10 Reasons to Spend Your Finite Fitness Time Doing Yoga (Part II)

You can find Part I of the blog post here with the first 5 reasons for doing yoga during your fitness time. To round out our list, here are reasons 6 - 10: 

6.  It's Counter Cultural - Yoga is best experienced when practicing without competition, expectation, or judgement.

Without Competition: From an early age, we're programmed to compete and to win. We want to finish first in Candyland, Uno, and Monopoly. We want to be picked first in recess and get perfect scores on our spelling tests. As we grow older, we not only want to make the sports team or the musical audition, we want to excel and be recognized for our performances. Even further along, we want to go to that top-tier university, secure that amazing job over other candidates,  land that next promotion, steal that big account away from our competitor, drive the bigger or faster car (relative to other cars on the road), or live in that posh zip code. Whether it's at play, at school, or at work, or in our social lives, we want to be comparatively better than others. In this sometimes vicious cycle of competition, our achievements come at another's expense; and our losses (and subsequent disappointments) become the fodder for another's glory. 

~Tao Te Ching, verse 8

~Tao Te Ching, verse 8

~Deborah Adele, Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice

~Deborah Adele, Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice

Practicing yoga is a chance to break away - or take a break - from this rat race; and we get the most out of our time by doing so in a non-competitive manner - focusing only on what we are doing.  If we bring along our competitive spirit to our yoga mat, we can not only lose our focus, but even worse, we risk injury.  Feed off the energy of others in the yoga room; exchange it even and send some positive vibes their way.  But keep your focus on your own mat and your own journey - and you can experience yoga's great spoils without letting them go spoiled in petty competition. 

Without Expectation: If you're preparing for a long distance race, you may have expectations about what your finish time will be. You'll likely base your prediction on your practice run times and how you performed in other similar races.  The clock is used as a practice  tool to help forecast your expectations of performance on race day. Yoga has no such events and therefore requires no such tools. I suppose I could use a stopwatch to see how many sun salutations you could complete in 1 hour, or grab a goniometer to measure the angle of your seated forward fold over time. These measurement methods, however, would be both interruptive to the flowstate of your practice and counterproductive to the yoga principle of practicing without expectations. Here's an obvious truth: when you repeatedly take steps in the right direction toward your destination, you can be confident of getting closer - if not arriving altogether. The same is true with your yoga practice. Your regular practice will bring results; some reasonable, others surprising. Why not practice without expecting them to come about in a some arbitrary time frame? Why let unnecessary expectations rob us of our necessary experience? When we expect a certain result,  we make room for complacency or disappointment. Exceeding our expectations may prompt us to rest on our laurels while falling short can bring dejection. Both scenarios are unnecessary and avoidable. The Chinese Philosopher Lao Tzu put it this way, "Success is a dangerous as failure...whether you go up the ladder or down it, your position is shaky. When you stand with your two feet on the ground, you will always keep your balance." 

 "Here's an obvious truth: when you repeatedly take steps in the right direction toward your destination, you can be confident of getting closer - if not arriving altogether. The same is true with your yoga practice. Your regular practice will bring results; some reasonable, others surprising. Why not practice without expecting them to come about in a some arbitrary time frame?"

 

Without Judgement: It can be easy to be critical of others. We may not like that funky smell in the yoga room. We may think that girl's outfit is ridiculous. We may think the teacher is way too new-agey woo-woo, too damn happy, or too pretentious for our tastes. The list could go on and on. But as easy as it is to judge others, it can be even easier to be judgemental towards ourselves. We may be self critical for not getting enough sleep. We may think our muscles are tighter than they should be. Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that [fill in the blank] last night for dinner. Why is my breath so labored? Why won't my thoughts just shut up? This list could also go on. It's easy to see how external or internal judgements can rob us of what could otherwise be a wonderful experience. Judgements creep up in yoga - sometimes not so quietly. When they do, let them come on the inhale, but let them leave on the exhale as you recommit to an intention of practicing yoga without judgement.

Making progress in these 3 areas is hard work - because going against our culture is hard work. The good news is that each time you come to your mat,  you can become more aware of their influence and can start living life without comparison, expectation, and judgement - one breath at a time - one yoga session at a time. Soon, what takes repeated conscious effort on your mat will seep into your subconscious off your mat, and you'll start to notice the changes in your inner dialogue where your life happens - where it really matters. 

7.     It's a deep, deep ocean to swim in. Unlike some of those other gym activities that can bring you closer to health, yoga has a very long lineage with all sorts of interesting facets that go well beyond the physical postures you'll learn in class. While Zumba is relatively new on the scene, yoga has a storied history that goes back thousands of years.  Your spin class may get your heart pumping, but does it have its own unique philosophical and metaphysical system?  Boot Camp sessions have a reputation for shedding pounds, but you won't find a developed ethical code of conduct there. Swimming is great for building cardiovascular endurance, but does it come with it's own "sacred" language? Yoga even has dietary recommendations that come from the Ayurvedic traditions - yoga's sister science.

