Have you ever wondered what would happen if you started practicing yoga? I did, so I dove into this popular practice at Tribe SF- Fitness and Yoga for three months to learn all it had to offer me. What I learned may surprise you, because it wasn’t all butterflies and rainbows!
You’re probably expecting me to tell you how amazing yoga is and all the wonderful benefits I received from practicing yoga four times a week for three months straight, but I want to be brutally honest in my experience and share everything that I learned. To be clear – I also decided to give up all other exercise for 3-months in order to isolate and focus on the effects of yoga.
In short, the immediate changes from 60+ hours on the mat were: losing 13 pounds, mostly muscle; becoming more flexible, especially in the hamstrings; opening myself (again) to meditation; and gaining a deeper appreciation and understanding for yoga. Beyond losing weight and becoming more flexible, the lessons I learned were more complex, and that’s what I’m about to share – my five big takeaways.
First, There’s Joy In Struggle:
Yoga is NOT all fun and zen, but there is something beautiful about finding joy in struggle on the yoga mat. It can be humbling…extremely humbling… frustrating, challenging, fun, calming, irritating, rewarding, and enjoyable all at the same time.
The struggle, whether it be internal or external on any particular day, is always an opportunity for self growth and that is the joyful part.
Second, It’s Not The Place or Time For Competition / Comparisons:
The studio, and my practice, are not for competition nor comparison. I was stepping into the studio in an effort to have a positive influence over my health and mental clarity.
By looking around, and seeing who was ‘better’ than me at poses, and who ‘looks better’ was a surefire way to create more stress within.
It’s MY practice and MY journey, not the person’s across the room doing a handstand while I struggle to get my feet off the ground in crow pose (or the person placing their palms on the floor easily in a forward fold while I struggle to reach my toes).
Comparing myself to others always led to failure, even if I was ‘better’ at a pose, because I had now shifted the focus of MY practice to someone else’s.
It’s MY practice and MINE alone. I learned that yoga and my happiness (or well being) are never outside of myself!
Third, Breath-Work Is Fucking Awesome!
Linking my breath to my movement resulted in stability in my physical body while giving me clarity in my mental and emotional body. Once yoga got a little easier, and less painful, I was able to link my breath (inhales and exhales) with certain movements more easily and eventually, I was able to link my breath for entire classes.
My capacity really grew!
There were even a few occasions where I closed my eyes, linked my breathing in what’s called 1:1 breathing (some seriously advanced stuff here taught by “TheBigYogi”) with every pose I hit, and essentially mediated my way through the class as I flowed like water between poses.
It was awesome! By the time I opened my eyes, the hour-long class was over and I felt amazing.
The lesson I learned is that I needed to minimize my physical pain in order to dive deeper into my spiritual and mental world. There was a ‘learning curve’ to be had, for me to be able to turn within and focus. That learning curve was breaking through the pain-body in order to break through more layers of my practice.
Fourth, Yoga Is Not About Instagram and How Cool You Look In Poses.
Yoga is about how I FEEL in the pose, and how well I can manage the change that’s constantly occurring within me and outside of me.
I learned that I could be disgruntled and judgmental in a headstand or extremely peaceful and relaxed in child’s pose. But, which photo would get more likes on IG? Obviously the one of me doing a headstand.
From the outside-in, seeing people post (photos) of crazy yoga poses makes me wonder if they are truly diving deep into their practice or simply posing. Balance on the outside doesn’t mean balance on the inside! My ability to do a pose well means nothing about how I live my life or if I’m even “good” at yoga. It’s just a pose… nothing more.
Fifth, Simply Being, Is Enough!
There is aways a harder option or more within each pose, that of course I’m ‘supposed’ to work toward to ‘better my yoga game.’
There are always harder and more advanced poses to progress to. There is always MORE. And understanding this helped me be content with where I was and where I am.
Viewing yoga as a physical practice is a never ending chase of the proverbial “carrot”.
Once my hamstrings loosened up, I noticed how tight my calves and side-body were. Then it was my shoulders. Then my hips. What is next?
Valuing my practice to how ‘well’ or how ‘deep’ I can do poses, was a battle I always lost. I even found myself pushing stretches to the point of pain. There was always more to be had and I wasn’t taking the time to appreciate where I was in the moment,
My biggest takeaway and lesson, is that there’s great power in acceptance and that simply being (as is), is enough! It helped me realize that not only are my poses enough, but that I AM enough!
I hope my journey and may takeaways lead you to that same realization that you are enough just as you are as well! And it’s my wish that all my fellow lifters give yoga a try (for a few months!)