When people talk about advanced yoga, they most often refer to the most challenging yoga poses: twisted, contorted, foot-behind-your-head, balancing, upside down poses. While these kinds of poses may be flashy and fun, I believe true advanced yoga practice involves leveraging the mind-body-spirit connection to create inner peace, mental clarity, centeredness, and improved focus. These benefits may sound "woo-woo" but I can attest that they are achievable and infinitely useful in every day life.
Here in the U.S. people typically begin practicing yoga by learning the physical yoga postures ("asana" practice). In my mind, this is the easiest way to begin. It's relatively easy to observe and correct body's alignment in any given yoga pose.
This physical yoga practice teaches us to OBSERVE. With practice we are able to observe consistently and eventually, subconsciously. Over time we master the practice of observing the physical body, and at some point, without realizing it, we begin to observe the the mind and the spirit, and their connection to each other.
In my own life, one of the first non-physical benefits I gained from yoga was the ability to focus. All my life I'd had trouble focusing. Even my kindergarden and elementary school teachers told my parents I was frequently distracted from my work. This inability to focus really became an issue in my twenties when I began working as a manufacturing engineer at HP.
I was managing projects and factories around the world and my mind would flip from task to task and it was a chore for me to get any one thing done. Suddenly one day, months into my new yoga practice, as I sat at my desk at work, I realized that I was focusing and working. It really seemed like a miracle.
The next benefit I observed with my yoga practice was a sense of centeredness, the feeling of my mind and heart being connected, and of being my own authentic self. This sounds kind of "woo-woo," I know. But let me explain.
You know that feeling of regretting something you say just a split second after it leaves your mouth? I used to have that feeling ALL THE TIME. You know that saying that we should think before we speak? In a typical fast-paced conversation that's actually pretty hard to do, or so I thought.
But over the years I have found that through self-observance, it actually is possible to be aware of what I'm going to say and the effect that it will have on its audience before the words leave my mouth.
This is not to say that I never suffer from foot-in-mouth disease anymore, but I can say that more often than not I'm able to speak my message with kindness and compassion and I save myself from regret and embarrassment at having chosen the wrong words or wrong tone.
The benefit I cherish most these days, as the working mommy of 2- and 4-year-old boys, is inner peace. Over time, through my asana, breathing, and meditation practices, and my training in yogic philosophy, I've picked up a few tips and tricks that help me keep my peace even under the most trying circumstances.
We all know parenting is hard work and when children are tired, hungry, or cranky (or all three!) it can be hard to keep your cool. I've found that if my kids are having a melt down, approaching the situation with my own emotional reaction will only make everything worse. Most times I am able to mentally "step out" of situation and observe the children's behavior and figure out what caused it.
This "space" allows me a split second to think about the best way to help my children manage their emotions and find a quick and peaceful resolution. I know I'm a better and more peaceful mom than I would be without my yoga practice, but of course that's not to say we don't endure a crying, screaming naptime every now and then.
The long story short is that that if you're willing to do the advanced work of looking into your mind and heart, yoga practice can provide some amazing benefits for your real life off the mat. This is the true advanced yoga - the practice of becoming a better, more authentic version of yourself.
The beautiful thing about yoga is that the more you practice and longer you practice, the more diverse benefits will reveal themselves, benefits that you would not have even imagined to exist.
What about you? I'd love to hear about what surprising benefits you have gained from your practice. In the comments below, please tell me:
- what surprising non-physical benefit you've gained from your practice (be specific, provide an example!)
- if you're new to yoga, what benefits you hope to gain from your practice
- if you have any questions about how to practice to realize these kinds of benefits
I look forward to hearing from you!
Lots of love, Zelinda