 

"Keep an open mind AND be critical, discerning, and thoughtful. Just because it's ancient, foreign, or interesting, doesn't make it true. Likewise, just because it's prescientific, nebulous, and strange doesn't make it false."

 

The physical postures in yoga are a great place to start your journey inward and eastward, and by all means, stay there and relish it. You'll find there's plenty there to discover. But if you're curiosity gets the best of you, as mine did, you can and should dive deeper. My advice, should you wish to explore yoga's depths? Keep an open mind AND be critical, discerning, and thoughtful. Just because it's ancient, foreign, or interesting, doesn't make it true. Likewise, just because it's prescientific, nebulous, and strange doesn't make it false. Not all knowledge is necessary, however. These other aspects of yoga are only of value if they make you a healthier, kinder, and more thoughtful human being. You could be a preeminent yoga scholar quoting Sanskrit passages backwards from memory in a handstand, amassing honorary degrees and decorations, but without using this knowledge of yoga to make you better and make the world better, what good would it be? What purpose would it serve? 

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

The 8 Limbs of Yoga

8.       It Feels Great! Your body will become stronger and more supple with repeated yoga practice, that's no secret. What's even more amazing is that all that functional movement and all that deep intentional breathing can actually change your brain chemistry, making you less prone to depression and anxiety. Sure personal testimonies and anecdotes will back me up here, but objective studies (like this one and this one) have shown that yoga causes a significant increase in brain gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. This means not only will your body feel better, but so will your state of mind, and outlook on life. The best part is that yoga is a completely natural high that you give yourself simply by breathing and moving.

yoga feels good.jpg

 

9.   It is Meditative - There are lots of ways to meditate. You could go for a mindful walk or run, surf some waves, crochet a scarf, or play a musical instrument. You could pray or chant, sing or dance, kiss or make love, or just sit and be. All of these activities, when done in that transcendental flow state, transport your mind fully into your present experience where seemingly nothing else exists - past or future. Yoga is also one of these activities. My students often comment that our session seemed like a time warp where their sense of time eluded them and they were surprised to discover the ride was over. This is a common response in meditative activities. How could you (and why would you?) notice the grip of time when fully immersed in your meditative flow experience? We've all heard in the news, from our healthy friends, and from our doctors that meditation is good for us. Groundbreaking research at Harvard Medical School has shown meditation to not only de-stress and gently coax your body's Relaxation Response  to come online (see graphic below); but more recently, it also alters your genetic expressions, making you less prone to sickness and disease in the future. This is all great stuff in theory, but often harder in practice. Finding a proper space or time to fully experience ourselves can be near impossible in the midst of our hectic and busy lives. Enter yoga. One of my goals as a yoga teacher is to routinely create and hold a safe space for you to move and meditate so then you can experience relaxation and healing. 

 

10.    It’s Efficient.  A former roommate of mine was an Uber driver in LA.  He navigated through traffic on the notorious highways in his Toyota Prius - an automobile esteemed for its  fuel efficiency. What Prius owners put into their fuel tanks allows for a positively disproportionate amount of mileage than what we're accustomed to. This loyal and proud bunch of drivers get a lot of bang for their fuel buck. Yoga is also a way to get a lot of bang for your buck . It's both efficient as a whole - and in part. For example, a well balanced yoga practice inevitably brings strength, flexibility, balance, tranquility, greater lung capacity, enhanced creativity, and improved cardiovascular, digestive, and sleep patterns, the list could go on. As a whole yoga is efficient in that what you will put into it in terms of time, effort, energy, and money will yield even much greater benefits in health and well being. Yoga is also efficient  in part. In the pose below, you can see just a few of the areas being nurtured by just a single posture (which feels great enough to have become one of my favorites). Yoga: So many benefits, from so tiny an investment.

Hero Pose (Screaming Toe Pose variation) with arm bind

Hero Pose (Screaming Toe Pose variation) with arm bind

So there you go - 10 reasons to spend some of your fitness time doing yoga. (The first 5 reasons are here). Now I know you'll do other activities besides yoga. I expect you too. I want you too.  I do too. I love to bike ride, run, hike, swim, lift weights, dance, wrestle, and do calisthenics. Yoga makes me more capable in these other activities while preventing injury and boosting recovery time. Yoga has become for me a primary, while all those other activities are now supplementary. All told, the variety of activities help keep my body strong and my mind sharp. While other activities will come and go for me, yoga will be my mainstay, my solace, my chicken dinner, my mistress for many reasons you now know of - and many you may not.