Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Why you should try yoga

Years ago, a friend suggested that I try yoga.  Knowing that I've always been an avid athlete - runner, cyclist, etc. - as well as a deeply spiritual person, he thought I might enjoy it.  Even though he didn't mention it in his list of reasons why I should try it, the added benefit of calming down this Type A personality might have also occurred to him.

I immediately liked it. It was physically difficult in ways that I had never been really challenged before.  It helped loosen and lengthen my poor leg muscles that were aching to be stretched from miles of running.  I've never been a flexible person.  The fact that I couldn't do the splits at age 10 sealed my fate and prevented me from ever becoming a cheerleader.  Yet, after doing yoga more regularly over the last two years, I have noticed that my body is more open, less tight.  Maybe the splits are in reach after all.

Yoga means "to unite" -- mind, body and breath.  I also sing, so breathing deeply was not new to me. Yet, breathing techniques, or pranayama, have given me tools that help calm my nerves and focus my mind - whether it's in traffic or when I'm preparing to sing on stage.  I'm less apt to react to distressing situations and able to better respond thoughtfully.  This, too, is a work in progress.

If I had to give anyone reasons why he/she should try yoga, here's my top five:

1. Put your health - mental and physical - first
Making time for yourself can be the greatest challenge of all. Regardless of how "in-shape" you are, yoga meets you where you are.  You can be a better friend, spouse, mother, father, son or daughter when you take care of yourself.  You also set the example for other loved-ones when you make your health a priority. 

2. Strengthen your body inside and out.
Regardless of how strenuous the practice, yoga has numerous benefits working for you, which only multiply over time. Stress reduction, lower blood pressure, increased oxygen to your blood to create new cells, removes toxins from organs and blood stream, lubricates joints, strengthens muscles that support joints and spine... should I go on? 

3. Train your brain. Turn off the noise.
Even when I was running or biking, my "monkey-mind" was still "on." Grocery and to-do lists, relationship drama, life's worries... all of it still running on its own treadmill in my mind.  By focusing on your breathing, yoga teaches you how to train your brain to turn off the noise inside your head for the moment. It will be there when you finish. For now, focus, create space and find clarity.  This is a critical skill that we need more of in today's 24/7 digital society.

4. Connect with your inner-self. 
How often do you take time to search deep inside your heart and simply listen?  It's easy for day-to-day busy schedules to prevent us from pushing the pause button.  Yoga creates the place and space for you to reconnect with your deepest desires or issues that need your attention.

5. Give yourself permission to be still, at peace.
Every yoga class ends with one final pose: corpse pose or Savasana.  Our society does not typically "reward" you for seemingly doing nothing, so spending five or ten minutes or more simply lying on the floor may seem either luxurious or like a waste of time.  However, to become more at peace with ourselves and those around us, we must take time to rest and find a balance with body, breath and mind. Think of it as a wonderful palate cleanser between your yoga practice and re-entering your world.

When in doubt:  Have fun. Try something new. Don't put it off.

Click here for my schedule of upcoming classes.