Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mindfulness Monday: Yoga

My experience with Yoga has been life-long, but intermittent. It's not yoga's fault, but rather a symptom of my own lack of discipline to do things that are good for me.

Where It Began

Does anyone remember the television show on PBS called Lilias, Yoga and You? That was my first experience with yoga. My mother practiced yoga with the TV show, and also bought some of Lilias Folan's books. As a little girl, I loved Lilias's super-long braid and leotards. I also loved that flexibility was something my body could do. I was born with some minor birth-defects, including a heart murmur and hip dysplasia. The dysplasia meant, on one side at least, I was pretty flexible. The heart murmur meant that I've never been very good with cardiovascular type activities. I think the reason I keep returning to yoga throughout my life is because it is an activity I felt successful with in the "early years." Well, and also that it calms me mentally.

The Journey Continues

I returned to yoga in my twenties, and realized exactly how strong it makes your body. I'd been doing a fifteen minute practice daily (from a Lilias book my mom had) for a month. I was in a long-distance relationship with a guy, and we'd been apart for the month I'd been doing yoga. When we reunited, we hugged, and he commented on the change of how I felt to him (ie. not quite so squishy.)

In that month, I also noticed a change in my self-awareness. I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was learning to be present, instead of stuck in my head. Over-analyzing everything--and consequently anxiety--runs in my family, and I am one of the worst. During that month I found that I was looking at the world a little differently, and I liked it.

Over the next ten years there were occasional spurts of regular yoga practice. I attended a day-long workshop in Colorado. I found a class in the town where I went to college that I would go to every once in a while. My husband and I even spent part of our honeymoon at an ashram in Colorado for a yoga retreat.

Krishna and some happy cows.
The yoga retreat was an amazing experience. At that time I learned about yoga as more than just a physical activity. There were classes on meditation, incorporating chanting into meditation, and even on how yoga fits into the Hindu religion. It was the beginning of learning about the mind/body
connection inherent to a yoga practice. I also fell in love with what I call the happy cows. (Cows are sacred in Hindu belief, and the cows in Hindu paintings all look so peaceful. I love them.)

But, I digress.

Research Is Wonderful

Through learning about the neuroscience and practices of mindfulness, and teaching them to others, I have a better understanding of the physiology of why yoga has always been a positive experience for me, and why it can be a positive experience for others.

Some of my main reasons are:

1. The physical exercise does make your body strong and flexible. When my body feels strong, I feel better, more capable and mentally healthy.

2. Because yoga is not a competition, and you are encouraged to listen to your body and what it needs and how far it can go, anyone can have a yoga practice. My mom, who now has Pulmonary Hypertension, is practicing yoga with the modifications necessary for her physical safety. She still is receiving great physical benefits, even though she is not completing a posture the same way as someone of the same age who has been practicing yoga their whole lives. Another plus, it doesn't take long to see improvement in a person's abilities in flexibility, strength or balance.

3, The way of thinking about engaging in a yoga practice is calm and self-reinforcing. What you can do is enough, and it's accepted that what a person can do will change from day to day. This self-acceptance in practice leads to self-acceptance in other parts of my life. And since I'm pretty hard on myself, that's no small feat.

4. Breathing practices and meditation (which are parts of a normal yoga practice) are hugely effective for stress relief, increasing mental focus and emotional regulation. For me, connecting inhalations and exhalations to movement helps me turn off my brain by giving me something to think about besides the distracting thoughts that continuously run through my mind. (My mind is a very noisy place.)

5. Yogic philosophy is positive, connecting and accepting. I am not Hindu any more than I am Buddhist, but I appreciate and utilize the similarities in the philosophies of both to maintain a balance in an otherwise nutty world.

Where I Am Now

No, I do not have an hour long daily practice with a twenty-minute meditation. Honestly, I don't have the time. While there are now yoga classes locally ( I used to have to drive for an hour), I still don't have the time to go to them. This is not an excuse, it's just my reality.

What I do have is a lot of videos, and a meditation app that I recently found.

Most of my videos are from Gaiam, come in a variety of lengths of practice (15, 20, 30+ minutes) and you can find them about anywhere. Any video I've gotten from them has been thorough and knowledgeable, but sometimes fast moving and "exercise-y." The other video brand I have, which is more relaxed and contemplative, is from Element. I love their stress relief video. I also have all of my mom's old Yoga Journals, and will sometimes use the practices they have in them, if I need to have quiet. I love when I practice on my deck. Being outside is terribly important for me, and being outside and moving through a sun salutation is close to heaven.

I would recommend classes, especially if you are just starting, to at least augment using videos. Having a knowledgeable instructor is priceless, because they can give you important feedback on how to correctly do a posture. Some day I would like to go to a weekly class, but right now going somewhere would probably drive me away from practicing regularly.

I try to practice for at least 10-15 minutes a day. It's exactly like writing, where if I start with the intent of ten minutes the time extends to at least twenty minutes. I try to do a breathing meditation for 2-5 minutes, be that doing Savasana at the end of practice, or on it's own.

The app I just found is on my kindle, and is really cool for me. I don't know how to tell you how to find it, but just know there are meditation apps pretty much anywhere. I've found some for my i-phone, and on my Kindle. I imagine anywhere there are apps, there are meditation apps.

I am a far cry from a yogini, but yoga has been a regular and important part of my life for about the last year to year and a half. Some weeks I practice more than others, but the benefits have always been present.

Oh! And guess what. The circle has completed, because my kids (who are about the same age as I was when my mom did Lilias) now do my yoga videos with me! Isn't that funny!

Have you ever tried out yoga?
Have you ever wanted to?


  1. YAY! Yeah, I don't do yoga every day, though I know I should. I have about a twenty-minute routine I do. I always feel better when I do it. It's so good for the mind and body. Especially when we get older and begin to lose that flexibility. By simply stretching consciously and consistently, I've gone from having chronic back pain (for YEARS) to feeling no pain at all.

    1. That's awesome about the back pain! My primary focus has been for mental health benefits, but as I've gotten older I've noticed it really does keep everything working better. (I sound like I'm 200 years old!) Thanks for commenting!

  2. Being present in the moment is very important emotionally. Yoga is beyond my injured knee joints. Have you read BREAKFAST WITH BUDDHA? I listened to the audiobook and enjoyed it up until the end, but that was only the last paragraph. Most of the book is wise and fun.

    1. I'll have to check out Breakfast With Buddha. That sounds really good.

      That present moment stuff is so amazing. In this week's funny photos post I admit that I'm having trouble with distractions, but that's exactly why I am trying hard to meditate and do yoga regularly - to help get back to center. I can't really help all the stressors I've got going on, but I can bring myself to center regularly to counteract it. Thanks, Roland!

  3. I've tried it but couldn't get into it. Maybe I need to again. Or try a video cause when I hear how much a yoga class costs, I kind of cringe.

    1. Yeah, classes can be pricey. Let me know how it goes if you decide to try again. Maybe I could help with choosing a video. :)

  4. I love yoga, but I have to do it a few days in succession before I really feel the effects. It's one of those exercises that really builds and builds in your body, but the results are fairly immediate, at least for me. In a week I feel brand new!

    1. Hi, Emily! How nice to see you!

      I totally agree. Just once isn't enough to really feel the full effects (mentally or physically) but in a matter of weeks I can see significant changes. It's kind of exciting!


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