Yoga (Life) Lessons from a Non-Yogi

I started doing yoga three months ago. I never thought I’d last a month, let alone three…

I reluctantly began my yoga practice as a necessity. After consistently experiencing overuse injuries the past few years due to not enough stretching and too much overtraining, I knew my body needed something different. It was my physical therapist last year who said that unless I made stretching (and not just for 2 minutes after each run) a regular part of my total body conditioning, he was sure he’d be seeing me again. Um, no thank you. Not that I don’t like him, but PT is not how I want to spend my time. So, reluctantly and also with hopeful expectation that I’d eliminate regular injuries from my life, I joined a yoga studio.  I committed to a three-month trial and they had a hot yoga studio, so I knew I’d at least enjoy being in an overheated room in the middle of winter if nothing else. Despite my love for the heated room, the first few weeks were not easy. It felt slow, and my brain would not stop its incessant chatter.

Oh my God. I’ve only been in here for 10 minutes… that clock has to be wrong.

Why can’t my leg go the way I want it to? (As the instructor calmly says, “meet yourself where you are. Accept where you are in your practice.”)
She can’t be serious.   

How…. much…. longer…. will…we… be… in… this…. pose?” (As the instructor says, “breathe… remember yogis breathe slowly…”)
Wait, you mean I shouldn’t be holding my breath?

Remember, I am a runner, come from a fitness background, spent two years teaching fitness classes, and everything I know is about pushing yourself to complete the next rep. But no, not yoga. This was a new experience for my mind, body, and sprit. I committed to sticking it out for the three-month trial, so I continued to go back, and amazingly enough have learned a lot the past few months

First, you can’t force it. (Well, you can, but it may not end well)

I’ve pushed my body to many limits these past 25 years as a runner. I’ve sustained more injuries than I care to remember, and yet continue to push through to get to the proverbial finish line. Yoga has taught me that forcing things really does not work or end well. My body is just not able to stretch in some of the extreme poses like others’ can. And that’s okay. My body also won’t let me force it. Well, I’m sure I could, but a tear in my groin is not the point of me practicing yoga. So, I don’t force any pose. I just ease into it, breathe into it, and accept where I am on each day. Amazingly enough, after almost three consistent months, my body has opened up more than I thought ever possible.

Next, if you just surrender to what is, it gets easier.

“Surrender into the pose” is a common phrase from yoga instructors. Surrender to where you are. Breathe into it.  I notice that when I’m resisting the fact that my body doesn’t want to stretch further, I’m very uncomfortable. Yet, when I exhale and surrender to the edges of my pose, it miraculously gets easier. I may not have moved another millimeter but releasing my internal resistance and then surrendering to where I am in that moment creates a feeling of ease. Amazingly enough this is also true in life.  Our opposition to what is happening in the present moment creates tension and anxiety, but when we surrender and accept where we are, it feels much easier. Nothing needs to change other than to release our resistance.

Finally, acceptance is the pathway to positive improvement.

By surrendering to my yoga poses as they are in each moment, I allow myself space to improve. With each acceptance and exhale, I get a little better. I may not notice it every day, but I notice it now, after almost three months of consistent yoga practice. Things that felt sticky and tense in my body are now fluid. This didn’t happen overnight but by regularly accepting where I was with the intention of making small improvements in each class.

When we surrender, we accept what is happening. Acceptance is the breeding ground for positive change.  If we do not accept but instead push against life, we block our ability to move forward. As we accept where we are each day with the intention of making small improvements, we get more fluid along our path and can move forward with greater ease. Continue to accept where you are, and you will see that what once kept you stuck is loosening up and allowing you to move with greater flow through life.

Those are my big lessons from three months of yoga. Yes, the chatter in my brain still exists when I’m on my yoga mat, but I breathe through it easier than I did when I started. Yes, my brain still wants my body to move beyond its limits, but I’m learning to listen to my body much better than when I first started.  And, yes, I owe a lot of my success to the amazing yoga staff at Old Town Athletic Club in Warrenton, VA. Their dedication to their own yoga practices and to their students keeps me coming back week after week. And, yes, I did renew my three-month trial membership. Yoga has become something my body craves as much as it craves a 10-mile run. And, it is also something my mind, heart, and spirit crave. I am excited to see the many more lessons yoga has to teach me in the coming months and years!

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