Truly some of the biggest joys of being a yoga teacher are hearing stories from people in my class about benefits that they have gained off the mat since they started practicing yoga. You come to class, you do the work, but what happens next? Most of the progress I’ve made in my own practice has been off the mat as opposed to on. Yes, I’ve gotten better at certain poses that were once difficult for me. I’ve found more flexibility on the mat (and off, but that’s certainly a benefit that you see on the mat too). I appreciate the benefits to my body, which can be seen on the mat, like more strength to hold planks longer and come through chaturungas with more ease than before, and off, like having more strength to carry my groceries or move furniture and things in my house that are heavy. My endurance has improved (noticeably on the mat as I can teach and do more classes in a day than before); off the mat I can do more physically without getting tired. The physical benefits are not necessarily expected, but I associated them more with the class than the unexpected benefits I received. The mind and spirit benefits.
Yoga is often described as a mind, body and spirit connection. More than just a workout, it offers up some amazing LIFE benefits as well. Here are five of the benefits I have personally noticed in my own life.
1. Flexibility in Life: I used to hear teachers say things about becoming a more flexible person on and off the mat. I think one of my instructors said something like, the more I stretch myself physically, the more flexible I become mentally. I would chuckle to myself wondering how that could be possible. I get the physical flexibility from yoga. What I did not expect was my attitude to shift. I get stuck in traffic now and (unless I’m going to be late for class) I sing. Or I think about enjoying my “me” time. My plans fall through and while I may not be thrilled about it, I go with the flow. My ability to “go with the flow” has improved dramatically. The metaphor was actually correct.
2. A Calmer, Clearer Mind: My mind used to race with everything I had to get done. And when it wasn’t racing about getting things done, it was worried about something. Something not turning out as I planned. Something about me that wasn’t quite as I wanted it to be. My weight. My job. My finances.
It’s like I literally found a chill pill. I’m not saying my mind never wanders where it shouldn’t. But overall, I can focus a lot better on whatever I am doing. When I’m teaching, I’m in the moment. I’m not thinking about what I’m making for dinner (ok, once in a while I am! :) My mind is pretty clear. I used to plan out all my classes in advance, taking hours of time to make sure it was just right…and then during class I’d notice something needed to be changed because not everyone was on board with the pace I was moving at or the poses were too difficult and I’d freak out (What should I do? This wasn’t part of the plan). Now, while I am prepared, I can feel the moment and notice the mood of the class and if they are on board and once again, just go with the flow. And it’s easier with a clear mind.
3. Openness to the Present Moment: I know that my past does not define my future. I am able to let go of my expectations and come into the present moment. It didn’t happen overnight. I was often worried about the future and where it would lead me. Thinking about the past and what I should have done differently. Missing out on the present moment. And that’s really all we have is this moment. The first time I really noticed that yoga brought me into the present was one New Years Eve. My husband and I (I was in my 20’s at the time) went to a wine bar at the recommendation of a friend. They were having what sounded like an awesome New Years Eve party with food and wine and a band. Sounds fun, right? We got there and the food was very small appetizers, when I was expecting a full dinner. We were, by far, the youngest people there (by about 40 years). The band was playing, if I recall correctly, big band music. We had spent a lot of money to come to a place that was not at all what I expected. There was one other table of people close to our age, who turned to us and asked if this is what we were expecting as they complained and told us of their disappointment in the evening. I told myself to let go of my expectations. Stop being so judgmental and enjoy the moment. Because the moment is all we have. And you know what? I did! I had a great time, ate lots of appetizers, smiled to the big band music, watched the people far older than us having a great time and I had a really good time. Never would I have “let go of my expectations” without learning that from yoga.
4. Letting Go of Limiting Beliefs: Ok, for this one I credit Tony Robbins. I am a huge fan and when I read these words in his book, it was life changing. Let go of limiting beliefs…What does that even mean? If they are my beliefs, why would I let them go? Sometimes we tell ourselves stories (oftentimes, the stories are true) that hold us back. Stories of why we are the way we are. Or stories of why things can’t change. So I heard these words and little by little through practicing yoga, I learned to breathe through what I couldn’t change. But I also learned to release and let go of what is no longer serving me. The stories that I told myself of why I couldn’t leave my last job or why I just was this way (fill in the blank, think of the times that you just think this is the way you ARE or the way things HAVE to be) could be changed. That is life changing. Change your perspective and you can change your life.
5. Mindfulness: Before starting to practice yoga seriously, I didn’t even know what this word meant. Now I try to be more mindful in all that I do. So when I am mindful, I am more aware. I give my full attention and choose carefully. I eat more mindfully. I started looking at food ingredients instead of just labels with calories and fat so I now know what is in my food. Whether I choose to eat something not as healthful is up to me, but at least I can be more informed and make a mindful decision about it. I slow down and enjoy the process.
Before starting yoga, I couldn’t have imagined that these are habits that I would cultivate simply by changing my exercise. That’s what I thought when I started. There’s much more to yoga than just poses. I hope you find awesome benefits on and off the mat with your practice! I’d love to hear what you’ve taken with you off the mat. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.