Tuesday, June 21st was the 8th International Day of Yoga. From celebrating Yoga Day with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar at the United Nations in 2015 in NYC to practicing asanas with thousands of people in Times Square to manning a booth for Exhale to Inhale to teaching a private yoga workshop to the elderly, I have had the chance to honor International Day of Yoga for several years.
A very dear friend of mine, Rashi Singhvi Baid, once asked me, “What does yoga do?”
I didn’t have an answer. I mean I knew I sweated in class and slept better. I liked that my skin glowed because of a consistent practice and the detox that happened because of it. I appreciated the weight loss and the increased flexibility. I liked being bendy on the mat. But aside from the physical attributes, I didn’t quite know how yoga worked on my mind and soul. When I think about it, I have been practicing yoga asanas for close to two decades, but it’s only in the last decade or so have I started to see yoga as a mind-body integrative practice.
What has yoga taught me?
- Build healthy boundaries: Until yoga became my guiding principle, I had trouble saying a NO. Between the overwhelming and over-booked calendar, sleep and rest would take a backseat. I am one of those people who needs a balance between stimulation and quietude. The go-mode would eventually lead to a meltdown or end up with me falling sick. Yoga taught me that while it is important to be kind to others, it is equally, if not more important to respect your own needs and place in your life. Saying a NO can come from a place of compassion and self-healing. Living your truth is also yoga.
- Live, as opposed to exist: At one time, the busy New Yorker in me would run from one commitment to another while hopping across different boroughs. I used to be exhausted by the time I would return. Because I was raised to be a good, Indian girl, I didn’t want to compromise on cooking or cleaning, or anything related to home. As a result, I had no time for myself or self-care. Yoga taught me that not pausing and putting our bodies through endless rigmarole is also a form of violence. We can’t preach ahimsa in the yoga studio and practice violence towards our own self.
- Acceptance brings joy: Everyone’s life is filled with pockets of joy and sorrow. There is success and failure. We can all agree that the only constant in this world is change. Yoga reiterates that what we resist, persists. If we accept that our situation and discomfort is temporary and this too shall pass, we find calm. The calm leads to gratitude and eventually shifts our perspective.
- Don’t attach intention to people’s behavior: Every individual is fighting a battle we don’t know about. Be it someone not giving you the right amount of space for your yoga mat in a studio to a colleague saying something untoward in a meeting to a family member or friend acting selfish…we don’t know what transpired in this person’s day before our interaction with them. Once we detach ourselves from people’s behavior and stop personalizing their actions, we make deep human connections. We also take away any power their actions might have on us.
- Ignore your ego: I can honestly say that ego isn’t something I worry about much on the yoga mat or even off it. But as a newbie trying to contort my body, I was self-conscious. Was I bending correctly? Was I moving with poise? Had I perfected my headstand? Yoga taught me to show up to the mat as well as life without ego. Being aware of ego in yoga has translated into so many other aspects of my life, especially during the pandemic when I was trying to manage situations that simply weren’t under anyone’s control.
- Practice is key: As a writer, I noticed how yoga impacted my writing when I started to show up to words—much like my yoga mat—consistently. I didn’t need to write a thousand words everyday much as I didn’t need to spend 90 minutes on the yoga mat to feel legit. Just showing up consistently made the transformation in my mind, body, and attitude towards life. In so many ways, yoga has been the best teacher for reiterating the value of discipline, structure, and practice in life.
- Listen to yourself: Yoga builds awareness. On days that I am tired and don’t want to practice asanas for 60 minutes, I will do restorative poses. Yoga teaches us to pay attention to our body as well as intuition. I rely on my gut instincts hugely to navigate my day.
- Perfection is a myth: There is no perfect yoga pose. There is no perfect life. We show up. We do our bit. We show up with dedication. We give our 100%. We try harder. We appreciate our efforts. We continue to work on our yoga asanas as well as self-growth. In pursuit of that perfect moment or pose or emotion or submission, life passes us by, and we forget to be present.
- Breathe, just breathe: Be it a speaking engagement in front of a large crowd or an author interview, I take a few moments to breathe. When I am on the yoga mat, I focus on my breath more than anything else. I know, much like a difficult yoga pose, challenging situations in life can feel overwhelming. The focus on breathing can stop us from spiraling and bring back our attention to what matters most. The deep and intentional inhales and exhales help me navigate my practice as well as life with much clarity and grace.
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” ~ The Bhagavad Gita
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