The Gifts of Yoga, Part 2
Top Three Gifts of Yoga for the Established Student—as told from my personal perspective.
Last week, I wrote a post about the Top Three Gifts of Yoga for the Beginning Student, which was based on my observations of having taught students new to yoga since 2007. This week, I can really only speak from my own personal experience of having practiced yoga for about a decade, and what yoga does for me at this point in my practice.
I have noticed the gifts yoga provides me now are vastly different from what they used to be. It is important to note that when I say I have practiced for a decade, only about two years of that have been Ashtanga yoga. Previously, I practiced Bikram yoga and focused almost exclusively on the physical benefits of practicing. I came to a point where I was curious about growth beyond the physical, and that was the time I found Ashtanga yoga. So though I personally have practiced “yoga” for about ten years, perhaps the “gifts” I get now are merely a function of the different discipline I am practicing. In other words, someone who starts off practicing Ashtanga yoga may realize these same benefits much earlier than I did in my yoga journey.
If you are a newer student, my intentions in sharing this with you are to give you a sneak peak of what you can look forward to in your practice, and perhaps lend insight into some of the esoteric aspects of yoga you may hear your teacher and other yogis talking about. If you’re an established student, I hope we can relate on some of these experiences!
Here are my top three gifts of yoga as I am now experiencing them:
1. Awareness of subtle movements within the body and the energetic body. When I started yoga, I was hyper-focused on doing the postures exactly “right.” I was very dialed in to the outward appearance of the pose (something that having mirrors in the classroom facilitates) and where the large, easily seen parts of the body such as the arm, the leg, the shoulder, and the hip were placed. This outward focus came at the cost of paying attention to what was going on internally. There are times where I still need to give that kind of focus to my form, but now I am starting to be able to tune into the internal body and make very small adjustments with fine motor control that I did not use to have. It is an amazing feeling when a part of your body that was previously asleep starts to wake up and realize its full potential in function and mobility. Even more fascinating is the awareness of the energetic body. This is somewhat harder for me to explain, as this is a newly budding awareness for me… But in some postures, I can feel lines of energy and how they flow throughout the body. For instance, in Adho Mukha Svanasana or Upward Facing Dog, the energy flows distinctly from the base of the spine to the top of the head (or at least it does when I remember not to squeeze my glutes too hard). I wasn't capable of this type of awareness in my earlier years of practice.
2. Inner Peace. This inward focus I am learning has the direct effect of greater inner peace. I’m not talking about the stress release you feel after any hard workout, but rather, the peace that comes from a deeply focused, meditative practice. I believe our true nature is a peaceful one; when I am able to turn inward during asana, this peace is what I find and connect to. The more you connect to your true nature in this way, the more you feel peace outside of the yoga room. This is a HUGE gift. As a side note, I think this is something all students new and established can experience--I just think it gets even better and more profound with time!
3. Courage to move past old blockages and be who I am becoming. The more time I spend doing the deep work of yoga, the more courage I gain to be what I am constantly asked to become: a higher version of myself. That is not to say that I am very far along the path or some amazingly evolved yogi—I am not. But I am a better version of myself than I was last year, and definitely the year before that. I have changed a lot, and many old habits and patterns have fallen to the wayside. Change is scary; it feels like death to the ego. But with yoga I am finding the courage to shed aspects of my ego that hold me back from being a better person. It is hard for me to explain exactly how yoga works to create this kind of change, but I think it has a lot to do with connecting to the inner peace that I mentioned above. That feeling of connection starts to feel more “right” to me than the trappings of the ego with which I am used to identifying.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a long way to grow in my understanding and much more to shed, but for the first time, I am realizing some of these deeper benefits of yoga and it is truly amazing! I hope other established yogis find joy in this reminder of all that yoga does for us, and inspires the new students out there to keep going with your practice—the best is yet to come.