Thing's I've Gained From Yoga (That Aren't Flexibility)
In September 2021 I started a series on my Instagram page offering up some of the gifts that my yoga practise has offered me beyond flexibility.
This series is a personal one for me, offering an insight into the many ways that Yoga has changed and arguably saved my life. What started as a way of getting more bendy became so much more when I started dedicating regular practise to it, and through it I learnt that there was a new way to exist in a day to day life.
This series is ongoing, as everyone's yoga journey is. The wonderful thing about a practise of well, anything, is the more you do it, or the longer you do it the more it reveals at deeper levels as time goes on. For me I want to encourage people to start the journey of falling in love with a life long practise that supports you as you go through each new phase of life, each chapter of your journey. As time has gone on, I myself am realising more of what yoga has gifted me, beyond increased flexibility.
The heading of each topic will allow you to click through to the original post, which each have 7-9 slides to go into real depth about each topic, the science behind it and the ways that yoga can be used to cultivate this particular skill.
It's a long read! Enjoy
AWARENESS - where it all begins....
For so much of our day we are on autopilot, going through the motions of work and personal life without realising how we feel throughout it, without noticing the behaviours of others or what goes on in the wider world around us. In other words we are ‘blissfully unaware’….⠀
Often we avoid what’s going on in the present moment, not consciously, but because it is more comfortable to avoid the present moment, and also out of habit. By cultivating awareness of what’s going on in the present moment we can start to notice how we feel, see how others act, react and behave and notice patterns in the wider world around us.⠀
Yoga helped me through its practises of REGULATION, to start to become more comfortable being in the present moment and being more aware with what was going on in my external and internal worlds. Once we become aware of things we can be more curious, exploring, challenging and even changing things around us.⠀
Thing's I've Gained from Yoga (That Aren't Flexibility)
REGULATION - both physiological and emotional
If you ask me what I was like a decade ago, in some ways I was quite often judgemental, spoke without pause, reacted easily and was impulsive. A lot of this was because I was operating out of survival mode, and physiologically my body was more often than not in a state of arousal of my Sympathetic Nervous system. It’s common for those of us who are regularly stressed, or have experienced high levels of stress for a number of years. I worked in hospitality and my life was go go go, partly because this fast paced life felt familiar and safe. I often sought it out habitually due to lack of AWARENESS
Although I didn’t *not* like being in quiet and stillness, I found it was becoming less familiar. When I started practising asana more regularly, I found my first savasna very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to stay still, I felt uneasy. As my practised continued, I felt more and more comfortable with relaxing, and found I was able to switch off more easily. I felt more comfort in being quiet and still, letting my defences drop and being in the present moment.⠀
INTEROCEPTION - that awareness of our internal states
There are many reasons why our levels of AWARENESS of our internal states are low. We are raised in a world where value is placed on looking outside of ourselves and where being ‘sensitive’ can be seen as weakness. Where putting ourselves first (just by simply honouring our body's needs) is seen as 'selfish'
But interoception helps to not keep us alive but also healthy. By being able to understand the signals from the body we then can have the power to attend to our needs more accurately. We keep ourselves fed and watered, but also can help us listen to our gut instincts, and honour our needs alongside those of others.⠀
Interoception also plays a role in know when we need to REGULATE, noticing the early signs of stress, or tolls on our physical and mental wellbeing that can show up in the body, breath and even in our states of mind. It can improve our ability to self regulate.⠀
Once we better learn how to interpret our body’s own signals we can not only listen to ourselves but also trust ourselves more.⠀
Yoga encourages us to explore our internal world and connect to it regularly. From mindfulness practises of the body and breath, to asana and breathwork, all these practises encourage us to notice what’s going on within.⠀
COMPASSION - More than just empathy
Compassion extends beyond empathy. It is not just simply feeling and experiencing the suffering of someone, but feeling compelled to take action towards minimising their suffering⠀
It is not something than can suddenly increase overnight, it requires regular practise through techniques that inspire AWARENESS, REGULATION and self compassion, before we can appropriately extend compassion onto others. For us to have compassion for others, we have to understand ourselves first
Before yoga I’d often avoid taking on the problems of others, I was guilty of thinking ‘I have too much going on’ more often than not. Sometimes this is true, and AWARENESS helps to to be able to decide when we have the capacity to be able to help⠀
NAMING EMOTIONS - Reducing reactivity
Naming our emotions might sound simple, but we’ve likely had times where we have sat with things for longer that we need to. Have you ever experienced relief from journaling, or talking to a friend about how your feeling, almost instantly feeling better despite the circumstances not changing?⠀
