After an early morning walk, I practice yoga for twenty to thirty minutes daily and have for many years. Most routines finish with the pose, the Twist, which I find transitions smoothly into the lotus position and then, meditation. This morning’s practice led me into contemplating my gratitude in finding yoga. That I have practiced a routine for twenty minutes almost every day for over thirty years pleases me. It reminds me that I have a constancy in my life that honours my physical body, my health and my spirit. Yoga is very spiritual and lends itself to meditation, another spiritual practice that enriches my whole being.
When we practice a healthful routine daily, we incorporate (whether intentionally, or not) a sacredness into our lives – a seemingly simple gesture that impacts our whole psyche in a meaningful way.
Initially, we do not recognize that our simple gestures (twenty minutes of yoga practice daily) as momentous. In fact, most of us make intentions to lose weight, exercise more, slow down and stress less, etc., as declarations without much thought or research. But when I look back over my life and contemplate that I have found at least twenty minutes most days for over thirty years, I am truly gratified that I have honoured my health in this simple act of finding time – for me.
Yoga keeps us young and flexible in our bodies and in our minds. And yes, spiritually. The health benefits of yoga are not usually the primary reason we initially begin to practice this form of exercise. For me, when I was twenty something, yoga classes were trendy, and I saw it as an opportunity to have a break from my busy life as a mother of twin boys. I was a stay at home mother, juggling toddler-hood and fulfilling the demands of completing a university degree in English. Yoga classes at the local community college with my good friend seemed like a chance to breathe. (Ironically, yoga is all about the breath!) But a funny thing happens on the way to a new pursuit – many times we find our home. For me, that means when I learn something new, it just feels so right on every level…it resonates within me. My body, my brain, my heart just came alive and responded, “Hello, yoga…where have you been all my life?”
You see, when it comes to sports, I am self-proclaimed inept. There are few sports that I excel at – okay, the truth is I do not excel at any sport. But I can stretch and I can perform downward dog and yes, the tree of life pose. Interestingly enough, I often hear my athletic, sporty type friends claim that yoga is too slow, too boring for them. For me, slow is good.
Yoga is my home. Through my yoga practice over the years I have acquired so many health benefits that are not often recognized by the average yoga class participant because those benefits are invisible. While weights, biking, and jogging can sculpt our bodies and the body transformation becomes visibly evident in a display of newly formed muscles and torsos, yoga’s true benefits are healthier organs, glands and a better immune system. Tell a twenty-year old that her yoga practice is creating healthier kidneys or a better lung capacity and I do not think she will be too impressed. When we are young, we are looking for quick fixes and yoga is a long-term practice…one that we stay with for life. At twenty, we are more interested in having toned arms like First Lady, Michelle Obama.
What I know is that yoga leads to more flexibility, joints that work as I age, and better breathing, and that just feels good. Good enough to walk daily for an hour or more. Oh, and sleep peacefully every night.
But what I have learned from a more thorough research of this ancient practice (yoga has been practiced for centuries) is that my simple gesture of adding yoga to my daily routines has physically enhanced all of me…there are benefits to my glands, my organs, and my immune system. Studies have shown that a regular yoga practice enhances overall well-being, decreases blood pressure, reduces stress and anxiety, improves the mood, lowers back pain…oh, the benefits are limitless.
When we perform the yoga poses properly, breathing in and out, our body literally slows down. This simple trio of pose, breath and stillness leads to being in the moment – in the Now. Yoga teaches us mindfulness. Mindfulness is part of meditation – sitting in silence and in stillness – and letting go of the mind’s internal chatter.
When I reflect on my own personal practice, I realize that I have taken care of my body, my mind and my spirit consciously…and didn’t even realize how meaningful that is. That pleases me. I am savouring that thought. I acknowledge that I have given myself a gift. All those years that I chastised myself for not sticking with pursuits; the many times that I thought that I had neglected myself for the sake of others. What a refreshing insight! I now see that I did care for myself…my simple act (twenty to thirty minutes of yoga daily) is in itself a reflection of love, devotion, constancy, determination, strength, commitment, resiliency, and, of course, the greatest gift …a conduit to stillness which leads to spirit.Spirit is the true reward. My spirit. Because when we care for and love ourselves, we are taking care of and loving our spirits.
Those are gifts.