What yoga means to me

Several weeks ago, someone asked what yoga means to me. Now that is a pretty loaded question. But without hesitation, I responded by saying that it is my way of managing anger. As much as I hate to say it, I can have a temper. I am also an impatient and demanding person to boot. I see it in my marriage, in my work, in my thoughts and words and in my yoga practice.

When I get on my mat and instantly become frustrated that I can't jump into a handstand or slide into splits, I realize how silly it is to expect my stiff body to suddenly perform a task it isn't warmed up for. The funny thing is, if the mind is unyielding, so is the body. No matter how warmed up I am, if my mind isn't in it, my body can't do it. So thanks to yoga, I am forced to face my shortcomings and really work on becoming a more patient, forgiving and compassionate person - with myself first, and then with others. 

At first, yoga showed me how impatient and angry I could be. Now, I turn to yoga to help manage that anger and impatience. 

Since that realization, I tried to give myself more grace. I move more slowly, more deliberately, more intentionally. A few weeks back, I was upset about a work issue and knew I needed to work it out on my mat. Not even five minutes into some sun salutations and heart openers, I became calmer. I realized I was more annoyed than angry (there is a difference!) and even sensed some tension in my shoulders melt away. I was able to go deeper in my backbends too.

There is something special to me about moving my body to help move my mind. Lifting, running and stretching all help me release tension and anger in ways other activities can't. It forces me to focus on the present, something that I find I don't do enough. 

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I recently began using the hashtag #yogaforhealing on Instagram because that is what yoga is for me personally. Not the gymnastics, not the chakras or enlightenment, but a process of healing my body (and ultimately my mind). Here is what my practice looks like based on what I am feeling that day:

DRILLS

Drills are necessary to further any practice, but I find them to be the most valuable when I am very angry or too unbalanced to flow. Drills force my mind and body to be repetitive, to train all my energy in completing another rep, and another and another and another. This is why weight lifting is also great for anger management! Not only do I get a great workout, but I find peace in repetition and consistency. I recommend just googling "yoga drills" and looking specifically for core and strength-building exercises.

BREATHING

When I'm sad or upset, I really enjoy either laying on my mat in corpse pose or sitting cross-legged or in lotus pose, with one hand on my stomach and the other on my heart, to just breathe. I actually find myself praying the most in this position. Something about feeling my heart beat and my lungs fill with air brings me out of my sadness. Taking those moments to breathe deeply allow a pause in my physical and mental state as well. I can do a quick mental check of my body to see what is hurting, what is tight, etc. Its just a simple reminder that I am alive and well.

FLOWS

Yoga flows can be difficult if I can only get into a handful of poses on the first try. But they don't have to be fancy - a yoga flow can be as simple as moving through a vinyasa sequence or working on balance and slow, gentle movements. I find my body is best equipped to practice yoga flows when I am happy. This is my go-to on good days. Plus, after all those drills and breathing sessions, my flows are getting progressively better!

INVERSIONS & BALANCE

I cannot hold a straight handstand for more than a handful of seconds. And that's ok! Paul-the-Wall, as he is called by some, is my expert teacher in all things upside down :D I was once scared of handstands and didn't have the upper body strength to even practice inversions and arm balances. Now that I do (its those drills yall!) I take full advantage of practicing inversions when I'm tired and when I'm feeling a little down and vulnerable. Inversions create a sense of empowerment and change my perspective (literally and figuratively). My confidence grows as my handstands get better - and when I'm confident, inversions are much easier. 

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