Did you know that 36 million people practiced yoga in 2015? And, according to the Yoga Alliance, 80 million more Americans will likely try yoga for the first time this year. Yoga may be an ancient discipline, but it clearly stands the test of time, becoming more and more accessible for all. And while it is becoming big business, it is so much more than the statistics reveal.
The physical practice of yoga is typically what brings people to their mat for the first time. Increased flexibility, energy, reduced stress and an overall good feeling are just a few benefits of a regular practice. However, as a teacher, I will tell you there is so much more to yoga than the physical. Like most students, I began with the physical practice, searching for a way to release stress and hopefully get rid of some chronic back pain. It not only met those expectations but offered me something that had been missing – a place to connect with my true self, which is something this type-A, people-pleaser, perfectionist never took the time to do. I immediately fell into the category of “you’ve got to be kidding me!” yogis. At the time I would have rather had someone tell me I had to stand on my head with one toe in my ear than tell me I had to connect with myself! But because I experienced so much physical relief, I committed myself to coming back to my mat. My biggest struggle was quieting my mind long enough to get through the final savasana pose. I found myself with one eye open guessing what time it was and waiting impatiently for the teacher to ring the bell, indicating we were finished. But again, I was getting much needed relief so I kept going. Then it happened! My physical practice had taken me to the point of challenging my body in ways I never thought possible, but one day at the end of my practice, I began to cry. The teacher had noticed, as I laid in savasana pose (the final pose of a yoga practice), that my hands were clenched together. She walked over to me and gently touched my hands and then peeled – no, more like pried – my hands apart and laid them to my sides. At first, my thoughts were, well that’s it for her, how dare she. Then after the chimes sounded and we made our way out of our pose, I sat up and the waterworks began to flow, uncontrollably! As everyone was preparing to leave, I just sat there on my mat, hiding my face so no one would notice. The teacher walked over to me and came down to my mat and offered a hug. As she hugged me, I cried even more. So many things I needed to release in that moment. Emotion from the loss of my Dad, changes in my career, growth of my sons, all of it came to the surface. And at the forefront of all of it was self-discovery.
I had come back to my mat day after day for the physical benefits. What I learned was that through the physical practice, I was peeling layers and layers of build-up off of me, physically, mentally and emotionally. The armor of “my truth” or at least what I let the world tell me was my truth. The roles, the demands, the insecurities, doubts and beliefs about myself. It was an awakening. It was self-discovery for the first time in my first 40 years of life. I began to immerse myself deeper into the practice of yoga, not just the physical, but the emotional. It uncovered me and I felt free! It was a journey that I knew would continue for the rest of my life, given that I spent 40 years piling all that “stuff” on top of me.
For many, yoga may always be about the physical practice, but for many, it becomes so much more. It is a journey of a lifetime. A journey of coming back to the mat to unplug from the world and reconnect to our self. It is the union of the body, mind and spirit.