But my heart just wasn’t in it.
You want to know why I do the physical practice of yoga? It may not be for the reasons you think.
I do yoga to help me get through the week. It’s no secret that I have multiple anxiety disorders (OCD, panic disorder, generalized anxiety). But recently I’ve been diagnosed with Bipolar 1, which makes a lot of sense given my hugely productive upswings and staggeringly apathetic lows.
But no matter what mood I’m in when I get to the mat, by the time class is over I’ve moved back toward the baseline, back toward feeling like everything is going to be OK.
It isn’t magic. I looked it up, because I fear being duped and appreciate scientific evidence. Yoga really does change your brain chemistry, if you’re paying attention. It’s the conscious act of placing your attention on the experience of moving and being still that
- initiates the process of flushing out stress chemicals,
- provokes the release of serotonin and GABA and a bunch of other feel-good neurotransmitters, and
- activates those parts of the brain responsible for feelings of peaceful equilibrium as well as patience, empathy, compassion, creativity, and the ability to concentrate.
Caveat: it works best if you move . . . very . . . slowly.
I say some weird stuff in class because of this connection between feeling the physical sensations of the present moment and the mental effects of practicing yoga. This is why I say:
- Stay in your body.
- Feel your whole body: front, back, left, and right.
- Be aware of the stretch, and on another level be aware of your entire body.
I say all this craziness and other stuff to remind us (myself as much as everybody else in the room) to “stay embodied,” which is another odd thing I say. Because staying aware of being embodied is the trick to why yoga feels like magic.
So that’s why I do yoga. The rest is bonus. Sure, it makes it so my body hurts less when I wake up in the morning. Sure, I’m more flexible than a whole lot of other women in their mid-40s. Sure, my lung capacity is huge, I can open my own pickle jars, and I feel secure standing on my tiptoes reaching for stuff on the top shelf. There’s no doubt that a physical yoga practice helps maintain us physically. So would a lot of other types of exercise.
But what matters to me is being kind and present with my family and friends. And without yoga, my brain gets tangled in knots. Yoga smooths it out. That’s why I teach what might be the slowest (non-yin or restorative) class in town. That’s why I say strange things like “Feel your skin.”
There are other classes, other teachers, other styles, that serve other purposes. And I would absolutely recommend them if you want to sweep through the beautiful flows of sun salutes or gain mastery of the more challenging acrobatic poses.
But if you want to practice slowing down, being present, and changing your outlook, at first temporarily and then maybe even lastingly, you should check out my classes at Shall We Dance.
Now, how do I fit that onto a flier?