Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Finding Strength in Yoga

We've all heard the celebrities swear that yoga makes their bodies tight and toned. And I have to admit that when I started yoga teacher training, a rather large part of my motivation was the potential physical benefit of a regular yoga practice. As you can probably tell from my blog posts of late, it seems that I'm getting much more emotionally, mentally and spiritually from the dedicated practice of yoga than I am physically.

That's not to say my body isn't changing. I find myself wishing I'd taken "before" photos, so that I could share my physical progress with you all. My butt is lifting, my waist is more defined, my shoulders are stronger, my biceps and triceps are actually cut and visible. I'm able to do things that I doubted I'd ever be able to do, like balance in Bakasana and lift fully into Urdhva Dhanurasana. And I'm working my way toward headstand, slowly but surely.

One of the biggest things I'm learning about the physical practice of yoga (asana) is that it's such a small part of what yoga truly is. There are actually eight limbs of yoga, only one of which refers to the physical postures. So while I'm actively working to move more deeply into Downward Facing Dog and to practice better form in Chaturanga Dandasana, the real work is coming in other areas of my life.

I suspected that might be the case when I signed up for the training. After all, I'd just ended a six-year relationship and was planning to submerse myself in an intensive program. I knew emotions would come up and I'd run into walls. How could I not? But here's the thing: I had no idea the extent to which yoga would open me up and reveal who I truly am.

The lessons I'm learning on my mat through my physical practice--to keep breathing, even when I'm uncomfortable; to listen to my body; to trust in my own strength; to push myself gently, and handle myself with care--these lessons don't just end on the mat. I see myself applying them in my life when I'm in a stressful situation, starting to become irritable, and I calm myself with a few slow, deep breaths. Or when I'm feeling exhausted by a hectic schedule and treat myself to a hot bath and an early bedtime instead of forcing my body through another long day. Or when I recognize I'm making excuses instead of fully living my life and I forgive myself and then begin to carefully push myself, taking the first hesitant steps toward my future.

Yes, yoga is giving me a fit body. But it is also strengthening my mind, my spirit. Then again, maybe yoga is just quieting the noise and clearing away the underbrush so that I can see what was there all along.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).


Rebecca said...

you know I love hearing about your yoga experience and I can't wait to embark on a 10 day yoga challenge upon my return from Fl!

Ami said...

Thanks for reading, Rebecca. And good luck with your yoga challenge! Yoga Journal has a great 21 day challenge if you're looking for something to follow along with. They send emails with a new practice each day.

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