“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar
It’s no secret that yoga is good for the mind and body, but one often overlooked benefit of a regular practice is the social connection that inevitably manifests as you keep coming back to your mat. As an introvert, the power of this connection initially took me by surprise – in fact, it floored me, and even made me a bit uncomfortable (as social interactions often do)… but in time what I found was more acceptance, love, and connection in my community than I could have ever imagined (or would have otherwise opened myself up to). Not only did yoga connect me to this community of beautifully unique, yet somehow like-minded people… it also changed me, and how I view and interact with the world.
I grew up participating in a variety of different athletic endeavors, including team sports, and yet none of them have impacted my emotional, social, and even professional life to the degree that yoga has. I’ve often wondered at the ability of such a seemingly solitary exercise to unite us and make us feel more connected. What is it that gives yoga this remarkable power? Here are my thoughts…
1. Open Body = Open Mind: The mind/body connection is undeniable and has even been established in the scientific community. The asanas (postures) when practiced regularly, break down the walls of protection we have built in our minds and around our hearts. The barriers we once put up to manage our pain and survive in this world begin to crumble, allowing for the release of what we’ve been holding on to (and what’s been holding us back).
2. Letting Go To Let You In: One of the best things I’ve ever heard in a yoga class was “Let go of what no longer serves you.” It sounds easier than it is, but with yoga the process is greatly accelerated. Studies have shown that when we undergo painful or traumatic events, our physiology changes… our nervous systems adapt (causing things like PTSD and “ghost pain” – pain that remains long after an injury has healed). Even our joints, muscles, and tissues can hold on to traumatic experiences – it’s as if the body wants to lock them away in the back closet, a survival mechanism to delay processing the pain. But when you come to your mat, even a few times a week, you begin to shed layer- by-layer what doesn’t serve you… and just like cleaning out your closet, you’ll find more room for the things that DO serve you, like love, connection, acceptance and healing.
3. The Breath That Binds Us: If you’ve ever been to a yoga class, you’ve noticed the emphasis on breath… it’s not just about staying alive (although that is nice!), but also a tool that, if practiced consciously, can help to calm our minds via a neural feedback loop (a regulatory pathway in the nervous system). A good yoga teacher will often guide students through breathing exercises, as well as cue inhalations and exhalations during postures or sequences. And if you have ever been in a yoga space and practiced synchronized breath with another human being… IT IS POWERFUL!! Breathing as one, you are no longer separate, but united. Connections are forged without words. Bonds of blood are made from sweat. You have met your tribe.
4. A Community For The Masses: The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit word yuj, meaning to “yoke” or to “bind,” also interpreted as “union.” In no other community have I found this concept so perfectly expressed than the yoga community. Yoga itself is not a religion, but a discipline – a method for living life that includes meditation, body, and breath work. While some styles of yoga may incorporate spiritual elements into the practice (such as chanting), you don’t have to subscribe to any spiritual beliefs. There is also a practice for any body type, and if you find the right studio or practice group, you will feel accepted and honored just for showing up and sharing your light on your mat. And how to share your light? Even if you have to lie in Savasana the whole time – just be there, breathe, and be yourself, and in doing so you will inspire others – because YOU ARE AMAZING!!
5. Yoga Follows You Off The Mat: No matter your reason for coming to your mat, whether it’s to heal an injury, help with back pain, stretch out, or get a good sweat going – yoga will work on all aspects of your life. You will start to feel better physically, and emotionally as you heal old wounds and learn new coping strategies for stress management. Your posture and circulation will improve, and you will look more vibrant and feel more confident in your bodily temple. Another side-effect is that you may start taking better care of yourself in other areas, and have the confidence to open yourself up more, or to pursue a goal or a dream that once seemed out of reach.
So, whether you’re new to yoga, or it’s already a part of your life, your mat and your fellow yogis are waiting for you…
“I recognize that within you there is a place of great wisdom, great integrity, great peace, and a spark of the Divine; and because there is a similar place within me, we share an understanding and a oneness.” ~ Namaste ❤