When we think of yoga, many people automatically think of the asanas (poses) on the mat. As you develop your yoga practice, you start to realise that there is something more than just bending your body into various positions or stretching the muscles. In this article we will explore how you can develop a healthy relationship with yourself through yoga.
Listen to your body
As a yoga teacher I encourage all my students to listen to their body. What do I mean by this? I mean to become aware, really aware, of the feelings, emotions, sensations and messages that we receive on a second-by-second basis from our body.
When we first start tuning in, it can be challenging and overwhelming. However, with practice, you can start to differentiate between what is coming from the mind or from the body. For me, this is one of the most important elements we can learn during a yoga practice. The Western culture places a high value on thinking, learning and education of the mind. Yoga can help us to bring a balance to this approach. It can bring us out of our mind (the thinking, chattering mind) and into our body.
Learn to release tension and stress
As you practice yoga on your mat, moving or holding each pose, you can start to observe where you hold tightness or tension. For many people, tension is held in the shoulders and upper back. Many of our guests also hold tension in their tummy and/or hips. As you go deeper into yourself, into the present moment, you can notice when and where you hold tension in your body. From there you can learn to release and let go.
Release can be done through breathing into the areas. You can imagine the breath coming into the areas of tightness and as you exhale you can imagine the breath taking away the tension. Release can also come through acceptance – sometimes simply accepting something means we can drop the pressure that we place on ourselves which can means we can relax.
Emotional release and acceptance
Sometimes I encourage students to be open to any emotions that arise during the yoga class – be they anger, frustration, joy, boredom, tiredness, or peace. As you observe your emotions in yoga, you can see how each emotion will arise, peak and then drop away. It is our minds that become attached to these emotions and prolong them as we obsess and review. By accepting the emotion – watching, without judgement, without craving or aversion – the emotion will pass by. As you practice this in yoga, you can develop a strong inner muscle, which we can flex off the mat, to accept or release emotions as they arise in our everyday life. You realise you can choose how to react to situations. Instead of immediately going to anger, frustration or “doing”, you can observe and choose to act in a different way. You will soon notice a change in your relationships with yourself and others.
I personally have found myself to be emotional in some yoga poses or classes – I remember the emotional release I found in my first savanasa, when I found myself crying. It was unexpected (I was in the gym with 30 others) and I was a little embarrassed! Over the years it has happened at other times and I have started to welcome this experience. I have also seen many students finding release, with tears, as they hold certain positions or find deep relaxation in savasana. If you can open yourself up to the emotion and to the experience, the body will allow it to release.
Connect with inner you and inner strength
As you learn to connect to your body, your inner voice can start to speak up. When you come to your mat you start to notice that some days you need a strong, flowing practice and other days a quiet restorative one. You start to recognise that each day is different – and that each day you might be different. You can experience, and learn to accept, this on your mat. Then these learnings can come off the mat and into everyday life.
In yoga classes, we often talk about developing core strength, or working to develop the strength in your body through yoga. Yoga is also great for building your inner strength – the inner resolve. In our earlier article “finding your inner strength through yoga”, we look at how yoga practice can help you to find that inner strength.
Be kind to yourself
In yoga, we learn to practice with kindness. Many of us can offer kindness to others but are incredibly strict or hard on ourselves. In my classes, I encourage students to learn when they need to rest – instead of holding downward dog and hating each second, they can come to child´s pose. Practicing this attitude of kindness, softness, towards yourself on your yoga mat can help you to develop this attitude of kindness in other areas of your life when you need to.
Finding a time to practice yoga can also be seen as carving out some personal time, some time for yourself, away from the everyday stresses or demands from our friends or families (or ourselves!). When I lived in London I cherished my 90-minute yoga class each Saturday as it gave me some space, dedicated time for me.
Balanced body image
Bodies come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Many women seem to think that they will be happy when they reach a certain weight, size or shape. This means we delay being “happy” until we reach that weight. And sometimes, when we reach the weight that we decided we want to be, happiness remains elusive, because we then decide our hips are the “wrong” size or shape, or not open enough, or we don´t have a “yoga body”. (This phrase makes me giggle. There is no such thing as a “yoga body” because each person is unique. You can have your own yoga body – relaxed shoulders, walking tall, strong core – but having your head printed onto an external image will only bring hardship).
Through practicing yoga, you can learn to accept yourself as you are, now. At the same time you might choose to start a diet, or decide to take more exercise. But my body at this moment, is my body at this moment. I only have one body. Choose to accept it.
You can read more about how yoga can help you to love your body in our recent article “love your body, love yourself”.
Develop a healthy relationship with yourself through yoga
You can learn to develop a healthy relationship with yourself through yoga by coming on a yoga retreat here at La Crisalida health and wellbeing retreats. We offer twice daily yoga classes, in various styles with different teachers. You can also read more about yoga on our health and wellbeing blog, including an article on creating your own yoga practice at home.