*Originally published on Huffington Post*
I’ve been practicing yoga “seriously” for almost two and a half years. I began yoga mostly because I needed to start exercising again after an intense job kept me from working out. I felt remarkably lazy. I thought, mistakenly, that yoga would be easy and I was hopeful that it would be bizarre enough to distract me from feeling as miserable as working out can often make you feel.
I was quite wrong and I’m so grateful for that.
Yoga has done some wonderful things for my body (the usual suspects of increased flexibility, strength, balance etc.) and wonderful things for my general approach to exercise. But, yoga definitely is not easy, and it’s often unpleasant. I love that yoga continues to challenge and frustrate me while also being a necessary part of my sanity and well-being. I crave it, and I can tell when I’ve been away too long. I notice a striking difference in my mood and my body’s comfort before and after yoga. But I also dread it as I sit on my mat before class starts. Why did I do this to myself again? Wouldn’t it be so wonderful just to lie down instead?
I have such a lovely, glorious, complicated relationship with yoga because yoga is so much more than a workout, so much more than a de-stressor, so much more than an easy gymnastics class.
Yoga is a practice of discipline and focus. It asks you to concentrate on your breathing and on perfecting each pose so that you are truly present on your mat. It hopes that your devotion and concentration will challenge your mind and body to achieve a higher state of being. To some, achieving a higher state of being includes discovering your inner self; to others, it includes connecting with the Supreme Being.
Now, look—I am not a yoga expert. In fact, I’m more of a yoga problem child. Every time an instructor tells me not to think about what I’m doing after class, I think about what I’m doing after class. Every time we have to sit up straight in meditation for more than three minutes, I start wriggling a little bit. (Plus, I’m definitely not actually meditating). Every time I feel like yawning or fixing my underwear or rolling my eyes or mumbling “You’ve got to be kidding me,” I do. Honestly, I’m just proud that I keep showing up despite the fact that my short, curvy body with runner’s hips makes everything feel impossible.
But I love that despite my lack of enthusiasm to jump right into the higher callings of yoga, I have felt the benefits of them beyond what I ever expected.
Yoga has connected my approach to health to a sense of peace. It has helped me to stop comparing myself to everyone around me, and to challenge myself on my own history. When I’m in yoga, I feel a sense of connection to everyone around me. Every stranger struggling beside me helps me through the moments I feel like quitting. It has connected my mind to my body in a way that has inspired so much more investment in the well-being of both. Yoga has connected my intentions to my actions. I have learned to tell my body to push itself, even when my body is feeling quite incredulous. And this connection between my reactions, thoughts, actions, and intentions has spread beyond my yoga mat.
When I think about why I truly love yoga, I think of my favorite yoga mantra.
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
It means, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
Yoga reminds me that my actions are connected to everyone immediately around me and beyond what I can see. It reminds me that every thought I have is intentional—that I can change them, that I can recognize and respect them, but still grow beyond them. It reminds me that I have the opportunity to put joy and love and light into the world, instead of discontent and bitterness and hate. It reminds me that MY happiness is important, that MY well-being is something to be honored and taken seriously. It reminds me that investing in myself is an important part of being a part of our universe—that by caring for my mind, my body, and my soul, I’m better prepared to invest in the happiness of others. It reminds me that there are people in the world who only want happiness and joy for every being.
Yoga helps me feel less alone. It helps me think twice before I send an angry tweet about a mean commuter. It helps me search for the good in people I want to hate, ignore, or disregard. It helps me dream for a better life for those who can’t picture it. It helps me ask how I can contribute.
I’m so grateful that I found that one yoga studio, that one yoga teacher, that one yoga class that drew me into a life of intentional focus and self-improvement. I’m so grateful that my favorite form of exercise asks me to think about the happiness of every being.
I hope you will consider trying yoga. Because I know that no matter how much you resist, no matter how much you claim you just want the physical benefits, no matter how much you struggle through class like me—you will slowly become the best version of yourself. And all you will want is for everyone else to find that, too.