Most people come to Asana, the physical yoga practice, for the physical benefits: strength, flexibility, balance, help with lower back pain, cross training, etc. But yoga offers so much more than that, the poses are simply an entryway to the myriad other benefits. Through the poses you learn about your breath and the power that it holds. You learn about the stories you tell yourself (I’m too much, I’m not enough, I’m not strong enough, thin enough, flexible enough…). You learn the benefits of being in your body as it is. By practicing the poses, you learn about your mind, your body, and your Self.
While practicing Asana (the 3rd of the 8 Limbs of Yoga) does build strength, mobility, and balance, it also builds resilience, cultivates wisdom, and helps you let go of perfectionism and comparison.
I began my yoga practice at age 23 when perfectionism and comparison ruled my life. I longed to find where I belonged in the world, especially since it wasn’t at home; I wanted to fit in. As Brene Brown states, however, “fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.” Belonging means showing up as you are. That is enough to be accepted. I learned this lesson on the mat.
Belonging while surrounded by others in class, all students going through the same experience together. It was enough to be me, I didn’t have to pretend to be anyone I wasn’t. I found physical strength, but also the strength to stand on my feet, to balance, to lose balance and to still be okay emotionally.
When I learned I had permission to make mistakes, my life changed. I fell, stood up again, fell again, stood up again. I let go of perfectionism and embraced my “good enoughness.” So what if I couldn’t put my foot behind my head? I am still worthy of being here on my mat. I (eventually) let go of comparing myself to others, and accepted my body as it was. No need to fix my body or change it in any way. It served me well and continues to do so.
I found Self-Acceptance and Self-Love more challenging, but I also found them on the mat. I had a lifelong battle with my body, but as I age, the more I love myself and my body, the less I struggle. Do I have a perfect body? Perfect according to whom? It’s perfect for me.
My 6 pack abs have some “insulation,” but I am strong and mobile. My 51 year old body does amazing things for me, carrying me through my day. I gain great wisdom through this practice that I share with my students and acupuncture patients. Many years, and many tears, brought me to this place. When I repeat Downward Dog, and Warrior 2 over and over, I find space to observe my thoughts. A place to notice my stories. A place to decide that I deserve to be here, on my mat, just as I am.
After decades of self-loathing, trying to be what others expected me to be, I find acceptance. Fitting into “their” box wasn’t meant for me. When I allowed my Triangle Pose to be mine, and stopped comparing it to others, I found freedom. My body was mine, it wasn’t going to look like anyone else’s, no matter what I did with it. Wholeness came from accepting my body, as it is, and working within its guidance and limitations. Self-Acceptance and Self-Love soon followed.
Strength and Balance
Asana practice offers Strength and Balance, both outside and inside. You cultivate physical strength in poses like Plank, Chaturanga, and Extended Side Angle, while also building inner strength. It takes will to hold a pose when you fear your muscles will give out. When you believe in yourself, you can stay one more breath. To release your concern about what everyone else is doing in order to listen to your body takes inner strength. Knowing that it is time to take Child’s pose, even if no one else is, takes courage and tenacity. Time on the mat taught me to prioritize what is right for me, regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Part of Asana practice is balancing on one foot (or your head, or your hands), but you also create balance in your life. When you make time to slow down, or take time for yourself by practicing yoga poses, you find that balance between what others need and what you need. Work and family are commitments that require your attention, but not at the expense of your health and/or sanity. As they say, you cannot pour from an empty cup.
Give yourself the nourishment that you need, body and spirit, and you will show up in your life with more ease and less stress. You will live your life more present and available to yourself and others, rather than running on auto-pilot. Auto-pilot only ends in resentment, anxiety, and exhaustion. Taking these lessons with me, off the mat and into my day, have completely changed my life for the better.
Join me at Purple Room Yoga!
I teach online and on demand yoga classes for active adults over 50 who want to stay active with yoga! Classes are appropriate for beginner through experienced students, with many varieties. If you are looking to build strength, increase mobility, improve balance, and generally feel more at ease mentally and physically, click the link to see the full Schedule of Classes, or the extensive On Demand Library.
Coming in November: Back to Yoga Basics is a 4 week online course that gives you the foundations of practicing yoga. You will learn 25 yoga poses over 4 weeks in an easy to follow, self-study format. You will learn yoga alignment principles and basic anatomy so that you understand each pose in your body. Yoga is not just for some bodies, yoga is for all bodies. If you are “yoga curious” but don’t know where to start, click this link for more information!