How My Yoga Practice Has Transformed My Relationship with My Body and Mind
posted on January 12, 2021 | by Nicole Sheynin
I used to think sweaty intense workouts that left me in a breathless heap on the floor were the only ones that truly mattered. I thought the harder I pushed myself, the more I could silence my body’s signals and ultimately, the more control I would have over it.
It was the opposite of conscious movement because it was ruled not by attention to my body but by an arbitrary routine or number of reps. I did not know how to actually tune in to my body, how to listen to what it was asking for. Moreover, the constant silencing of bodily sensations translated to numbing out from my feelings and intuition too. I was addicted to social media and busyness because they took me out of my mind, a place I was terrified of venturing too deeply into.
When I first found yoga, I looked at it as another workout option, or an active rest day that would support my fitness goals. I thought I would benefit from a weekly stretch, and I enjoyed the challenge of a sweaty power yoga class. When the instructor would talk about marrying breath with movement, or when we would spend any more than 5 minutes in a seated post or in savasana, I would become antsy and uncomfortable. The invitation to get still and listen was lost on me because I spent so much energy in my day avoiding just that.
Everything changed for me in 2020. With the pandemic and quarantine, I was forced to spend much more time alone. For the first time, I had nowhere to run. External obligations and plans I had previously relied on to keep me distracted were no longer possible. More importantly, I noticed that the old coping mechanisms of busying my mind and numbing out of my feelings didn’t feel good. Spending too much time on Instagram felt draining, and my rigorous fast-paced workouts left me feeling depleted when compounded on the daily stress I experienced in the face of unceasingly disheartening news.
Thankfully, something from those old yoga class days must have settled deep inside me because without quite knowing why, I felt suddenly called to turn to yoga. I craved a form of movement that was conscious and mindful, that would allow me to move through my feelings instead of avoiding them, while feeling totally safe and held.
Creating the Ritual
I’ve found rituals to be absolutely paramount in these uncertain and often heavy times. They provide a sense of groundedness and safety when everything feels unsteady. It’s also a way to infuse extra love, joy, and magic into everything I do for myself so that it transforms from “something I should do because it’s good for me” to something that feels deeply special and personalized.
My yoga ritual is as follows. I light a candle, usually one by P.F. Candle Co that smells like the woods and transports me to my happy place. Then I connect my phone to my speakers and turn on some gentle music. I like to mix it up based on what I’m feeling; sometimes it’s some instrumental piano, or a Yoga playlist curated by Spotify, or some cabin-esque folk.
Then I roll out my yoga mat that I like to spray with some lavender mat spray for extra zen vibes. I turn off any distracting notifications on my technology and let my family know I am unavailable barring emergencies for the next hour. Then, I select a free yoga routine on Youtube from one of my favorite yoga channels.
I love Yoga with Adriene (a huge variety of yoga for any situation, mindstate, or experience level) and Gayatri Yoga for more challenging yet still deeply mindful power flows. And then I allow whatever has been going on in my day thus far, whatever is on my mind about what is to come, and anything that isn’t the yoga flow in front of me and my moving body and breath, to gently exit my awareness.
It’s not a one and done thing but rather a constant practice of veering away and then returning to the present moment. Yoga is not about judging yourself when you don’t “get it right” but about constantly making the commitment to guide yourself back to center.
Yoga Beyond the Mat
It may sound like an overly dramatic exaggeration, but my yoga practice truly changed my life. It taught me to stop running from discomfort, but to instead sink deeper and breathe through it. It taught me that standing still can be infinitely more challenging than running as fast as possible. It taught me that I am so much stronger than I ever thought, and that I can handle much more than I believed.
When I began to learn how to be present with my body and breath and truly move consciously, I began to notice what different emotions felt like in my body, and what it felt like to move through them.
When something happens now to knock me off-center and I feel suddenly overcome by uncomfortable feelings and have an urge to dissociate or turn to a coping mechanism that I know will not serve me, I place a hand on my heart, close my eyes, and gently breathe. I allow myself to feel all the uncomfortable heavy feelings, to sit with them just a little longer than I thought I could, and I watch them lift. The key is to not resist, but instead to soften and surrender.
Finally, yoga has transformed my relationship with movement and my body. I no longer see movement as simply a means to an end or another way to dissociate; instead, it’s a tool for me to connect with my inner landscape and shift the stagnant energy in my body so I can leave the mat feeling more grounded, more connected, and better able to navigate the unpredictabilities of life.
Do you practice yoga? Any favorite instructors or Youtube channels you’d recommend? We’d love to hear!