Guess what!? Today is the official International Day of Yoga and as I told my yoga class this morning, it’s not just one of those random “National Pancake/Ice Cream/Talk Like A Pirate/Cheese” days. (If you really want a good laugh, check out the National Day Calendar for June. Apparently, today is also National Handshake Day.) The United Nations proclaimed June 21 to be the International Day of Yoga. It was originally proposed by India and endorsed by 175 member states. The goal of International Yoga Day is to raise awareness worldwide of the many benefits of practicing yoga.
I couldn’t let this day pass without a special post. I have said this before but if you’d have told me in my early 20s that in 10 years I would have a regular yoga practice, teach yoga, be a marketing director for a yoga studio and have written a book about yoga, I would have laughed. But discovering yoga was one of the best things to ever happen to me. The practice has changed my life.
What initially began as a physical quest to be a less injured runner quickly became so much more. I have learned more about myself (and more about how to love my perfectly imperfect self) in the last seven years of practicing yoga than I have in my entire life.
I wanted to talk a little today about the meaningful ways that yoga has touched my life. I’m most definitely still a work in progress but here are nine ways that yoga has impacted my life.
Yoga has taught me the importance of having a gratitude practice and choosing an attitude of gratitude every day. You know that app Timehop that shows you your social media posts from this day in history going back as long as you’ve been on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc.? One thing that I’ve noticed from reading my old posts is how much the way I talk about my day-to-day life has changed. Sometimes I cringe at the whining I did in the early days when in retrospect, I really didn’t have much to whine about. Although my gratitude practice is always something I’m trying to cultivate more and more, I feel that I’m really able to put things in perspective and feel grateful every day for the abundant blessings that surround me instead of focusing on lack or negativity.
The easiest way that I can sum this up is a quote from a wonderful therapist that I worked with for a while. He drew my fiance and me a little post it note that says, “Taking the high road, every step of the way,” and I can honestly say it’s something we strive for on a daily basis. It’s so easy to get caught up in comparison, competition and gossip but man does it ever feel better to stand on the other side of it.
I feel like this is such a buzz word but once you get a taste of what it really means, you appreciate it. When I look back, I spent a lot of my teenage years and early 20s doing what everyone else was doing because it was just what you did. I like to compare it to the march of the penguins. Far too often I let the status quo dictate my choices when it came to clothes, jobs, social activities, hobbies, relationships, etc. I’m going to give you a totally stupid example here. When I was in college it was a thing to have a date to football games. It was also a thing for sorority girls to get dressed up and wear dresses to these football games. And heels. So of course I went out to boutiques and bought red and black dresses and put 3-4 inch black heels every Saturday. Y’all, I walked in HEELS for MILES and usually ended up taking them off and doing the barefoot walk of shame because my feet hurt so bad. A couple of years later the female collective got smart and it became a thing to wear black Reef flip flops with your game day dress so of course I did that too.
The practice has taught me how to be more of an independent thinker and also that it’s okay to do something different than what everyone else is doing. I’m better equipped now to make decisions based on how I feel and want to feel instead of on what everyone else is doing . This is a huge thing we talk about in yoga teacher training. The hardest thing about becoming a more authentic and true version of yourself is that it often means letting go of some things in exchange. Either you realize that certain jobs/relationships/friendships/social activities/hobbies/behaviors, etc. are really not serving you anymore or when you start to make changes, others don’t come with you. Stepping into authenticity can be scary but the freedom that comes with it is worth it.
And let me just say that I don’t think that yoga comes without its own set of “heard mentality” issues. Example number one, mala beads. 🙂
Hot on the heels of authenticity is vulnerability. Learning to stand in front of a room of 50 people with all your battle wounds and tears and flaws while allowing yourself to be truly seen has been one of the most challenging things that I’ve done as a yoga teacher. It’s also been one of the most rewarding. I’ve learned that being imperfect makes you kind of real and that people really relate to that. Remember my post, “The Lie I Give Up?” We’re all walking around thinking that something is wrong with us. A willingness to be vulnerable is a huge way that we can start to beat this mentality down.
One of my long-time students just reminded me, “Everybody has a sack of rocks.”
“Be present.” This is another yoga buzz word but in a world of increasing distraction, it’s so important. We spend so much of our time only being “half-in” what we’re doing. We’re half-listening, half-watching, half-trying, etc. Yoga teaches you how to be 100% focused on the task at hand. The yoga sutras say that yoga is chitta vritti nirodhah, or, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. We’ll talk more about that in another post.
Yoga has taught me how to open my heart and love on a deeper level. The friendships that I have made through yoga are so much more meaningful and deep than the friendships of my youth. I’ve found friendships that are truly unconditional. Friends who are there always and no matter what…even when I don’t ask them to be. These relationships are brutally honest and real. I’ve also learned how to let myself be loved and cared for.
Beyond friendships, I try to engrain love into every aspect of my life. No matter the person or the situation, I try to step back and ask myself, “how can I be my most loving possible self in this moment.” It’s amazing the changes it can have on relationships and situations when you lower your guard and believe the best.
The opposite of love is fear but in this world we live in, it’s an epidemic to live from a fear-based mindset. Fearlessness starts on the mat when you learn to trust yourself. You learn how to breathe through situations that push you right up to your edge and you don’t run. You start to develop a closer relationship with yourself and you believe in and love yourself. This translates to a more fearless existence off the mat.
You start to become aware of when you’re leaning towards the side of fear and reset your course to love.
Yoga puts me right up against my stuff every time I come to my mat. I can’t ignore how my body, heart or head feels. Every practice is a different experience and I can’t compare any day’s practice to one previous. My body is different every day. My heart is different every day. My head is different every day.
Regardless, I persevere because I want to be my strongest and happiest self. I set goals that seem impossible. Sometimes they take months or years to meet. See titibasana and handstand to crow. There is nothing I can’t do when I continue to persevere and show up.
What does that even mean? There are so many ways to be strong. My yoga strong is this from Kino MacGregor.
“They want me to be strong enough to believe in myself…However big my mission is in life, is how strong I need to be…Even if I’m the only one who believes in this I will stand for this truth and I will work for it no matter how long it takes. For me that is strength.”
My yoga practice has made me believe that I have a mission in this life, and that I am strong enough to make it happen.
What was meant to be a short overview of the yoga content on my blog has turned into a 1,500 word essay and 3+ hours of writing on yoga. I can honestly say this only scratches the surface. So many of you have told me that you tried yoga because of my blog and fell in love. Some of you have even gone on to do teacher training and become teachers yourself. Others have told me that the yoga content somewhat alienates you. I beg you to try. I was the same way and I had to try A LOT of classes and A LOT of teachers and A LOT of studios to find the right fit. There is a yoga for you when you are ready.
Please know that I am always here for you should you have any questions yoga related. I am working hard to find a way to deliver yoga classes to you via the web or your iPhone. This practice will change your life.
All of my love,
For my fellow yogis, share how yoga has changed your life.
For my aspiring yogis, what is holding you back?