The other day, someone said to me, “I find yoga boring. It’s so slow. I exercise. Cardio and burpees. But yoga isn’t for me. I don’t think it helps.” This person, like so many others, could use yoga to become less critical, competitive, judgmental and more compassionate. Yoga can help them connect deeply with who they are. It could also help them increase their focus and reduce their unhealthy obsession with food. Yes, yoga can help with all of the above. Because “The nature of yoga is to shine the light of awareness into the darkest corners of the body.”
But I didn’t say a word. Offering unsolicited advice is not my forte. I am also aware that people are frustrated with the limitations and lack of control brought upon by the pandemic. They lash out at the wrong people. Honestly, I don’t work with people who need any kind of convincing. I am not a therapist. My clients know something is off with their current health and wellness choices and they need my help to transform their lives while thriving on their own terms.
This woman’s words stayed with me because when I was a kid, I had my own preconceived notions about yoga. I saw my Nana (Mom’s father) practice asanas daily. He did Hanuman Asana (full split) like a boss. Nana walked slowly, ate mindfully, spoke less and listened more. As a little girl, I inferred that “slow” and “steady” was something that happened to you with age. I made up my mind that yoga was for old people.
About 15-17 years ago, when I got into a daily yoga practice, it was for a selfish reason. I was a Type A, high-strung Head of Marketing for a large accounting organization in NYC and was enrolled in Columbia University for a master’s degree. I was also writing part-time while managing a home etc. The stress levels were high, and I had injured myself. Yoga was about the physical “workout.” I definitely felt calmer, and it was refreshing to be disconnected from the world in those 75-90 minutes. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that yoga made my skin look good, lessened my back pain and toned my abs. Hello, ego! Even if unintentionally, I was approaching my yoga mat with the same attitude with which I would practice Zumba or kickboxing. I didn’t live yoga off the mat, which meant the transformation was all external and my mind wasn’t getting purified.
But as I got older and became a yoga teacher myself, things changed. I understood true yoga was so different from the vigorous asanas I had been chasing in New York studios. From completing a Vinyasa yoga teacher training to trauma-sensitive yoga training to AyurYoga (yoga using Ayurvedic principles), I started to focus on the mind-body connection and noticed how all of this impacted my creativity, productivity, and relationships.
My practice became sacred and internal. I felt the change in my attitude. The day my clients and colleagues started to say, “Calm” was the first word that came to their minds when they thought of me, I knew I was on the right path. Frankly, I wasn’t always calm. Yoga has helped me find my center, even on days I am hit by a storm. Yoga is about the “work-in.” How you live, breathe, behave, think, and navigate yourself both on and off the mat. How you are with yourself and others. Witnessing how seasons, imbalances, moods, and mindset impact our practice. How we show up to our jobs, relationships, work, creativity, and ourselves. It’s about leaving the ego out the door and staying grounded no matter what comes our way. It’s not just about being flexible on the mat but about being flexible in life.
I spoke with three women in very different careers and geographic locations who have teaching and practicing yoga in common. They shared why they show up to yoga daily.
According to one of my favorite yoga teachers, Zoe Isaacson, who is also an ESL teacher, and is based out of New York’s Finger Lakes region, as well as Queens, NY, “Ten years ago I was looking for an interesting way to complement a workout. I would sporadically take yoga classes, but it wasn’t until a class in Brooklyn in 2011 that I became dedicated. The mental clarity and steadiness that I felt after a class was new for me and I wanted to share this with others.”
For Isaacson, yoga has been steadiness, her rock, her place to come back to.
“It has been truly one of the few things that I have stayed committed to. It is a gift to see the same students come back to practice,” she said.
Rachel Boaz, a nurse and fitness instructor, lives in Friendswood, Texas, relied on yoga heavily during the pandemic.
“I actually began to practice yoga more,” she said. “I knew I needed to stay grounded and remain present (and not focus on the unknown of the virus/pandemic/situation). Of course, the studio was closed, but thankfully they offered Zoom classes. So it was also a way to stay connected. I practiced on my own as well just to keep my mind healthy. It was difficult, but I’m grateful I had the tools I needed, especially since I was treating so many people, including other health care workers for psychological issues related to COVID.”
Boaz fell in love with yoga and the associated experience when she showed up to support a friend who was opening her own studio. Yoga has helped her navigate a transitional time in her life.
“I wanted to share that life changing experience with others,” she said. “It has taught me to be mindful, safe and peaceful in any situation, not just the yoga mat. During class I feel completely broken down and reborn. I breathe. I carry that over to everything in my life.”
Rita King, a yoga expert from Spring Lake, Michigan, has a hectic work schedule, one that calls for a lot of travel.
“I began practicing yoga to balance my body from long-distance running and quickly learned as I came back to my mat each time that yoga was much more than just a workout,” she said. “It helped balance my body and mind. I joined yoga teacher training in hopes to learn more about myself and my own practice and found out in the process that I love to teach, and I wanted to bring the benefits to yoga to as many people as I could.”
For Rita, yoga has brought balance in all areas of her life. “It teaches me each day to remain in the present moment and enjoy my journey in this life,” she added.
Whether you are a CEO or a woman in STEM or a business owner or a teenager figuring out college options or a homemaker or an entrepreneur… Yoga can help lower stress, decrease secretion of cortisol, reduce anxiety, may help lower inflammation and depression, and improve the overall quality of your life.
“Calming the mind is yoga. Not just standing on the head.” ~ Swami Satchidananda