Asana help us to get in contact with the sensations in our body. Each thought has an emotion that fuels it, and that emotion has a physical feeling in the body. Sadness in the pit of the stomach, anger in the jaw or shoulders (the feeling and location will be different for everyone!) ⠀
When we get more connected to our bodies by improving INTEROCEPTION we get better at recognising the emotions we are carrying and how they physically feel
The power then comes in labelling those emotions and reducing their power. The practise of labelling is often used in Mindfulness meditation to give a thought/sensation/emotion space without engaging with it, but this can also be used to our advantage⠀
WITNESSING - Noticing our thoughts are not facts
There are two parts to the mind, the part that thinks, and the part that is able to observe us thinking 🧠
With awareness and practise we can start to strengthen the observer, which is less often flexed than the thinking mind, which is constantly going on in the background. That constant stream of chatter that when we look more closely, is repeating many things things daily out of habit - these pathways can start to become deeper engrained the longer they are left unchallenged
Strengthening our observer doesn’t stop thoughts, it doesn’t stop our emotions, but it allows us to start noticing when they arise. The observer uses AWARENESS and INTEROCEPTION to help us take a step back and see things from a distance. Instead of being powerless to thoughts, we can in time make an active choice to listen to them or take action to think something different - we learn that we have an active choice in reappraisal when needed. It will mean that we still hear and experience less useful thoughts and emotions, but we might listen to them less - observing them without being pulled into their lure
The wonderful thing about yoga is it emphasises the role of practise, there is no instant fix or quick cure here, it is a commitment to yourself to practise as best as you can and continuing that practise off your yoga mat, cushion or chair. Watching and learning to observe your own reactions, thoughts, feeling a and emotional responses to a situation before taking the next step
RESILIENCE - Tolerance to stressors
Resilience is the ability to be able to bounce back after a stressful event, it refers to one’s capacity and speed at which they can return to baseline.⠀
If you are resilient you still experience stress, you still feel the usual reactions to events that can shake us up, but have enough flexibility in your nervous system, thinking and emotions to come down from them as appropriate.⠀
It is not something that will develop in just a few classes, but long term commitment to cultivating and using our awareness, learning REGULATION techniques that help to calm and give us energy as required all help to give us the foundation of which RESILIENCE can be built on.⠀
Many yogic practises are uniquely placed to be able to support building resilience at the level of the nervous system. Movements that stop and start or ramp up and then wind down. Holding a stronger posture ‘for just one more breath’. Encouragement to try new postures and styles as we build confidence. Even just starting yoga can be out of our comfort zone! ⠀
As our RESILIENCE to stress grows we react less, those big things that used to bother us for days on end might stop bothering us much more quickly. We stop reacting to situations that might have been high stress and we respond from a place of greater equanimity. ⠀
Of course there will still be times ahead that will challenge us, but yoga helps by providing the tools to help us manage as best as we can to ride the wave, the inevitable highs and lows of life
Is probably the greatest gift that yoga has given me
Connection to my inner world beyond an endless stream of habitual thoughts (which is what I thought being self aware / connected to myself was all about) by also connecting to
- my body
- my breath
- my emotions and feelings
- my gut instinct
- the power I have to notice and change how I react to things
- my power to change and transform
This connection is so powerful beyond words. I remember being so disconnected from myself and feeling like I just existed, I was powerless in my life, subject to the tides of everything around me. By learning I could connect to my body and breath, I started learning I could play an active role in my life
As someone who is a natural introvert and very self sufficient, I have struggled to speak up for myself, ask for help when I needed it, or forge meaningful connections with others that I actually really, really craved. Just because I *can* do things on my own, it doesn’t mean I have to
SPACE - isn't that flexibility?
Creating space, for some of us will be about creating more physical space in the body, through stretching and becoming more mobile/flexible, which might make the body feel greater ease over time - I certainly experienced this as I started practising yoga regularly.
But space is more than that physical space within us, it’s mental headspace, temporal space, our awareness of ourself in space and the shared spaces we show up in. Yoga and it’s practises can be a tool to explore all of these.
There are so many more, to keep up to date with all my posts, make sure to follow me over on Instagram
And I'm always keen to hear what yoga has gifted you, so feel free to comment or share this blog if it resonates with you.
And if you'd like to work with me 1-2-1 or arrange a corporate yoga class with me, please reach out to me by email firstname.lastname@example.org
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