I’m sure that by now you’ve seen articles or shows talking about the benefits of yoga. They’ve been everywhere from Good Housekeeping to Dr. Oz. I’m not going to revisit the many physical benefits of this practice today. Instead, I’d like to tell you about one specific mental benefit of yoga that has truly changed how I relate to the world.
I am a recovering perfectionist. I come from a long line of planners, who like to have all the details arranged before beginning a project, a trip, or even a day at the beach. This required a lot of effort, but had a way of making me feel secure. As if planning ahead would create a script of how the day would go. Of course, it can’t do that. Sick kids, weather, a broken garage door, all of these things have disrupted sets of well-made plans. And of course they (and a million other unforeseeable events) will disrupt them again. I had been known to turn into a giant raging stress monster if things didn’t go the way I anticipated. I couldn’t let go of my attachment to how I wanted things to be. Thoughts such as “if only this hadn’t happened” raced through my mind, and I would grieve for the day that I had planned. The silly thing is, that day only ever existed in my head. Imagine me grumping around in a funk over an imagined scene, instead of adapting and living the actual scene in front of me! Maybe you’ve been there, too?
Now, I’m not going to say that yoga has magically cured me of this tendency. But, with long-term regular practice, I have seen big improvements. What yoga has done, is to force me to let go of what I want to have happening, and accept what is actually happening. The change takes time and effort, because I’ve learned this by going to classes when I would rather have slept in. I’ve been in classes focused on strengthening the core when there’s just about anything I’d rather do than that. I’ve been in classes where the music is too loud, or too New Age-y, or where the person next to me must have bathed in onions the night before. Most of the time, all of these completely uncontrollable factors have gone from creating an all-consuming irritability, to barely registering on my radar as I move through the poses of the class.
I’ve also had to learn to live with the things in my own body that I can’t control. I have to accept the strength and balance that I have today, instead of wishing I had that of the yoga rock star on the next mat. I’ve had to learn that I will fall many times, but what matters is that I get up again. I no longer look around and worry what people think of my poses. Nor do I care what their practice looks like. I am practicing for myself, no one else.
So, the reason I keep practicing yoga is what it keeps teaching me about acceptance and non-attachment. Remain peaceful and calm in the midst of adversity. Stay present and breathe. This boat pose shall pass. Do your own yoga because everybody else is taking care of their own. In real life, all these lessons translate to a kinder, more relaxed attitude. I’m far from perfect, but the little details don’t have the power to make or break my experience anymore. I’m still working on full acceptance of changes, but I know I’ve come a long way. These are just some of the ways yoga has benefitted my life so far. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years of practice will bring.