Five Things I Learned from Yoga

September 14, 2010

Creative commons courtesy of Rance Costa

More than ten years ago, during a time of great personal uncertainty and challenges in my life, I decided to take a series of yoga classes at my local YMCA.  I learned many things about myself through those classes and, in honor of September being National Yoga Month, I will share five things I learned (and continue to learn) from yoga.

1. Patience. My closest friends will tell you I’m a pretty patient person, however they don’t sit with me in my car stuck in Chicago traffic.  During those moments, you can find me occasionally cursing like a sailor, yelling and muttering to myself in disbelief.  One thing I can remember vividly from taking those classes is when class was over and I returned to my car, I felt patient.  Honestly, I didn’t care about being right or getting cut off in traffic.  Gone was my need to speed up and get to the next destination in a hurry.

2. Flexibility. This is obvious…the more stretching you do, the more flexible you’ll get.  One of the first things I noticed when I started doing yoga is how different I felt when I walked.  I felt taller and my legs felt stronger – like I had a carefree bounce to my step.  But I’ll argue that, as much as yoga helps you to become more flexible in a physical sense, it helps you to become more flexible mentally.  I can’t explain it, but this has always been true for me.  It feels like my ego takes a back seat to a better version of me when I do yoga.

3. Comfort. Prior to taking a yoga class, I had a number of problems with my neck and back.  I kept pulling muscles every time I carried in groceries and I once had an allergic sneeze attack that was so painful, I needed to see a chiropractor.  After a series of visits to my chiropractor and physical therapist, I decided to take my yoga class.  The process of doing my exercises and yoga has helped me to be pain free.  It’s difficult to put a price on comfort.

4. Inner Peace. In addition to patience, I feel a sense of inner peace from doing yoga.  I think a good part of this is because of yoga’s focus on the breath and the present moment.  Yoga is very meditative and it grounds you.  I’ve learned that, even though the world can often feel busy and chaotic, yoga helps me feel at peace despite all the forces that are pulling me in different directions.

5. Bliss. Quite simply, I feel happier when I do yoga.  Enough said.

I still do yoga stretches just about every day.  I cannot tell you how great it is to start the day doing the sun salutation pose.  But, sometimes when I do my stretches at home, I forget to breathe properly.  One thing that’s great about yoga classes is the constant reminder of your breath. I don’t know how a yoga teacher feels about this, but yoga poses without the focus on your breathing is more like stretching.

It has been more than ten years since I’ve taken a yoga class and I hope to get back to “class” soon.  I’ll never forget how my classes got me through some rough times and opened my eyes to a new reality.  If you haven’t tried yoga or you feel a little “out of sorts,” I’d highly recommend taking a class.  Usually these classes are drop-in and cost roughly $10 and even free at some locations.

How about you: do you yoga?  If so, what’s your favorite pose?

1 Lance September 15, 2010 at 7:45 am

I LOVE this!! And….what great timing for me to read this here! I have just signed up for my first yoga class (I did one drop in session in August), starting next week. And – I’m so looking forward to it – as I can truly relate (just on that one session) as to how good this was both mentally and physically. (okay – some of the poses were definite challenges for me!!).

Great to read this, my friend!!

2 Claudia September 15, 2010 at 11:41 am

Hi, liked what you learn. The ashtanga guru said once: body is not stiff, mind is stiff. So yes, flexibility of mind is indeed not just a benefit but also almost a requirement. Love the patience part too. For me, it has also taught me self love, discipline, and new ways to interact with my cravings… Mostly by detachment…

3 Tim September 15, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Hi Lance: Wow, good timing on stumbling onto this! I certainly hope that your class has a big impact on your life, too. I should have prefaced my post – I am certainly no expert at yoga. I’ve never done a head stand or hand stand and it’s been a long time since I’ve taken a class. But, it has had a profound impact on me and I do many of the same poses and stretches I learned a while back. I have a feeling your yoga will help you as you continue your marathon training. I’d be curious to hear about your experiences with yoga. Good luck with everything!

