There are some days when you can’t wait to get off work so you can roll out your mat and have a little time to yourself, flowing and breathing, releasing the day. And then there are other days when you’d rather sit on the couch eating cheese puffs and drinking wine, watching The Notebook. I mean, we can’t have it all. We all deserve a little break. But the benefits of stepping onto your mat may be more enticing than stepping into your pyjamas. At 4 p.m.
There’s something to be said about routine. The more we show up for ourselves, the more likely we are to continue doing things that make us feel good. These are good habits and they are okay to have. If you love the 10 a.m. flow class at your local studio, then make it a habit to get there a few times a week. Set a goal for yourself, in this example it would be attending the morning class three days a week. Once you get a rhythm going, you’ll find it harder and harder to skip that class, even if you really want to stay at home or putter around the grocery store, flipping through the magazine section.
Improved Physical Health
The physical practice of yoga, known as asana in Sanskrit, has a lot of, well, physical benefits. In a nutshell, asana helps to build strength, flexibility, agility and cardiovascular strength. The mindfulness gained from a regular practice can also help to maintain weight loss and improve the way we view our bodies, according to Harvard Health Publications. Yoga is also a great way to recover from injuries, whether they’re recent or date back to your childhood. In addition to repairing injuries, the strengthening and stretching components to a physical practice help us work out the muscles we don’t often use, get into deep tissue, and counteract our poor posture, like slumping and hunching. If you’re going to class and have an injury, make sure to inform your teacher before going into the class so that she can keep an eye on you and offer any modifications if you should need them.
The practice of yoga first began as a meditation to help clear the mind and find inner peace. Yogis would sit in caves for long periods of time but all that sitting brought on some physical ailments. Over time, poses were added to the practice to improve the health of the seated yogis – poses that would act as a moving meditation, so their mindfulness practice wasn’t disturbed. The focus on the breath during modern practice helps to bring us into the present moment and take us out of our heads. This is why many teachers touch on stillness, meditation and breathwork, or pranayama , during practice. A lot of poses, especially those in restorative classes, are designed to relax the body and the mind, offering you more mental clarity.
Taking Yoga Off the Mat
The more we practice yoga on the mat, the easier it becomes to take those lessons out into the world. The principles of yoga, including non-harming, non-stealing, and proper use of energies become ways to live our “regular” lives, when we’re at home, work or out with friends. These practices teach us how to be more patient, kind, and compassionate to others as well as ourselves. They help us to see the world from a different perspective, as if the looking glass has finally been cleaned of all the smudges. The more regular your mat practice is, the easier it will become to take these lessons and that sense of calm you feel while you move in the studio into the rest of your life.
Dealing and Coping
A regular yoga practice also helps us to deal with our issues, things that we usually shove to the back of the closet, hoping not to find for 10 years. This can is arguably one of the most beneficial but toughest parts of a yoga practice. Styles like Yin yoga that offer a deep stretch, helping to release the issues in our tissues; and even just being in a studio, having a safe space and loving community, can help some people open up. For many people, yoga is a form of recovery, self-exploration and healing. While some people come to their mat for the physical benefits, others arrive to discover their true selves through movement and meditation. Maybe you’re even one of those people.
You don’t need to head to your mat every single day to reap the amazing benefits of the practice. Start slow, adding another practice during your week – even if it’s just a 15 minute meditation while you sip your morning coffee. Over time, you will develop a routine, a healthy habit, and you’ll notice yourself reacting (or not reacting) to situations in your everyday life. Maybe you’ll even have others asking you, “Just how do you do it?”