I never used to like yoga. It’s funny to think about now, when it’s become such a large part of my life. I use it to wake up in the morning. I use it to relax my body for sleep at night. I use it to prep my brain before every writing session. But it wasn’t always that way.
Growing up, I didn’t have the patience for it. I was looking for the quick fix for the perfect body and I couldn’t see how yoga, with its emphasis on slow movement and stretching, could get me there. Instead, I focused on cardio, pushing myself so hard every time I exercised it would be days before I’d want to try again. At the time, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t working. My weight (which was never as bad as my self-esteem insisted) never budged. It was years before I found a healthy way to incorporate fitness into my life.
You know that annoying thing people say about finding your partner? If you want love, stop looking. It seems so disingenuous, but there is a kernel of wisdom to be found there. The lesson isn’t to stop trying. It’s to change the way you think about love. It’s about becoming the person you need to be first, and trusting the rest will follow.
It works for fitness, too. My problem wasn’t that I wasn’t working out hard enough. It was that I wasn’t working out the right way. I needed to train my brain first before I could achieve my fitness goals. And that’s where yoga came in.
The first thing yoga taught me is there are no quick fixes. Yoga is about a long-term daily practice, improving a little bit day by day. Its emphasis on growth – from beginner to more advanced poses – taught me to accept myself in the stage that I’m at, while always looking forward to the future.
Yoga taught me to breathe again. I don’t know when I came upon the idea that breathing was a bad thing. Somehow, I’d linked it in my mind to panic, to stress, to hyperventilation, and I’d spent a lifetime trying to breathe as little as possible. But through yoga, breathing has become a way to master my stress. It’s a form of control, rather than a sign I’d lost control.
Yoga also taught me patience and self-control. I read an article the other day that said savasana (the final resting pose in most practices), with its emphasis on letting go of your thoughts and concentrating on the breath, actually exercises your prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain that controls intense emotions and impulses. Over time, yoga increases your willpower. It helps you make better decisions and to better link your current actions to future outcomes – all things I lacked when I first started working out.
I could sit here forever listing all the ways yoga has changed my life, but perhaps the most obvious change (and the most surprising, for me) is the way it changed my body. I started yoga without expectations, wanting only to incorporate movement into my life even on the days I can’t walk or run. I thought maybe it might help me stretch my muscles and prevent injury from my more cardio-focused pursuits. But it’s done more than that.
Yoga helped me to accept myself the way I am. And then, somehow, I found myself with the body I’d always longed for. No, I’m not perfect, but I am strong. I’m at the goal weight I always had in my mind. I can stand on my freaking head, for goodness sake.
Lately I’ve been thinking about how I can use this logic in the rest of my life. First change the mind, change the way you think about the problem, and then begin to work on fixing it. And more often than not, I find the problem was always my mind to begin with.
It’s a yoga love story.
P. S. Melanie Conklin wrote a great post about using savasana to find your heart as a writer. I’ve used it and it works. Yoga blows my freaking mind – and I say this as a former skeptic. Go check it out.
P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting started with yoga, a 30 days of Yoga challenge is a great way to begin. Here are two I love:
Yoga With Adriene
Erin Motz (a.k.a. The Bad Yogi)
And here’s one for men, starting in June:
Men’s 30 Day Yoga Challenge