10 Things I’ve Learned From Yoga

Image from the documentary, "Breath of the Gods."

Tony Horton, putting all of his lame jokes aside, is a great teacher. Horton introduced me to yoga when I completed P90X back in 2010. Since then I’ve done yoga off and on, finding a YouTube video, and sometimes revisiting Yoga X. After an amazing vacation in Paris in August, I felt a strong urge to get serious about yoga, and to get to some classes. I got a really good mat and found a studio. I’m so glad I did. Since October I’ve practiced anywhere from three to five times a week at Mystic Lotus in Cabbagetown. I’ve fallen in love with this ancient, beneficial and beautiful practice.

Here are 10 things (among many) I’ve learned so far:

1. Yoga benefits all aspects of life

My friend Drew, who teaches at Mystic Lotus, reminds me that, “yoga is a tool that uses the body to train the mind.” Yoga is challenging and requires a lot of mental focus. Balance postures force my mind to hone in on a specific point and to let go of control. Learning to activate specific muscles makes me aware of how I sit and walk. This focus and awareness is useful in all aspects of life. I’m constantly finding way to apply the skills I develop in my practice.

2.Yoga reduces stress, depression and anxiety

The release of tension, anxiety, and worry, which result from yoga, is like nothing else. During practice I can feel my body and mind releasing negative energy that does not serve me. Yoga allows me to move through life with more ease and relaxation. Studies even show that yoga helps with depression and can increase overall feelings of well-being.

3. Yoga is especially helpful for musicians

All that mind training I mentioned? I’ve found I can apply it specifically when playing music. Tension, anxiety, and incorrect breathing such as holding one’s breath, are enemies to a musician. Playing music in a relaxed and aware state, allow the music to flow. The awareness and activation of specific parts of my body, cultivated through yoga, show me where I’m tense, and where I need to relax. I also get more awareness of where my mind is, while playing. Am I hearing the music or merely going through the motions? Yoga has made me a better player.

4. Yoga first thing in the morning is an outstanding way to start the day

I recently completed a 5 week early bird challenge with the extraordinary teacher, Maggie Benoit, at Mystic Lotus. For 5 straight weeks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I woke up at 6 am for the 630 am class. I paid in advance for the series which gave me a lot of accountability to not miss a single class. There are numerous benefits to starting the day with yoga. Your stomach is empty. Your mind is clear. The world is quiet. The day begins with a good intention. The benefit of this challenge was starting my day open, fully awake, and energized.

5. There are so many ways to breathe

Recently I watched Awake and one statement stuck with me. Yogananda remarks, “I don’t see how you Americans are living, you’re all breathing so improperly.” Breathing, and moving with breath, is one of the most important aspects of yoga. From Nadi Shodhana, Lion’s Breath, to Ujayii breathing, all of these exercises release tension and help me relax. That’s just scratching the surface of breathing exercises!

6. Yoga gives an unequaled natural high

Running, biking, and lifting weights, sure they all release endorphins, but nothing equals the natural high from yoga.

7. Good teachers make a big difference

I began my practice at Mystic Lotus because my friend Drew teaches there, and because it’s right in my neighborhood. This isn’t a paid advertisement for the studio! However, I’ve been consistently impressed with each teacher there. Essentially I am a beginner at yoga, so finding a place where I could practice without judgment and fear was crucial. I’ve learned so much from all the teachers there. They earnestly care about my practice and well-being. They make small, but very necessary, adjustments to my poses, and help me find my best expression of the pose. They show me how to press into the earth, grounding myself, and are helping me get more open with each class.

8. Comparison is futile

I love to compete and win but that doesn’t work in yoga. I’m glad I learned early on that comparing myself to the teachers and more advanced yogis doesn’t serve me. It’s ok to want to progress and achieve my fullest expression of a pose, but berating myself because I can’t do Trikonasana without a block, is dumb. My practice is about me and my growth, no one else’s.

9. There are lots of books on yoga

I’ve already got 3 books stacked up and ready to read on yoga. Autobiography of a Yogi, Light on Yoga, and Asana Pranayama Mudra BandhaThat is only a smidgen of what’s out there.

10. It’s about the journey

Right now my practice is focused on getting open. It will take time to get there and I need to practice patience with myself. I’m early in my practice but I’m so excited to continue this journey. I’m eager to learn poses, to gradually increase my flexibility, and to train my mind to be quiet, and relax.

Have you done yoga? What’s been your experience? Have you thought about doing yoga? What’s stopped you from getting started?

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