This is a guest post by K. Kris Loomis.
I recently posted a picture of myself on Facebook, a picture of me in a yoga posture. I rarely post pictures of me doing yoga because I figure most people are about as interested in seeing pictures of my yoga practice as they are in seeing pictures of what I make for dinner every night.
But my husband and I were on holiday at the beach, and he happened to snap a picture of me doing the dancer posture at the edge of the water. It was a pretty cool shot, so I posted it.
It wasn’t long before a friend of mine commented on the picture. She said, “You sure are flexible.” I thought about her comment, then replied honestly, “That’s what twenty years of yoga will do for you.”
After this exchange, I began reflecting on my yoga journey and realized that I have gained many other things besides flexibility over the twenty years I’ve practiced yoga. In fact, this discipline has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have anticipated when I began practicing and teaching.
Here are some things I’ve gained from my two decades of practicing yoga:
I have gained strength.
There is no denying my physical strength has improved since I’ve been practicing yoga. I was never an athlete in school and really wasn’t that into exercise when I was younger, so I am amazed at this stage of my life that I can do a half dozen arm balances. But that is not the strength I’m talking about.
I’m referring to strength of character. In yoga, YOU are responsible for everything that happens to you on the mat, and this has made me realize that I need to take responsibility for everything I do OFF the mat as well.
I have gained patience.
Tauruses aren’t known for their patience, and I’ll admit that I used to get upset when my yoga postures didn’t improve as fast as I wanted them to.
But a funny thing happened about five years into my yoga journey; some of the early “impossible” postures became possible. This made me realize that if you are dedicated and patient, the results will come.
I have gained the ability to be more observant.
One of the first things a person learns in a yoga class is to observe their breath. Then, gradually you become more mindful of other things, like where your center of gravity is, how you should position your feet in standing postures, or how anxious you feel when you are out of your comfort zone.
My mindfulness off the mat has increased because of the time I’ve spent on the mat and this has brought real beauty to my life. Of course, it also means that sometimes I observe the not so pretty things, but this helps keep me humble and gracious.
I have gained empathy.
I know for a fact that many of my students struggle with the same things I have struggled with through the years. I know how difficult and frightening certain postures can be for some people because I have been scared of some of the same postures (like backbends!).
Once I realized just how alike we are in a yoga setting, it became clear to me that we are more alike than not in almost every other setting as well. I am better able to put the judgment aside and really consider what a person might be going through since I’ve been studying and teaching yoga.
I have gained a greater ability to focus.
It seems that our attention spans are gradually getting shorter and shorter with each new tech cycle, but, because of yoga, my ability to focus is the best it’s been.
My time in a posture is measured by “breath” time, not “clock” time. As my breathing capacity has improved over the years I have been able to stay in postures longer, which requires focus to keep the integrity of the posture intact.
This ability to focus is a great tool to use against the dreaded “monkey mind,” and I enjoy my activities off the mat more because I am “all in!”
I have gained a true understanding of what a “skill-based” practice is.
Yoga is the perfect example of a skill-based practice. The beginning postures lay the groundwork for the more advanced ones, and unless you have grasped the fundamentals, then the advanced postures will never be secure. You may get “lucky” on occasion, but you will never be consistent until you understand and can implement the basics.
I’ve applied this principle from the mat to everything else I’ve set out to learn the past two decades. For example, I became proficient at chess because I didn’t rush into learning complex strategies; I took my time at the basic tactics level until I had adequate skills to support the strategy I wanted to employ. Building skills takes time, but it’s worth it for the security you gain down the road.
I have gained curiosity.
Have you ever gotten relatively good at a posture then thought, now what? Is there another variation I could explore? Could I use this posture to springboard to a more complex one?
This curiosity has led me to some fantastic realizations and fun variations on the mat. And being curious about the next steps in yoga has taught me to be more curious about my endeavors off the mat. I am never bored because yoga has taught me to keep seeking alternatives.
I have gained a playful attitude.
I work hard on the yoga mat, but it doesn’t seem like work to me. When I step onto my mat I feel like a kid headed to recess. I have so much fun turning my body into animal shapes and I always laugh when I fall out of a posture. Yoga time is my play time, my adult recess time.
Oh, I was more serious when I started, but once I stopped taking myself so seriously on the mat I thought why not approach my entire life like recess? This attitude shift has had a huge impact on my life (and the lives of those around me!). I laugh a lot more now, and my stress level has never been lower.
Did all these changes happen at once? Of course not. Some of them came quickly, but I had to grow into others.
All I know is I never regret the time I spend practicing yoga. The benefits I’ve reaped have spilled over into every aspect of my life, and that is a cool thing to realize after twenty years on the mat.
Do you do yoga? Comment about your yoga experience below.
Kris Loomis is celebrating the second anniversary of publishing her first two yoga books, How to Sneak More Yoga into Your Life, and How to Sneak More Meditation into Your Life. She is also the author of After Namaste: Off-the-Mat Musings of a Modern Yogini and the humorous travelogue, Thirty Days in Quito: Two Gringos and a Three Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. Her first novel, The Sinking of Bethany Ann Crane will be released in June, 2018.
When Kris isn’t at her standing desk writing, she’s usually off playing chess, folding and origami crane, or practicing a Beethoven sonata on the piano. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.