Five Life Benefits I've Gained From Yoga

June 21st is both the Summer Solstice and International Yoga Day. Whether or not it was intentional that International Yoga Day coincides with the Solstice, it seems fitting. Afterall, we start many of our classes with sun salutations.

In honor of International Yoga Day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about yoga - both taking and teaching. Obviously, everyone gets something a little different out of yoga, even within the same class. These are simply the benefits I’ve most perceived, and I wanted to share them.

  • Space and time for myself. To clarify, I don’t mean that I always do yoga alone. I mean I carve out space for something that serves me. How it serves me (physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, a combo of these) depends on the day, but each time I come to my mat, wherever I am, I’m making myself a priority, saying “this is my time”, and that’s something that I think so many of us do far too infrequently.

  • Community and friendship. This may seem opposite to point number one, but it’s not. The beauty of yoga is that often, it’s all of us carving out time for ourselves, together. But we’re all there, together, sharing in that space, that energy. Just be being there, carving out time for ourselves, we’re coming together and supporting each other carving out time for themselves.  And sometimes, this community blossoms into individual friendships. And for this socially anxious/awkward introvert, finding “my people” can be hard to come by as an adult. So I value both the community and the friendships immensely.

  • Balance. I don’t mean physical balance, though there’s plenty of that too, and they’re not my strongest suit when it comes to yoga. But more so, I mean the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual balance. My yoga practice encompases each of these, and it helps to remind me that often, daily life can get super lopsided. We’re focused intently on one aspect (work, having enough money to pay the bills, school, whatever it may be) and really, life is about balance. Yoga helps me to consciously bring balance into my life, even if it’s just for that time I’m on the mat. More and more, though, I’m noticing it off the mat as well.

  • Self-Compassion. I’m often incredibly tough on myself. In addition to my type A, perfectionist type personality, I also live with anxiety and depression, which often like to emotionally beat me up. They tell me a whole host of lies about my worth, my ability, my being. Practicing yoga, and teaching yoga, has helped me to be gentler with myself when needed. Yoga reminds me that it’s ok to rest, to pause and focus on breath, to take something more restorative or supportive when needed. It reminds me that it’s enough to try my best, even if it’s not the best I’ve ever done. There’s no perfect yoga, and there’s no perfect person, and that’s all completely OK.

  • Boundaries. I haven’t historically been great at setting boundaries. But especially during yoga teacher training, I had to. I spent the majority of my weekends in training, along with at least two classes a week, plus studying, papers, practicing, and more. I had to learn to say no to other things, or I wouldn’t have made it through. I had to say no to plans, commitments, activities that required more energy than I had. In yoga itself, I had to say no to certain poses when my body was taxed or my sciatica twinging, or when I just mentally needed the time to rest in child’s pose. I  had to learn to set boundaries in every aspect of my life, and now that teacher training is done, I’m learning that I’ve gotten slightly more comfortable with the concept. It’s an area in which I still have a way to go, but I’ve established the foundation, and that’s a great place to start.

Do any of these resonate with you? What benefits have you gained from yoga? I’m curious to hear. I love how yoga can offer us each our own unique benefits, and I Iove learning what it brings to others’.  

Yoga outtakes of myself and my friend Aly, who I met in Yoga Teacher Training, during a yoga photo shoot.

Yoga outtakes of myself and my friend Aly, who I met in Yoga Teacher Training, during a yoga photo shoot.

Growing Through Stepping Back

As I mentioned in my last couple of posts, my theme for this month is Growing. One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is my growth while going through yoga teacher training. Of course, my physical practice grew - in my knowledge of the poses, teaching techniques, how to adjust and assist, what to look for in my own body when practicing - as well as the amount of times per week I was physically practicing yoga. While my physical practice and knowledge expanded in the way I expected, I found that my internal practice grew in the opposite manner - by learning to step back. To clarify, I don’t mean physically stepping back, as in into a lunge or Warrior pose (though there was plenty of that too!). I mean consciously pausing before going into a pose, or even a class, and asking myself “what would serve me best here?”

Throughout my youth, teenage years, and college, I was involved in competitive gymnastics. I was known as the team member that would generally just “go for things”, even if I more or less didn’t have a chance of landing it properly (the number of times I landed almost on my head or straddled the beam was startling). I loved challenging myself to do the toughest skills possible. I physically loved flipping around and I often felt more comfortable upside down than right side up. And this served me really well in competitive gymnastics, where you were awarded more points for more difficult skills, and more points meant higher scores, which meant placing higher in competition, qualifying to select competitions like State or Regional Championships, and qualifying to the next level. In addition, I was self-competitive (still am) and I always aimed to beat my own best, so even without all of the scoring and qualifying, I probably would have still gone for the most difficult skills.

