When I first began practicing yoga, I was visiting my local yoga studio a few times a week. My understanding of the practice was this: you go to a studio, do yoga, and then go back to your regular life when you are done. In fact, I often laughed at the juxtaposition of my local yoga studio vs. my real life. One was filled with peace, tranquility and acceptance, the other was stressful, busy and constantly moving. My teacher would talk about how yoga extends beyond the mat all the time, but I didn’t get it. I couldn’t see it. How could a simple yoga pose affect me beyond my mat?
I had done many other forms of exercise before, including running, weight lifting, and kick-boxing. To me, yoga was just that; another form of exercise. I was pretty good at the poses, and caught on quickly to the ones that were more difficult. While I excelled at the hard physical stuff, I sucked at the relaxation part. I didn’t think that was too important at the time anyway. Besides, sleeping and zoning out to TV was my primary mode of relaxation. Why would I need more than that? At the end of every class, I would roll up my mat and go back home. But my teachers kept on insisting that this was more than exercise. But how?
As I continued on my yoga journey, I started to notice some changes. They were so subtle that I almost missed them. I began to find a deeper level of stillness in the quiet moments on my mat. As a result, I started to cherish and even crave those moments. Before long, I realized that all of my physical efforts on the mat were a reflection of how I treated my body, my mind and my life. I pushed and pushed and didn’t want to stop moving. I wanted to be the best and do the most, and I was exhausted. My time on my mat showed me that I needed to slow down, both in the yoga studio and in my life.
These subtle self-realizations kept cropping up the longer I practiced. I began to let go and became less judgmental of myself. When I became less judgmental of myself, I realized that I didn’t have to be so judgmental of others. All of a sudden, I was being nicer and more even-tempered. I became better at handling the highs and lows of life, instead of flying off the handle when things went awry. I recognized my need for control, and began to accept the fact that I couldn’t have control all the time. I even became more accepting of my body, both its limitations and its abilities. Was I a better person to myself and to others? It sure felt like I was. Could yoga have done all of that? It kinda did.
The truth of that matter is, my practice was (and still is) a reflection of me. As long as I’m practicing, I can’t hide from myself.
Fast forward years later, and I’m still on my yoga journey. I can’t begin to describe how much it has positively affected my life. Not in a “magic pill” sort of way, but through hard work, dedication and a willingness to be more introspective than I ever had been before. My yoga practice, along with the intelligent guidance of my teachers, had pointed me in the right direction. They allowed the door to crack open so I could glimpse through to the other side. My hard work allowed me to kick that door wide open and run right through it.
For me, there is no end-game. My journey is continuous and life-long. It bends and curves and is rarely linear. There have been other influences outside of yoga, but nothing has come close to lifting the veil that skewed my self-perception like my yoga practice. I wake up in the morning and I am so grateful that I have made this a permanent part of my life.
If you are reading this, you may very well be on your own yoga journey. You might not view it as anything more than a form of exercise, and that’s OK. You might never view it as anything more than that, and that’s OK too. But if there is a part of you that is curious to know more about this practice and yourself, I encourage you to peak through the cracked door, and then work hard to kick it wide open.
Thank you for reading.