Hi Claudia: It sounds like you’ve really learned a lot through yoga, too. That’s great to hear. Interesting to note your mention of cravings…we certainly live in a world where our cravings (for food or stuff) often get the best of us. I know the minute I buy that item that I’ve had my eye on, I’m ready for something else. That’s why I’m ready to go back and take some classes where I can really immerse myself in more yoga poses and meditation. Good luck on your journey and thank you for stopping by!

4 Nadia Ballas-Ruta September 16, 2010 at 9:46 am

Hi Tim,

That is so awesome that yoga has brought so many wonderful side-effects.

My favorite yoga pose is doing the entire sun salutation especially downward facing dog and the cobra parts. I just love those parts of the series.

Here’s to more bliss, happiness and inner peace! Flexibility rocks too!

5 Lori September 16, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Hi Tim,
I can clearly see how a Yoga class has so positively affected you. Hey, AMEN to more bliss, I say!
I agree about the breath — so important. I tend practice the meditation and breath aspects of Yoga.

I have a feeling I might rub some people the wrong way, but I’m not a big fan of Yoga (not the meditation/breathing practice of yoga, but the intense stretching). For people with hyper-mobile joints, like me, it puts undue pressure on those joints and ligaments. And, ligaments are not like tendon or muscle with good elasticity. Once a ligament is overstretched, it can (pretty much) not “shrink” back into it’s original position and this can cause a lot of problems. Just think of your feet, the ligaments in the feet, over time, are stretched with everyday life (walking/standing) and that’s most of the reason people tend to require larger shoe sizes as they age. I’ve seen a lot of people in my office who were injured from the stretching aspect of Yoga.

Sorry for the long comment. Most of all, I’m HAPPY for you that you’ve found such a positive practice in your life. Don’t let me stop you! 🙂

6 Tim September 16, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Hi Nadia: Yep, the sun salutation is a great pose. I’ve seen diagrams and descriptions of it (I think the above link includes a description of the pose)…but I just kind of do it at my own rhythm. I know it’s silly to put a monetary value on a yoga pose, but this one single-handedly has saved me some $$. More than anything, it puts me in a great frame of mind. Good to hear that its brought you some great positive benefits, too!

Hi Lori: Thank you for sharing some good info on how yoga affects our body’s joints and ligaments – I did not know that. I will say this, and any good yoga teacher will stress this in class, that if a particular yoga pose makes you feel uncomfortable…you need to stop. I know I’ve hurt myself holding a yoga pose too long – especially when I was rehabbing my back, neck and shoulder injuries. That’s actually a big reason I haven’t taken a class in years. I’m also willing to bet that the kind of yoga I do at home is more of a “gentle” yoga. I know I do not hold my stretches very long at all. I guess the good thing about doing it at home is that I can do it the way that feels most comfortable to me and I’ve kind of incorporated it into my routine and make it work for me (while avoiding the more painful poses). Thanks for stopping by, my friend, and no worries about a long comment…I love to get some good discussions in here and I value your opinion.

7 Joy September 17, 2010 at 6:01 am

Hi Tim,
I’m glad that you chose to embrace the positive aspects yoga can bring to your life…
One of the reasons I enjoy a guided class is that I trust my teacher very much and she often gently challenges/encourages me to try something new in class or to reach a bit beyond where I think I can go with it..What I do on the mat directly correlates to something in my life–so when I ‘stretch’ in class, I find myself stretching in life. Class also reminds me of our unique selves..we all share the same pose, yet a photo would show our own interpretations of class we seem to celebrate what we *can* do together..the same goal, different approaches…

8 Tim September 17, 2010 at 7:47 pm

Hi Joy: Wow, great analogy about stretching…I agree with you on that. I want to go back and take a class for the same reason you enjoy guided classes. Not to mention, I am open to new ideas and thinking when it comes to yoga and meditation. Also, as the weather begins to get colder and the days get shorter, I have a feeling yoga can help counteract the seasonal affective disorder that hits me this time of year. Thank you for stopping by and sharing and have a great weekend!

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