5 Ways Yoga Empowers
Cover Photo By Emilie Bers.
By Sarah Ezrin
From the moment we walk into a yoga studio, it is a proclamation to the universe that it is time to take care and take charge. Like a personal Butterfly Effect, doing yoga not only changes our body, but our entire life!
A great many things in this world are out of our control. Life is constantly shifting and it is not uncommon to feel knocked around like a pin ball from one experience to the next. Many of us may even stay in situations we know are unhealthy (jobs, relationships, poses), for fear of change or because we doubt we deserve more. Better the devil you know, as the old saying goes.
But, start doing yoga and all of that begins to shift.
The yoga mat becomes a laboratory for examining old tendencies and cultivating new habits. A place where we can grow both physically and mentally. Yogis do not just strengthen their glute muscles, but also their perseverance. They do not just open their hamstrings, but also their minds. And yogis do not just practice making wise choices in class, but also off the mat, too.
Yoga shows us our personal strength. It empowers us to take the reins of life and steer it in the direction we want. From where we put our mat down to the personal adjustments we make in a pose, yoga teaches that we have choices. And it is through wise choices, that we regain ownership of our life.
It does not matter if you have the physical strength to balance in handstand or the flexibility to bend in half. The greater lessons of the practice are how to be strong for ourselves and how to live the life we imagine.
Here are 5 ways a yoga asana practice empowers practitioners:
1. Doing yoga takes courage. The path of personal evolution is not an easy one. In fact, the greatest changes often come alongside the hardest the journeys. But it is through challenge that we learn how strong we are! It takes courage to unroll the mat and be fully present for 60 to 90 minutes. In many exercise classes, the music is cranked up, mirrors line the front of the room, and one gets to virtually “leave their body” for the length of class. Yoga is different. Yoga is the practice of turning the outside noise down and inside awareness up. It asks us to get uncomfortable for the sake of growth. Yogis call this tapas. The literal translation means heat, but the greater concept refers to the necessary discomfort that comes alongside transformation. Like a metal being warmed to be reshaped or the immense pressure necessary to create diamonds, our practice teaches us that if we are willing to do the work, we have the power to change our lives.
2. Yoga brings people into their bodies. To be emboldened, we must first be embodied. Most classes begin in either a seated meditation or some version of stillness to help students arrive both physically and mentally. Through practice and presence, yogis learn how to fully be in their bodies. A short story by Irish author James Joyce begins with the well-known line, “Mr. Duffy lived at a little distance from his body”. It is fascinating to realize how often we “live” outside of ourselves. You may be wondering what that even means. Clearly, we’re in our body otherwise we would not be moving, breathing, beings, right? Well, I invite you to pay attention throughout the day to see when you are truly present in what you are doing versus the amount of times you are lost in thought and the body goes forward on autopilot. Asana, the physical practice of yoga,uses the body as a tool to still the mind, because the body and breath are happening in live time.
3. Yoga teaches us to listen beneath the surface. On the surface, a yoga asanaclass may feel like a complex game of Simon Says. Yes, the teacher guides the students what to do and when to breathe, and when one first starts practicing it is all you can to follow along. But, keep showing up and you start to recognize that every single thing we do, both on and off the mat, is a choice. In fact, an advanced practice is about notheeding every instruction. It is learning to listen to both frequencies - the teacher’s suggestions and the messages of one’s own body. It is about choosing the wiser path for one’s body on that given day and that given time. The more we make wise choices on the mat, the more we start to make them off the mat.
4. Standing poses build both physical strength and mental endurance. There is a reason teachers hold students in Warrior 2 for so long and it is not as sadistic as it sometimes may feel! Standing poses teach perseverance. They are defined as standing poses, because our feet are on the floor and our legs are supporting us. For this reason, this group of poses (e.g. utkatasana, virabhadrasana 2) are some of the safest postures to work longer holds. While outwardly this translates to leaner legs and the famous “yoga butt”, inwardly it means learning how to stand for oneself in challenging times. How to remain steady regardless of outside circumstance and holding a pose to one’s edge is a great way to break through comfort zones. Many say that the posture really begins when you want to leave it.
5. Take a vinyasa or leave it. Have you ever heard the phrase “take a vinyasa”? While the transliteration of vinyasameans ‘to place in a special way’, when an instructor offers one as a choice, they are generally referring to the combination of postures made up by chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog. Anytime an option is given, yogis have an opportunity to make a “wise” choice. Somedays people have more energy and feel strong, other days, people are more worn down or scattered. While yoga teachers do their best to read the room’s energy and sequence accordingly, ultimately it is up to the student to take care of themselves. A simple decision like not taking a vinyasa is a huge message to our nervous system and primal brain that we are in a safe space, one that we created.
It is said that how we do one thing is how we do everything. Much like life, our yoga practice is a marathon not a race. We must not just consider today’s practice, but our hope of doing yoga for the rest of our lives. Taking care of ourselves by making wise choices is essential for longevity and authenticity. There are a lot of outside forces we must work against, from body ideals, to exercise obsession, to the fancy shapes people equate with an advanced practice.
The misconception is that if we stop moving or skip something, we will lose momentum. On the contrary, taking care of ourselves in the immediate is how we fortify for the next impending climb. The more we start to take ownership of our body and choices on the mat, the more we will feel empowered in life.
After all, this is your life. How do you want to live it?