Like most people who try yoga, I was looking for increased flexibility and stress relief. What I discovered on my mat was a series of meaningful lessons that I apply in my life every day.
An outside observer would assume that I am simply standing still. They can’t tell that I am focused on my foundation, making sure that I’m firmly rooted to the earth and “hugging my muscles to the bone,” as one of my teachers would say. I visualize myself strong and solid—like a mountain. In my life, I occasionally remember to stand still and make sure that my foundation is firm, centered, and strong.
From the solid foundation of Mountain pose, I slowly bend one knee and move my foot to rest on the inside of my opposite thigh. When I started yoga, I often toppled sideways as I tried to balance on one leg. My first instructor reminded me that this was part of the process so I need not become frustrated or discouraged. I have since learned to find a focal point, concentrate, and stay calm. Balance comes much easier to me now, in yoga and in life.
The simple act of bending over at the waist sometimes causes my back, hamstrings, and calves to cry out, “Hey, you’re going the wrong way! We’re used to sitting in a chair in front of the computer!” Forcing them only makes it worse. Letting go and relaxing allows gravity to gently lengthen the tissues. When things feel too hard in my life, I find that it’s better to stop struggling and allow the forces of nature to work things out.
From these poses, I learned that yoga is as much about strength and perseverance as it is about flexibility. In Warrior One, I am ready for battle: my arms raised overhead, my body facing forward, my feet spread wide with my front knee deeply bent. As I flow into Warrior Two, I lower my arms to shoulder height, expand them outward in opposite directions, and turn my body to face sideways. As I begin to feel fatigued, I focus and breathe. By reaching for my edge in everything I do, my limits have expanded far beyond what I ever thought possible.
During this graceful but challenging flow of postures, my breath is rhythmically timed to the movements. I find it calming yet incredibly energizing. Many times I move through a challenging day gently reminding myself to breathe.
I was never able to stand on my head as a kid, so I certainly didn’t believe it was possible in my forties. I initially approached this pose with self-doubt and skepticism. When I changed my attitude and stopped judging myself, I was able to break the process into small steps and “feel” my way through it. Now, whenever my little voice says, “I can’t!” I remember to change my attitude and take it one step at a time.
With my body pleasantly fatigued, I’m able to completely relax on my mat for the last pose of every yoga practice. It’s not so easy to get my brain to quiet down, however. I hear my teacher say that yoga is not about going through the motions. The purpose of the first hour of class was to quiet my mind for this moment. She’s right. When I can chase my mental To Do list out of the way, I experience a deep spiritual connection and a profound sense of peace and joy. On my mat, I realize that life is not about going through the motions either. The purpose is to experience more moments like this.