1. Gain more flexibility! – Did you know if your muscles are flexible even the arteries in your heart are more flexible. Literally you can decrease your risk of heart disease if you can touch your toes. And it is a welcome freedom I have found when I can step high, squat, touch my toes and move freely in my own body!
2. Calm your mind !– Yoga helps teach us how to calm our monkey minds and sub sequently our entire nervous system. This helps us in numerous ways from increase our digestive power, decreasing stress and disease related illness.
3. Learn to listen, Avoid Burn Out & Injury!! – Often we hammer through life and get proficient at ignoring pain. This however only leads to burn out or injury as far as I can tell. Listening is key!!!
4. Increase your strength and balance!!– This helps us in everything we do and prevents injuries as well. Not to mention that we feel better afterward!
5. Connect deeper to your own purpose! – When get open up our hearts to growth and learning we get clear on our gifts and our path!
Most of us, that love yoga and make it a part of our everyday lives, get into it for a variety of reasons yet may stick with it for totally different reasons. It seems to infiltrate ones life enriching it in ways we could not have imagined.
When I first started yoga I think it was around 2004. As a mountain guide I found that my shoulders were rounding forward from carrying heavy backpacks and climbing. My low back did not have any mobility especially by the end of a summer season of running up and down peaks like Mt. Baker and Rainier in the Cascades. My hips were solid and tight making sitting cross legged impossible. However I was strong and fit, and thought myself capable. I went into my first class with gusto thinking I could do it all. The instructor told me in that class that I needed to “relax my muscles before I could get any movement in my body”. He gently encouraged me to relax and breath, and I began to hear an emphasis on the importance of listening to my body. The physical challenge I was looking for was met, but something much deeper as well, which was this desire to listen to my body for once and not just run it down! In my opinion, a skillful teacher is one who can keep me present in my body with good aligment and a bit of challenge, and also weave in deeper themes that stimulate my mind and soul to perhaps see things in a different way. I got this in my classes and slowly over time found a much deeper meaning in my practice than just the physical aspects. Learning to breath well, calm my central nervous system, and tame my busy mind a bit were a few of the things I was learning.
Have you ever noticed in life how the same lesson will present itself over and over again until we perhaps learn to behave differently? Sometimes it seems it takes me 20 times before I learn a lesson. I have come to see the obstacles as gifts (a yoga philosophy I picked up on) that help guide me in the direction that I need to go.
Here are a few stories and the lessons that have presented themselves to me over time.
Stories of Deep Learning from my life!
When I was in high school, I developed what doctors diagnosed as exercise induced asthma. It presented itself like this: whenever I would push myself in sports my throat would close up and I would not get enough oxygen. So they tested my skin and said I was allergic to everything (cats, dogs, grass, dust, etc.) and I took inhalers a lot. Funny enough it did not work. Years later (I guess aproximately 15 yrs later) I blew my knee (the second ACL for me) which is another story, so I went to visit a friend at a healing center in California. While at this place with massage, yoga, energy work, etc. I was biking for my rehab, when I realized that if I keep my mind in a positive place, then I could keep my throat open. I recognized that when my throat would close it was when I was trying to go hard and in my mind there was a record playing that said that I was not good enough. I also recognized that I had been playing that tune since my dad died when I was 15 yr. old. Even though I had done a lot of forgiving and healing, I still had this underlying belief, and it was not serving me well. So like I said, it took me a long time to figure this out, but better late than never. It was my yoga practice that encouraged me to pay attention to my mind and the thoughts that pass through there. I learned to observe them from a nonjudgmental place and ask myself how they serve me. To reach my highest potential I wanted to align my body, mind and soul in the best way possible, and this meant identifying and letting go of limiting beliefs. So I get on my bike and start to push my cardio, and concentrate on keeping a positive encouraging mind, and for the first time in years my throat stays open and I can breath well. Brilliant!! Yoga is more than just bending my body on the mat, it is something I take into my everyday life to embody so that my life becomes more vibrant. This simple solution was never considered from any Dr. that tried to help me in high school. They never asked me if I was stressed or what was going on in my life. I began to understand that looking at the emotional side of things was essential to my physical wellbeing.
Story # 2:
In yoga one often hears about this concept of being present in the moment! Easier said than done. One quote I love says,
” If you stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, you are going to piss all over today” -unknown.
Yet our monkey minds love to lament on the past and worry about the future, making it difficult to just be here now. I will tell this story about how not being present was not working for me. I had a series of injuries starting in college and reoccuring at fairly even intervals. I broke my neck diving into home playing softball while hitting my head on the catchers leg, I had several stress fracture injuries in my leg from basketball, I blew my left ACL, then my right ACL, amoung many other smaller injuries. So after the second knee I decided I better examine what was going on in my head during these injuries or else I was going to keep wrecking myself. What I realized was that I was usually worried about what other people thought about me. In other words, I was trying to show off or prove myself in some way. I had lost focus on the task at hand, and my busy mind was running wild. I later learned to recognize my “ego”, you could say, and then I could let it go and focus on my breath and stay present in the moment more fully. Just by recognizing my ego it would start to dissolve a bit and I could bring more clarity to my mind. I don’t know exactly how I have come to learn all this from yoga, but somehow these ancient philosophies have started to seep into my everyday being.
I knew yoga was getting into my bones when I was driving down the road and I would sit up a little taller and pull my shoulders back. Or when I washing dishes and I stretched my low back to get its natural curve, and then hugged my belly in for support as my arms reach over the sink. And when out on a ski tour I began thinking about the alignment of my knee over my ankle and paid attention not to let my knee collaspse to the inside. The principles of body alignment I was learning in class started to make sense in every sport and activity in which I was involved. Even in the middle of the night when I wake up and stroll to the bathroom, I realize I have a choice to slouch or stand up tall. But it goes deeper, how about when I wake up in the night or in the morning and off jets my busy mind. I recognized this one day and wondered how to settle such an overflow of non sense coming from this great helpful brain that often is in overdrive. So I decided to replaced my thoughts in these moments with two words. On the inhale “Greatest” and on the exhale “Love”. I figured if I could train my brain to think about the “Greatest Love” perhaps my whole being would be happier and calmer. I do this all the time now, and it works wonders for my monkey mind.
During my pregnancy, I found meditation and yoga to be so fun and helpful in many ways. Not only does it feel great physically and mentally, but also it is a powerful way for me to connect with the beautiful being growing in my belly. While pregnant I recognize how everything that I put into my body, every thought that I have, and every emotion I experience effect this little being directly. We are naming our son Bodhi, and he and I make an effort to stay relaxed and calm, to breath well, and keep our bodies as healthy as possible. It worked, throughout my pregnancy, and I was active and full of energy and happiness.