by Jami Shapiro
Before I started practicing yoga, I was not in great shape. I started because I was sick of not feeling good in or about my body. Now, 1000+ classes later, my addiction/habit/love of yoga has changed everything I ever believed about my body, my ability and my mindset. These are some lessons I have learned from yoga:
Lesson #1 Timing is everything
I started a regular yoga practice 4 1/2 years ago. I had tried it years earlier, but it was not for me at the time. However, when we moved to California, there was a neighborhood studio that I passed by for two years until finally,...determined to get back in shape for my oldest daughter's bat mitzvah... I walked in the door and signed up for a month.
I’m not sure I loved it but I didn’t hate it. At the time, the studio was hot. I’d put my mat by the door and step out several times during the class. I worked my way up to staying but taking child’s pose frequently. After the month was over, yoga had become - sort of - a habit.
Yoga saw me through some very tough parenting years, starting a business and going through a divorce. I can’t even imagine how different those times would have been if I had not had yoga to fall back on.
When the kids were with their dad and my home was empty, yoga filled the void.
No matter what came into my life - good or bad, my mat became my “touchstone”. I cried on my mat…A LOT!!! I felt the warm tears during still poses flowing down my cheeks deeply. It also felt like God pointed me in yoga’s direction at a time I would most need it.
Lesson #2 - Sometimes one door closes but an even better one opens.
After that first month, I negotiated a membership deal paying for a full year in advance. Two or so months later, the studio closed and we merged with a gym that was not walking distance from my house and was not a yoga studio.
To say I was bummed was an understatement. I loved the convenience of a neighborhood studio but because I was locked in and noticing a difference in my body, I kept going.
Then SoulShine opened, and it was an even better studio. The classes weren’t hot, there was more space and the vibe changed. It’s hard to describe but it became a community and the people there became my support network.
Lesson #3 What you resist, persists.
I’m not sure when yoga switched for me from exercise for my body to lessons for my soul but slowly my practice started shifting my “Type A” control freak personality to the person I am now.
I absorbed so many inspirational messages shared by the teachers and my practice became a platform for so many metaphors.
Possibly the most significant lesson was how to surrender. There were some very uncomfortable poses and my mind eventually went from “no freaking way” to “I’m going to breathe into this pose and remain”. Like life off the mat, I realized the best way to get through the pain is just to “be” in it. I describe hard times to my girls as an opportunity to build resiliency muscles. You can’t build a muscle if it’s never exercised.
Lesson #4 Listen to your body.
One of the best things that could have happened was the original injury I sustained during my first attempts at yoga more than 13 years ago. If I had been paying attention to my body instead of watching everyone else, I probably wouldn’t have been hurt. That reminder kept me “true” to my body and as a result think I also was able to chip away at a lot of my ego. During the course of my practice I injured my shoulder, developed tennis elbow, struggled with a hurt wrist and had another back injury from an unrelated occurrence.
Whatever came, I didn’t stop yoga but I did adjust my practice.
Lesson #5. It’s important to have a hobby.
For me having yoga means I always have a place to belong. My practice gets better and better and my athletic ability and flexibility continues to improve.
There are people in class 10 years older than I am who can do far more than I am able to. Improving my practice and building my poses gives me a goal. Sharing an interest with others also gives me a community of people where I can find a place to belong almost anywhere.
Lesson #6 If you don’t have your oxygen mask on, you can’t save anyone else.
Yoga is the one thing I make time for even when life is crazy. No matter where I am (physically or emotionally), At the same time, I am in the best shape of my life and I’m able to do things people younger than me can’t.
There are a lot of things in life we can't control and life rarely goes as planned. The only real choice any of us has is how we cope. You can stay stuck and unhappy or you can take one small step forward.