Yoga people are always talking about how yoga changed them. Words like ‘transformative’ are thrown around, and that’s a big word. So if feel like you’re on the un-transformed side of yoga practice and wondering if it’s really true that yoga will, at some point, change you — will it?
Yoga is not magic and you might not have an epiphany on your yoga mat.
That’s not to say you definitely won’t have a life-changing moment mid-practice; but if you expect that to happen, you might be disappointed.
But yoga does change you. It may not be dramatic and you might not notice straight away. It’s gradual; the kind of change that you realise has occurred one day, but can’t pinpoint when it happened. And that’s a good thing. Gradual change is genuine and sustainable.
Changing slowly means that you have time to make sense of it all, and keep your feet on the ground at the same time. Here are five reasons yoga changes you (even if you don’t notice it happening!).
1. It Teaches You To Find Steadiness
One of the key principles in yoga practice is sthira, or steadiness. As you move through postures or sit still in meditation, you learn to find that sweet, steady, comfortable strength that allows you to be still.
And as you become more steady in yoga you become more steady everywhere.
Standing in the middle of a crowd of people you’ll be able to spread your weight evenly between your feet and be still. And that’s powerful: being able to stand still and steady wherever you are will give you a sense of confidence.
2. You Learn To Move Your Body To Move Your Mind
In your physical yoga practice you’ll learn that you can change the way you feel emotionally by moving your body. You’ll learn this through experience, not through being told.
You’ll find that a strong, dynamic yoga practice can shake off a sluggish mood. And you’ll learn that a slow, restorative practice can calm your nervous system and bring you back to yourself after a stressful day.
Because you learn this through physical experience, you’ll really know it. And you’ll start to use it: you’ll have the tools to change your state of mind by changing what you’re doing with your body.
3. It Gives You The Skills To Be Present
Cultivating breath awareness and body awareness has the powerful effect of bringing you into the present moment. In yoga, you practise concentrating on what’s happening right here, right now.
When you’re having one of those days when nothing feels interesting and you’re staring into space all the time, your yoga practice will bring you back. You’ll notice your feet. You’ll notice your breath. And you’ll bring yourself into the present moment, and notice the tiny details that make this present moment completely unique.
Present-moment awareness allows us to appreciate the small things, but it also changes the way we handle challenges and the way we interact with others. When becoming aware of the present moment becomes a habit, you’ll start to use it as a way of reimagining conflicts and noticing the effect that what you are doing in the present moment has on other people.
You won’t be perfect, and you won’t always be diplomatic. But you’ll be better able to acknowledge your part in the challenges you face.
4. You Get To Know Your Patterns
Physical yoga practice teaches you to notice patterns in your movement and in the way you hold your body, and patterns in your mind in relation to this.
For example, you might learn that when you’re confronted with a posture or transition that feels scary to you, you retreat from it. Or you bury the fear and approach it with abandon. Or, you distract yourself by thinking about anything other than what is happening right now.
As you learn to recognise patterns, you begin to find ways to change them. Slowly, this translates to your life beyond the yoga mat: you notice patterns in your thoughts, and in your words, and in the way you move around the world.
Many of the patterns you hold will be positive; things that support you in living your life the way you want to. But some patterns will be less supportive, and will hold you back. As you discover these patterns, you’ll begin to notice every time they crop up — and over time, you’ll start to catch yourself when they do.
Awareness of patterns allows you to let them go when you need to.
5. It Creates Space
Yoga practice creates space. Physically, your muscles become longer and stronger. Your ability to move freely and comfortably grows. You release tension in areas where you’ve held tension for years.
And mentally, with this physical space comes headspace.
Your body feels more free, and you feel more free. You can think more clearly. When you can’t think clearly, you have a practice to turn to which gives you the space to wring out all of the muddled up brain-mush and find a bit of clarity.
You’ll feel open to whatever comes your way.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Izzy Arcoleo is a yoga and meditation teacher and a writer, currently based in London. She specializes in the relationship between yoga and creativity, using her background in social anthropology to explore how movement and meditation practices can support creative practices, by developing confidence as well as practical methods for working through obstacles.