Three things I learned from yoga

August 5, 2012 by Joshua
in Awareness, Blog, Fitness

You can learn a lot from yoga. I’m no expert, but I did it a couple times a week for a couple years a few years ago. My teacher was great, if anyone wants a recommendation for someone in New York City.

I learned three things I didn’t expect that I found valuable. I haven’t seen them written up elsewhere, not that I read much on yoga since I find most yoga writing too new age-y, so I thought I’d write them up here.

I should mention I don’t find yoga more life altering than any other physical activity. Some people attach a mystical aura to it, with all the foreign words and claims to thousands-of-years-old heritages, but I find any physical activity can give the same quantity and quality of change to your life — football, baseball, rock climbing, dancing… That is, other activities contribute to your life differently, but no less, if you practice similar amounts.

You can learn plenty more from yoga than I write about. I’m just writing a few things I found valuable.

Yoga helps prevent tension before it creeps in

Before doing yoga the first time I thought one of its main purposes was to fix problems like loosening up tight muscles. I thought not getting tight in the first place would solve problems of having too much tension better. Prevention is better than cure, right?

Yoga people always point out yoga isn’t just stretching. I know, I’m just talking about one part of it. (I wonder if yoga people realize when they say that that they’re belittling stretching. I think you can get as much out of stretching as you can from yoga if you put as much into it.)

Anyway, I soon realized that yoga raised your awareness of your body and where it held tension (I’ve written on the similarity between physical and emotional tension) so you would notice what caused tension as it entered your body after doing yoga for a while.

So I learned yoga can prevent tension, not just release it afterward, which made it more valuable to me.

Yoga helps you address and face fears

Three things I knew yoga would help with came quickly and helped a lot — balance, strength, and loosening tension. The spiritual stuff I got more from meditation. As I continued yoga, I learned about other benefits.

When you start you don’t get your form right. I think most people think they get the form wrong because they don’t know how to do it right yet. Or they aren’t limber enough yet. Partly. But most poses, at least beginner ones, you can get right even if not limber. You won’t stretch as far, but you’ll do it how you’re supposed to.

I mean getting the form wrong as in you move you put your leg in the wrong place, not you don’t move as far as you want in the direction you’re supposed to.

Moving not far enough comes from not yet being limber enough. Moving in the wrong direction often comes from fear of pain.

You know if you try to stretch as the pose demands, you’ll feel pain. So you avoid it by contorting your body, usually without consciously noticing.

And here comes the big life lesson. How often do you not do something in life you feel you should because you’re worried about pain?

  • You don’t talk to your roommate about cleaning the apartment because you fear confrontation
  • You don’t talk to your boss about a raise for fear of confrontation
  • You don’t dance or sing or something else you know you’d love for fear of people seeing you
  • You don’t share your feelings with someone for fear of showing a vulnerability

I could list forever. My point is that the simplicity of yoga revealed the fear of pain preceding and causing my choosing to do the pose wrong, a pattern I found I did consistently in regular life. Then I realized I could choose to do the pose as directed, stretch less than would cause pain, but at least have the chance of reaching the proper pose.

When you adopt the wrong form, you may have no hope of getting it right, in yoga and in life.

Yoga helps you relax under pressure

With all the pain, sweating, striving to do old poses better and new poses at all, and so on, yoga got intense.

At some point I realized if you push on a tense muscle, it often tenses more. I found I could loosen it better if I used the pose to reveal the tension, then instead of pushing on the muscle to mentally relax it. Most of the tension seemed to come from my mind causing it without realizing it. When I realized it, I could relax it.

So yoga helped me relax under stress.

Yoga as a microcosm of emotional life

Combining the three realizations into one big realization, I found I could use yoga as a test case for emotional life. Emotions come from your environment, beliefs, and behavior. With yoga you can use your body alone to create many emotions and learn how to handle them. Unlike regular life, in yoga is much simpler and handling emotions purely on your own doesn’t risk messing things up for others or yourself.

So I found yoga increased my self-awareness and limberness and helped prevent me from creating tension, effects applicable far beyond what happened in the studio while doing the yoga.

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