How does yoga change you?

How does doing some exercises on a yoga mat change your life? Unless you are of the “burning bush” variety it is probably unlikely that doing yoga poses once in your life will have a large affect on it. It is doing them once most days consistently over a period of time that has made the difference for me. I am by no means perfect but I have become a greatly improved version of my old self.

Because I am a skeptic at heart, and require some proof before I believe something new, I didn’t start out thinking that yoga was going to have any change on my life. In fact, I didn’t really have any interest in changing. I was satisfied being my same fearful nervous self.

My first experience with yoga was at a class being held at my friends house. I originally declined her offer to attend the class saying it was for wimps but went anyway. I was amazed by the “magical” feeling I had right after doing some poses. That feeling had formed an impression in my mind and I thought that maybe if I did the poses again I would again feel magical. I went back to class and low and behold it was true.

The class at my friends house ended. I wanted again to experience some yoga magic but I was too shy, embarrassed and self conscious of my body to go to a public class. My friend gave me a home practice audio tape and suggested I listen and follow along. I tried to use the tape for awhile. Most times the practice didn’t go so well – I would get bored and find myself doing something else on the other side of the apartment not even realizing I had stopped doing the poses. After several failed attempts I eventually did follow along with one side of the hour long tape. I couldn’t believe I had actually done yoga at my apartment, by myself. I was proud so I did it a few more times and quickly realized that the tape was going to be the same every time I listened to it.

I got up the nerve to sign up for a class at a studio close to my apartment. I was used to hiding my body with baggy clothes and was nervous about being seen in public with some-what form fitting exercise clothes so I found a class at 7:30am because I thought there would be less people out on the streets at that hour. To my surprise no one laughed or pointed at me. The teacher who was looking at my body only ever commented about my knees caps being lifted, not about the shape of my body. This was a relief because I really liked doing the poses, wanted to learn more and knew I couldn’t do it on my own.

My home practice really started to pick up at this point. I loved practicing. The teacher said to do it every day so I did. I was getting up early in the morning to practice before work and it was making my day more bearable. My usual fearful and nervous self was getting smaller and smaller and a new more confident and lighter self was starting to appear.

A friend who knew I was taking class and practicing at home asked me to teach a class for the employees at her office. I said yes even though I was terrified and could hardly sleep the night before the first class. I felt outrageously awkward standing in front of people in my yoga shorts. They were all starring at me, waiting for me to tell them what to do. I was practicing at home and going to class but I didn’t know what I was supposed to say to students to get them to do a pose.

I signed up for my first teacher training. I flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan, by myself, and was so nervous that I had diarrhea and an upset stomach the first day. During that weekend I had to teach up on a stage in front of everyone else at the training. I was sweaty with nervousness and couldn’t breath. The teacher had to step in front of me to remind me to breath or my knees probably would have buckled beneath me. I couldn’t look at the other students and instead focused on the pattern on the ceiling tiles while trying to teach the tree pose. The peer teaching was horrendous while it was happening but when it was over I was so proud of myself for having survived it.

I had always thought of myself as too shy to talk to people. I loved and honored the practice of Iyengar Yoga so much that I had to find a way to get over this shyness. At first I just pretended to be out going. I noticed that people responded by being more open and receptive toward me which in turn set me more at ease. I started to like interacting with people I didn’t really know. The pretending to be more out-going actually made me become more out-going.

So many ideas I had about myself (that I wasn’t good enough, that I was too shy, or that people were going to stare at my body and laugh) were being proven wrong over and over again the longer I was practicing and teaching. Now I can walk into a room full of 30 strangers, step to the front of the class (in my small yoga shorts!) and start teaching in a loud confident voice. My previously held belief that I am unable to change has been smashed. I am free. There are some residues of this older scared self that pop up here and there but through the practice of yoga I have learned to wait through some awkwardness knowing that it won’t last forever.

When your negative beliefs are proven wrong you are changed. Forever. And it all starts by stepping onto the mat and doing one yoga pose. If you stick with it long enough you will be able to see the change very clearly. You’ll be able to look back, compare your current self with your older self and it will be a relief. You’ll be proud. If someone as stubborn and fearful as myself can change, anyone can change.

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