Yoga is wonderful for the mind, body, and soul. This is why we try to do it so perfectly- we want it to work!! The interesting (somewhat mind blowing) thing about Yoga is that it works only when we do not try. Let me explain this statement.
In many activities in our lives, we are taught to try harder, to push further, to play through the pain, and to be what we think is “the best”. This is especially true for sports and exercise. While these goals are super helpful in a game of tennis or in running a tough marathon, in yoga, these goals do not exist. Yoga is the “Anti-sport”. I am not saying sports are bad in any way (I love playing volleyball!). What I mean is that mentally, yoga challenges our bodies and minds to stop trying too hard, let go of pushing ourselves, and to re-examine our definition of “the best”. By practicing this, yoga exercises a deeper and larger part of ourselves, enhancing our foundation as balanced human beings.
When we walk into our yoga class, we take off our shoes, socks, and all notions of being the best at anything. This is major weight we are removing from our tired backs. We can leave our heavy, competitive armor at the door (don’t worry we will pick it up on our way out) in order to explore the weightless yet ultimately powerful world of yoga.
As we begin our postures, we listen to the cues from our instructors. They say things like “don’t push”, and “allow yourself to be where you are”, and, of course, “breathe”. Our competitive natures may not hear these cues at first, and we instead hear our own internal cues, such as “push further”, “yes that hurts but we don’t want to look like a beginner”, and “if you’re going to be good at yoga you better keep twisting despite that pain in your back”. We may hear these thoughts but we do not need to follow them.
This brings me to the ironic truths of yoga (that I’ve learned thus far):
We are all beginners, that is how we learn.
By freeing our minds of what we think we know, we are able to fully experience each pose. This is sometimes called “The Beginner’s Eye”, meaning we don’t forget what we have learned, but we allow ourselves to see things through they eyes of “a beginner”.
Flexibility only happens when we stop pushing past our edge.
This is a great philosophy, but this statement is also literal. When we try to push ourselves past our natural flexibility, to the point we are not at least somewhat comfortable or cannot breathe easily, our muscles become tense instead of relaxed. Tense muscles do not stretch, relaxed muscles do. So to progress in our flexibility, we must first let go of “getting there”.
Strength only builds when we become aware of and respect our bodies as they are.
The next time you are instructed to be in a Plank pose, do not hesitate to bring your knees to the mat if you need to. When building our strength, it is important we do not overly exhaust the muscles we want to build. This can lead to an exhausted body, making it tough to properly experience the rest of our practice. It also increases likelihood of injury.
Stress only leaves when we are able to relax in a pose and breathe.
Forward Bend is a good example here. When we are ready to exhale and bring ourselves forward, there is a mental battle that happens. One part of our selves wants to immediately round the back and somehow get our forehead to our toes and yell “TADA!!!” But another part of our selves wants to listen to the instructor cues, which normally begin with “a straight spine”, and “only come forward as much as you need to”. It is here, in this initially awkward place - where are our pelvis leans as much as our torso- that we get to relax. This is our edge for that day. This is where our brain will yell “Ohhh wow that feels good!” We are able to breathe here and begin letting go, allowing our muscles to relax, breath, and stretch.
So these are just some of the ironic truths I have been able to learn because of freeing my mind and allowing myself to be taught a different way of thinking about my body. Practice letting go when you walk into the yoga studio. Truly, when we practice freeing our minds, our yoga practice will follow. Oh, and don’t beat yourself up if you find yourself pushing or competing. Simply acknowledge it and compassionately lead your thoughts back to a mind free of goals. Since you are human, this may happen like 30 times in one yoga class. The most important thing is to keep leading yourself back to a relaxed, non-competitive mind set. This is how you can be the “best” to YOU.
I can not resist leaving you with a song by En Vogue- it’s called “Free Your Mind” and feel free to dance in front of the bathroom mirror as it plays.
The Centre at VitaZen is Smith Mountain Lake’s premiere yoga studio. Offering classes 7 days per week year round and Sundays through the summer. We have 5 200 hour certified instructors. Join us and find out why our yogis proudly say “My Yoga Studio”.
The Centre at VitaZen
12787 Booker T Washington Hwy
Hardy, VA 24101 / 540-721-9365