Yoga has the potential to be much more than just a physical practice. (For centuries, it was barely a physical practice at all.) It is an attitude, a lifestyle, and a potent tool for self-discovery and acceptance. Within the practice of yoga, asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork) can be used to cultivate greater awareness of our bodies and minds. I spent many years caught in a cycle of negative self-talk, so let me share how yoga helped me become kinder to myself. It may help you do the same.
Appreciating my body
We live in a world that constantly tells us what we should look like and how our bodies should function. I came to yoga from a gymnastics background, where my value depended on what my body could achieve. Through yoga, I learned to appreciate my body without the pressure of competition and achievement. I became aware of how marvelous it is to tune in to my heartbeat. I learned to move my body in new ways that were not aesthetically impressive but made me feel good. I realized that it was OK to modify poses for my physical limitations and that those adjustments were nothing to be ashamed of. Asana were meant to be explored, not checked off of a list. This newfound understanding has allowed me to appreciate my body’s strength and capabilities rather than comparing it to others and judging it based on appearance.
The power of breathwork
Yoga also taught me about the power of breathwork. Focusing on my breath instead of my thoughts during practice made me aware of how my breath could affect both my physical and mental state. For example, when I feel anxious or overwhelmed outside of a yoga class, consciously deepening my breath helps me self-soothe in the moment instead of spiraling down into negative self-talk. Observing my breath has also made me more self-aware, and this mindfulness allows me to think less critically about myself in times of high stress.
Embracing difficulties as opportunities
Finally, another powerful lesson I learned through yoga is to embrace difficulties as opportunities for growth rather than berating myself if something didn’t come naturally or quickly to me. I grew up quite a perfectionist, so when I couldn’t immediately succeed at something, I was incredibly hard on myself. I get easily injured (usually doing nothing) because of structural imbalances in my body, but with yoga, I don’t feel like those injuries are setbacks. With these challenges, I can discover new versions of a posture and empathize with students who have the same pain points – it makes me a better instructor! Each obstacle becomes less daunting as long as I practice with patience and humility.
In your experience, is yoga more than simply stretching your body? In my life, it has been a path to discover my Self, and learning to love myself is a big part of that. Utilize asana and breathwork to become kinder to yourself. Adopt an attitude of wonder and gratitude on and off the mat. Use mindful awareness to understand your body and mind. See what happens, and let me know how it goes.