The Gifts of Yoga, Part 1
Top Three Gifts of Yoga for the Beginning Student
As my years of involvement with yoga grow, I start to see that the gifts of yoga change along with the stage of your relationship to the practice. For instance, the benefits I get from practicing yoga now are different than when I first started about ten years ago.
Of course, each yogi is unique in his or her path and what he/she will experience along the way. But it seems many of the beginning students I've taught in both Bikram yoga and introductory Ashtanga yoga classes are going through some of the same stages I did when I began yoga. In the beginning, the gifts can be exciting and new, sometimes small, and sometimes large. Here are the top three benefits I think many people experience when they first start to practice yoga.
1. Gaining new mobility. This is a fun one, and I think one of the big reasons people start yoga—they want to be able to move better and have bodies that don't hurt! To me, yoga is the natural antidote to the modern Western lifestyle that revolves around sitting many hours per day and just being sedentary in general. With backbends, forward bends, lateral bends, and twists, yoga helps to restore your natural ranges of motion. Just a few weeks of consistent practice and no doubt you’ll start to feel the difference in your body. Being able to feel the changes YOUR hard work created is very empowering.
2. Reconnecting to breath. This is one that may take a while to really “get,” but bringing your focus to your breath for even just a few moments in class can be a powerful experience. Focusing on your breath has a way of uniting body and mind and creating a meditative experience. As a new student, you may only get glimpses of this at first, but your awareness will grow and grow and it will strengthen that mind-body union and your mental focus—something that is useful outside the yoga room as well.
3. Connecting to a positive community. I recently had a student come to class who felt rather discouraged and was hard on himself because he couldn’t “do” all the postures like some of the other more experienced students could. It took me a second to figure out what was happening with him, because the yoga community in general is very much NOT focused on what you “can do” and I was no longer used to thinking in those terms. After I recognized what was going on, I felt compassion, because I used to feel the same when I started. But in general, I think the yoga world is a very non-competitive, supportive environment. It can be really refreshing to connect to a group of people who are like that—people who think it is awesome that you even showed up to class to go on this journey of self-improvement with them. You may hear it a lot from other yogis, but it’s true—it doesn’t matter where you’re starting from, just that you’re there and willing to put in the work.
Stay tuned next week when I’ll talk about the gifts of yoga for the student who has been practicing for several years--at least as I've started to experience them!