Yoga & Mindfulness
I hadn’t been a dancer for at least 10 years when I decided to get back into some sort of flowing movement. I had also been a gym fanatic after having kids but was getting tired of the chit chat and creepy dudes checking out their six packs in the mirror. I tried group dance classes. I tried kickboxing. I tried Zumba. Nothing felt good…I felt tired, but not GOOD.
At the ripe old age of 35 (ha!), I tried hot yoga. I walked into my first class, expecting an OK workout, figuring I’d get a lot of stretching in, but that’s about it. The instructors were stunning, the studio vibe was uber trendy (I was a mom of 5 and 7 year old…certainly NOT trendy), and everything just felt like unicorns and rainbows…and I wasn’t quite at that mental state in my life. So yeah, it was a little intimidating. The thoughts crept in of “I don’t fit in here” and “everyone will know I’m a total fraud” and “I’m seriously not good enough to be here.” Sound familiar?
I entered the hot room, found child’s pose, and was ready to kick some serious butt. Then the instructor begins to guide us through breathing, and let’s us know that we can take as many breaks as we want, and to remember that the true yoga is the breath. (Wait, what? I’m here to get a workout, lady) She also tells me (us) that it doesn’t matter how good you are at a pose, what’s important is that I made it to my mat.
(I silently chuckled to myself…ooookaayyy…)
Suffice to say, it kicked my ass. It’s hard to explain to people that have never tried hot yoga. I was a weight lifter, a runner, and generally athletic. I mean, I was kind of a sweater when I worked out. Nothing could have prepared me for the amount of water coming out of every pore on my body. I mean EVERY pore. (did you know that your eyelids and fingers can sweat???) Aside from the sweating, the movement was challenging. The mental focus it takes to complete a yoga class is beyond any type of exercise I have ever attempted. And here I was, my competitive little self (obviously ignoring my instructor’s prior instructions), trying to stand on one leg, in a very hot room, soaking wet, trying not to fall and completely embarrass myself. And yes, my ego really wanted to do better than most in the room.
I made it through the entire class without laying down or taking a break. I looked around at all of those “good” yogis in the front row, noticing they had all taken at least one or two breaks. My ego was kicking into full gear. Once we reached the end of class, I was feeling pretty damn proud of myself. We were instructed to lay down in corpse pose (thank god, because I really felt like I might die if I didn’t finally lay down). Our instructor began to speak to us in a soft, silky tone - it felt like she was speaking directly to ME - about how proud she was of us. About how we had made the biggest step in just making it to class, about how we deserve to give ourselves this time and this love. About how worthy we all were, and beautiful, and strong.
I laid there, in savasana, feeling some very uncomfortable burning sensations in my eyes. Ok…I was completely sobbing. What. The. Hell. I thought yoga was supposed to be a calm, centering exercise form?!? Why am I crying??? And it wasn’t a sad cry. It was a “holy shit that was hard I’m never coming back to this again” kind of cry. Then by my second class, it was a “I can’t believe I made it through another 65 minutes” cry…then it was “life is so beautiful I’m so grateful for everything” cry. I continued to sob at the end of class for at least my first 5 classes.
Until finally, I understood.
Yoga, whether it is hot or not, is not about the workout. Sure, there are people who will always treat yoga like another exercise class, or another fad. Now, for me at least, it is therapy. It has become a moving meditation, a practice in mindfulness. It is hard to be in that room and focus on anything BUT yoga. It took me years of practicing to get to this point. To let go of the competition. To take breaks. To let go of my “monkey mind” and truly move and flow and breathe in unison. Of course my chatter pops into my head once in a while. But now I can visualize the thought, almost like a floating feather, and let it drift away.
The actual meaning of “yoga” is to “yoke” or “make one” - with the intention of bringing together the one’s mind and the divine. The poses in yoga, or asana, are only one facet of the path to experience the full fruition of the true yoga. Asana is a way to meditate through movement & breath. Some are meant to open up the chakras, some are meant to let the blood and lymph flow in certain ways to aid in healing, while others are designed to allow the body to just be present, in the breath and in the moment. Allowing the prana, or life force, to move through the body and through the mind.
The peace I feel, the energy I share with my fellow yogis, and the true love of the practice is what keeps me going back. Meditation allows me to be in sync with the true self, the spirit, the higher source - whatever you want to call it. Some of us can meditate simply by sitting still and being a witness to our thoughts. I’m not quite there yet. For me, yoga is my meditation. It is my reminder to let go. It is the one time a day I get to be alone with my thoughts (even in a room of 60 other people) and express love for myself in a completely unique way.
Now that I have started to teach yoga, it is a completely different experience. Being a witness to people challenging their limits, watching them be ok with vulnerability, and having the opportunity to guide them, is a gift greater than I ever imagined. And I’ve learned that yoga extends well beyond the room - it is in my everyday life - with how I react to my kids, how I react to my stress, and how I treat myself. Sounds a lot like mindfulness, doesn't it?
If you struggle with mindfulness, or even if you don't, I encourage you to take a step toward some type of yoga. Do some research, find a type that fits your needs. Add yoga to your mindfulness toolbox. Allow it to assist you in growing in your daily mindfulness practice. It’s going to be awkward at first, you may be sore, you may not want to open up those emotions and work through them. But that’s ok. After all, growth is typically a little uncomfortable.
So get uncomfortable, get awkward. Stretch your limits. Just take that first little step...you'll be happier, healthier, and more mindful in the long run.
Namaste: “the purest light in me sees and honors the purest light in you”