Years ago I committed to a yoga challenge on Instagram. I had no prior experience with the practice and joined the challenge because I was captivated by the beautiful, fluid movements of the host. It was eye poetry, and I was eager to create art with asana, but at the time I had no idea how massively a yoga practice would affect my life.
Since then, my journey has continued, deepened, and contributed to growth, healing, and evolution in all areas of my life. Today, I am a yoga teacher and an advocate for the many ways a consistent practice can transform our lives mentally, physically, and spiritually. Life moves fast these days, and many of us are bombarded with external stimulation and stress on a constant basis. Now more than ever, we can benefit from daily decompression, grounding work, and introspection.
If you've been sitting on the fence about making it to your first yoga class or wondering what the practice is about and whether it may elevate your health and wellness, consider delving deeper into some of the nonphysical benefits of yoga before getting started. There’s so much more than meets the eye.
1. Yoga has increased my body awareness and helped me heal from past trauma.
Before yoga, I was unaware of how past trauma and childhood abuse was dominating my everyday life. Often the trauma itself is not a pressing issue in our minds, but our bodies are tense, fearful, and highly reactive to reminders of that trauma. Yoga requires the practitioner to become aware of their mind-body connection, providing the opportunity to get in tune with how what you "think" or "know" manifests in your physical body.
For example, you may notice resistance with heart-opening postures, frustration and anger in hip openers, or the inability to draw in a deep belly breath as you begin. Each response indicates an area to release or work in, and by practicing consistently, you will be able to explore the meaning of these responses and witness measurable growth.
Bessel A. van der Kolk explains this phenomenon in The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma:
"Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past."
2. Yoga eases and moderates anxiety.
Studying while genuinely and consistently making an effort to apply principles of moderation, non-attachment, contentment, and surrender to the presence of the Divine has strengthened my ability to live in the present. Being present is the natural antidote for the anxious mind and body.
Yoga provides a toolbox of practices that can be used to interrupt anxiety and form an awareness of where these kinds of emotions and sensations come from. It's never about anyone else’s journey. It's always about your own. It’s up to you and your teachers/guides to identify the practices that will be most healing for you.
While many begin their yoga practice with an asana (physical posture), there are other aspects of yoga that serve their purpose in designing a balanced life. Physical postures occupy the third limb of the Eight Limb Path of Yoga. Here is a brief overview of all eight limbs and the purpose each serves.
Guidelines for ethical standards and moral conduct (how you treat others).
Observances and disciplines (how you treat yourself).
Physical postures used to control energy in the body.
Sensory detachment through deep relaxation.
Concentration and focus.
Merging with the divine.
3. Yoga reveals that you have what it takes to manifest your desires.
Being on the mat has completely shifted my perspective on failure, focus, and persistence. There’s a kind of peace and assurance that comes when, by gentle consistency, you accomplish what you were previously unable to achieve. We learn from failure and we can choose to live in the lesson and opportunity each failure brings. The mat is a wonderfully safe place to learn this lesson.