I used to shun Yoga in favour of ‘real exercise’, I always thought of it as too gentle to have any real impact. I came to try yoga through the alluring promise of a full lower body workout. The DVD label, promised toned thighs and a flat belly, this was enough to make me put my reservations aside and give it a go.
After my first attempt, I was pleased to feel the muscles in my lower body had worked hard and was surprised by how challenging some of the simple postures had been, but what hit me most was the overall sense of calm I felt. It was much more than the post-exercise glow, it was a sense of balance deep within.
It was this feeling that hooked me, I decided to take the plunge and go to a yoga class. I was used to the gym and fitness club environment and prepared myself for a class of competitive camaraderie. I’d glance around the room to see how well I was doing in comparison to the rest of the participants only to find them absorbed in their own practice. Unsurprisingly, I was neither the best nor the worst; some postures I enjoyed and found easy, others I disliked and found difficult. This was an activity where my ability was not labeled or judged, the only comparison that mattered was how I felt in relation to my last yoga session. How did my body feel, how free was my breath, what were my thoughts?
Of course there was a part of me that wanted to compete – if only with myself. I wanted to get better at each and every class, to move my hands closer to my feet, to breathe more deeply, to be more inwardly focused. I would critic myself harshly, never quite achieving the high standards that I had set in my own head.
Progress, takes the time it takes, there are no short cuts and no amount of brutal force or ego-bashing could get me to my goal. Yes you read this correctly… these are not words usually associated with yoga but these were the early days of my practice and I had much to learn.
Yoga being the ultimate teacher helped me to shine a light on that part of me that is my inner critic and I came to understand, whatever I did, it would never be satisfied. That fear that I would not be good enough began to be replaced with acceptance of myself.
I let go of striving for perfection and settled into my body, it moved to its maximum flexibility and I embraced where I was. As I did so, I began to notice the additional millimeters of extension, those tiny increments that had previously been out of my awareness. In a yogic paradox, as soon as I accepted my limits, I was able to move beyond them.
I used to seek transformation through outwardly change, my journey has now moved inwards, the distance between my chest and thigh is no longer my focus, instead I am more aware of my breath and the connection I have to the deepest part of me.
My skepticism was proved wrong, yoga doesn’t just have ‘an impact’, it has a ‘huge impact’. There is no doubt that it does indeed tone your thighs and flatten your belly but its benefits go far beyond the physical.
Would I have still picked up the DVD if it had promised me: connection, self-acceptance, inspiration and life long learning? Probably not…the things I value now are not the things I valued then and that is the beauty of yoga. The gifts it brings are exactly the ones you need; at exactly the time you need them.