So when I started doing yoga, I was one of those people that always pushed myself to go into the “most difficult” version of the pose, giving myself the most physically challenging practice I could. If there was an option to flow or stay in down dog, I flowed. If there was an option to bind in a pose, I went for the bind. I went into wheel instead of bridge or supported bridge even if my back was like “hey there lady, go easy on me today would ya?!” It wasn’t because I was trying to show off or anything like that. It’s what I knew. It’s how I’d been trained. It’s how I had internally trained myself. Physical activities have always been a strong point for me, and so I pushed myself to physically challenge myself as much as possible.  

But as I moved through yoga teacher training, and my practice expanded in all directions (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, as well as physically), I noticed something - that urge to push myself to the limit tapered. I still challenged myself, but the challenge shifted a bit - instead of “can I get into the most challenging version of this pose”, it more often became asking myself “what would really benefit me most today?”, and challenging myself to stay with that answer, even if meant resting in child’s pose while others were going through a flow, or staying in supported bridge instead of going into wheel.  The challenge wasn’t always about what would physically serve me best, either. Often, it was the mental aspect. I needed to pause and breathe to help create inner space. Other times, I chose based on my energy level. Certain poses, like back bends, can be especially energizing. So if I needed more energy, I may go into a deeper back bend - not because it was physically more challenging, but because that energy served me in that moment (i.e. 6AM classes when I had a full work day ahead of me). If I did not want to ramp up my energy, say, in a later evening class where I’d be going to bed shortly after getting home, I chose something more restorative or supportive. I still love doing inversions (I really do love being upside down) but I do them because they feel weightless to me, like the stress of life is being literally flipped on it’s head, and help me mentally - not because of the difficulty level. And even here, I always ask which version of an inversion serves me best, before I take it (legs up the wall equals awesome inversion option!).

What I found, in taking this pause, was that my yoga practice grew. Not specifically in the physical sense, though it did help my joints and muscles and any injuries recover more fully, but my overall yoga practice. My practice that extends far beyond the mat. I learned that I don’t have to constantly push myself to the limit. That sometimes, what I need - my body, my heart, my mind, my soul - is to take a breather, to be kind to my body, my mind, myself, to know that even if I can technically do something, it might not be what serves me best. And as I’ve continued to practice this in my physical practice, I’ve noticed it in other areas too. I’m working on being kinder to myself, setting boundaries where needed, on listening to my intuition and my inner knowledge, and focusing on what it’s telling me in this moment. And for me, this, truly, is what yoga is all about.

Sometimes my left knee hurts in tree pose (Vrksasana) because I don’t have full flexion there. So I frequently now opt to keep my leg lower instead of forcing myself into it.   Photo credit:    Aly Gaul   .

Sometimes my left knee hurts in tree pose (Vrksasana) because I don’t have full flexion there. So I frequently now opt to keep my leg lower instead of forcing myself into it.

Photo credit: Aly Gaul.

Monthly Focus: Growing

I’ve been thinking lately about how to organize the content of this blog. My business/site encompasses numerous aspects, and I want to try to tie things together as much as I can, because I truly feel each of these areas interacts with the others in some way, or at least they all have the potential to. So I’ve decided that each month, I’m going to focus on a theme. Or at least I’m going to give this a go and see how it plays out (hey, you’ll find nothing but honesty here!).  For this first month, since I’m releasing my blog mid-to-late month, this will be the “monthly plus a week and a half-ish” theme (also known as the rest of May and through June).

For this month’s theme, I chose Growing. Quite simply, seems like it fits. I’m premiering this site and my business in the end of spring as we head towards summer, and spring is the season of growth. Additionally, I’ve spent the last 9ish months in Yoga Teacher Training, and if you’ve never been through yoga teacher training, I can attest to the fact that not only do you grow your yoga knowledge immensely, but there’s a significant amount of personal/internal growth as well. And of course, now that I’ve graduated and am starting my business, I’ll be growing that.

Growth can take so many forms. We can grow our food. We can help children grow. We can expand our knowledge, our interests, our skill sets. We can grow in relationships, friendships, careers. And we can grow within ourselves. We can delve deep and get to know ourselves better, become completely (but kindly) honest with ourselves about the good, the “not so great” (i.e. the areas we’d like to work on), the quirky, the beautiful, the messy, the quirky and messy and beautiful (side note: I think this is where many of us fall). Or maybe our internal growth is more subtle. Maybe every day we take five minutes to meditate or to be in alone in nature or to do something for someone else or to do something kind for ourselves or connect with another being or tap into our creativity. Maybe it’s this small gesture each day or each week that we don’t even realize is having an impact, and then one day we suddenly feel different, even if we can’t say exactly how. We notice a subtle shift.

However you choose to focus on growth, I’m going to be right there alongside you (figuratively, unless you’re taking class or doing sessions with me, then literally), probably doing some combination of the above. And of course, I’m always here to kick around ideas or inspiration or motivation. And if you want to focus on your growth through yoga or wellness or travel or writing or anything related to what I do here in my business, well, of course I’m here for that too!

Happy Late Spring!