8 years ago, I walked into my first yoga class. The class was at Path Yoga in Kingston, and was taught by Carolyn, the studio’s owner and director. She suggested that I might want to try a beginner’s class first, but I was having none of that (as many of you can imagine). I went straight into a level 1, and haven’t looked back since.
People often ask me what the benefits of yoga are. Despite being a yoga teacher, this question perplexes me; it’s a very personal question for me, and one I don’t always want to answer truthfully. I usually just go with the standard answer of increased flexibility, calmness, and strength. But really, for me, yoga has been so much more. It’s hard for me to qualify all the ways that yoga has changed my life. It’s been a profound change for the better, and it’s almost embarassing to explain what I used to be like and how things have changed. I also worry about coming off as self-righteous, so I shy away from talking about it. However, it’s time. This post is dedicated to talking about the changes that yoga has brought about in my life, both tangible and esoteric.
Of course, the first things that I noticed were physical changes. I’d had several bad accidents, and was suffering from a bad knee and ankle on the left side, and severe back pain in the SI region on the right side. The ankle pain cleared up within the first year, and the back has been pretty much fine since about 2007, while the knee still acts up every once in a while. While practicing yoga, I developed a few injuries, but in hindsight, I believe that these were merely manifestations of my body working through existing issues, such as old scar tissue, severe tightness from an injury, etc. Generally, when one issue resolves, it rarely becomes a problem again.
Oh yeah: I’ve also become more flexible and strong.
Ross said to me the other day that I used to describe yoga as a physical practice, and that only in the last few years have I really started to use more philosophic terms to describe the practice. I was definitely aware of and interested in the “other” stuff….I just don’t think that I had the vocabulary to explain it. So here goes.
I think the single biggest benefit of practice has been the aspect of working on the yamas and niyamas (moral codes and self-purification and study). I can’t say necessarily that any one of them have affected me more than others, but they have led to changes in my behaviour in very tangible ways. For instance, the moral codes have substantially changed my relationship with consumption.
When I first started yoga, I was a typical consumer. I bought a lot of things, updated my wardrobe regularly, went shopping when I wasn’t feeling very good to improve my mood, and spent a lot of time thinking about the things that I would buy when I had the money (or credit) available. Yoga has taught me language to describe this behaviour: grasping and possessiveness; other aspects of the yamas and niyamas have also influenced my behaviour and understanding of it.
For me, the idea is that by continually buying things, I’ve increased my suffering. My imagination for the things that I think I need and desire is limitless, but my resources are not; consequently, by buying things and feeding into that habit, I increase my own suffering. Looking at it this way, it’s sad to think that we’re pushed to always be buying more things when none of it will make us happy. So over time, I’ve gradually adapted my consumer behaviour: I try to ask myself if I really need what I’m considering buying (truthfulness), and if I do, what I can do to lessen the impact on the environment or the people that make the products (non-harming), why I really need the product (trying to practice restrain, and checking in with my ego). Further, I force myself to realize that even if I need the product now, I won’t always have it. Things happen: things break, are stolen, or need to be sold.This helps me practice non-possessiveness, and all of these practices have helped me reduce the suffering that is caused by consumerism, not to mention my financial health.
Many of those same principles have also helped me identify negative patterns in the rest of my life, such as in relationships, at work etc. I’ve developed better stress management techniques (amazing what a little deep breathing can do for you!), am getting better at communicating more clearly both with my partner and in other relationships in my life (truthfulness helps here!), and I’ve started to let go of the guilt that I think plagues so many of us in our lives. What is guilt, anyway? I’ve yet to figure it out, but I have figured out that it has little to no place in my life, that’s for sure! I also eat more mindfully, and really notice how the food that I eat affects my health.
So there you have it – I could go on and on about the other changes in my life outlined above, but I wanted to talk about the consumerism one particularly today, because it’s both the hardest one for me, and the one that has made the biggest difference in my life.
So all that to say: Happy yoga-versary to me! I’m 8!