What Yoga Has Taught Me

Sapna Doshi, Ph.D. - 25th Jan 2023

30 days of Yoga.

About a month ago, I pulled out my yoga mat and dedicated myself to doing an hour a day for 30 days as a way to try to heal my back. Prior to starting on this yoga journey, I had been doing some more rigorous home exercises and must have done some workout that my back did not agree with. That combined with working from home, doing a very sedentary job, and the cold winter weather setting in, I probably had never been so sedentary in my life. I don't think my body was used to that and my back let me know that living in these extremes was not good for me. 

I always want to practice what I preach and I began thinking about my values as it related to my body. I'm always talking to clients about living life in line with their values. Well, after thinking about it, I wanted to commit to my value of taking time to connect with my body by moving it in ways that felt healing vs. punishing. We only get one body and I want to do right by mine. 

Here are some of the things I learned in my 30 days of committing to healing my body through movement: 

1. I learned that every day there were different parts of my body that were tense. The tension moved. Sometimes it was in my arms. Sometimes in my back, and almost always in my hips and hamstrings. I had never been so in tune with where the tension in my body resided as when I was practicing yoga. 

2. I learned to experiment with yoga to see what different practices did for me. Sometimes I was very low energy and all I could do was restorative yoga. Other days, I was fully of energy and felt a strong desire to do a more active yoga practice. Sometimes I was low energy and wanted something to help me feel more energized and so an active yoga practice was helpful in that regard. Similarly, sometimes I was too high strung and a restorative yoga practice helped balance that feeling out for me. 

3. I store emotions in my body. Most of us do! But never was it so clear to me. About 4 of the 30 days, I burst into tears crying. I was shocked by this. I find it very difficult to feel my feelings despite knowing and talking to my clients about how vital this is to our well-being. There are many reasons for why feeling my feelings is hard which I won't get into in this post, but it's something I am constantly working towards noticing. I am always trying to find ways to connect more and feel my feelings more deeply. Yoga helped me release tension in my body and with that, emotion as well. I wasn't expecting it, but it was incredibly healing and cathartic. 

4. One of the most astounding things I noticed at the end of my 30 days was that my mental relationship with my body had also significantly improved. My body image was unlike ever before in my life. My actual physical body and physique did not change at all in the 30 days with the exception of being a little more flexible and holding less tension in my body. But I didn't notice as much judgement or attention placed on the perceived flaws of my body. I didn't feel like I had to fight my body. Instead, I felt deeply connected to it and without much mental effort, I was much more at peace with it. 

5. I learned that my body thanked me for the attention and kindness I devoted to it. A little past the 30 day mark, my back completely healed. I will not take this lesson for granted. 

6. I realized that setting the intention of spending one full hour on yoga daily for 30 days was helpful in some ways and unhelpful in other ways. I think there's a balance between not being too rigid and also committing to something regularly that we are not self motivated to do in order to feel the benefits and in order to overcome doubt, fear, etc. If I could have done it differently, I would have committed to connecting with my body through yoga for however many minutes I felt like. Introducing some level of flexibility with your goals is very important otherwise we get stuck in all-or-nothing patterns of behaviors which can keep us from connecting to what's most important to us. There were definitely some days I felt resentful of the 60 minutes and 30 days. There were other days I was really glad I stuck it out for 60 minutes and 30 days. Now I tend to try to focus on connecting with my body as often as I can in a healing way. The problem with 30 days is that it's short-term and I want this to be a long-term, life long commitment to my body. Now that I don't have a 30 day goal, I'm noticing there may be a few days in a row where I don't connect with my body through movement. Instead of getting down on myself, I do some of the most important work that ensures I figure this out for the long-term. I get curious about why I'm feeling blocked in taking action and I begin to think about small baby steps I can commit to taking to get back into connecting with my values. This work is the most important work for long-term change... not simply doing something for 30 days. 

One last thing I'll note is my personal connection with yoga. My grandfather used to practice yoga regularly in India. My father and uncles talked about how they used to make fun of my grandfather when they were younger when he did yoga. But later in life, my father and uncles have learned and valued the benefits of yoga in their own life. And now I am too. 

It's been disheartening to see how yoga can sometimes be twisted into an exercise regiment that is sold as a weight loss solution. It seems that every form of movement can be manipulated to fit the industry that profits over making people feel like they need to lose weight. So, when considering yoga apps and studios, I strongly encourage interviewing studios and evaluating what messaging you're getting from apps and instructors. Are you feeling pressure to lose weight? Are you made to feel bad because you're not doing it perfectly or not showing up enough? Are they accommodating and accepting of all shapes and sizes? Be selective. Find an app or studio or teacher that helps you connect with the healing benefits of yoga as described above. I personally use the Down Dog Yoga app and love it. Find what works best for you! 

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