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Bring Yoga Off Your Mat and Into Your Life

By Michelle May, M.D.

To celebrate International Day of Yoga on June 21, declared by the United Nations General Assembly, I am sharing this excerpt from chapter 21 in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

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.

Yoga-in-SedonaMountain Pose

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.

Tree Pose

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.

Forward Fold

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.

Warrior Poses

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.

Sun Salutation

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.

Head Stand

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.

Corpse Pose

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.

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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