, I saved yoga for “recovery” days only.
I packed my fitness schedule with calorie "heavy hitters", despite my loathing for them. Yoga, and other forms of enjoyable exercise, were a special treat I believed I had to earn.
Then I always wondered why I could never get motivated to work out.
I set up an automation system to corral myself into working out, even though I didn’t like it.
What a miserable way to live and to squander the immense gift of a healthy, able body!
By contrast, I woke up looking forward to my yoga workouts as much as I looked forward to my morning cup of coffee.
There was no battle to get motivated, or to find the time. My yoga practice became a non-negotiable.
Movement became a joy again.
Yoga asked me to rethink my approach to fitness and to, as yogi Adriene Mischler puts it, “find what feels good”. When you move your body in ways that feel good, movement becomes a joy and privilege, instead of a chore.
Now, I incorporate yoga freely into my fitness routine – whenever I feel like it. In fact, I like to use yoga as therapy in much the same way as I do tea.
A quick search on YouTube shows there’s a yoga sequence for every goal, occasion, and ailment. I love to use it as a ritual to move my body in honor and celebration of my body and life.
The benefits of yoga to your body, mind, and soul are myriad.
I had researched them when I was starting my 30-day challenge. (They deserve a part 2 post, no?)
What I wasn’t expecting were the benefits yoga had on my self esteem and self confidence. Truly, I believe my journey to self love began on my yoga mat in the summer of 2016.
Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you love yoga? What are some of the benefits you’ve noticed and enjoy? Let me know in the comments below.
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