This year marks the 15th anniversary since I first tried and started practicing yoga at the Yoga Yard studio in Beijing when I was living in China in 2006. Since that time, I have tried over a dozen different yoga styles (cat yoga, anyone?) across the US, China, Russia, Hong Kong, Bali and Mexico. Here are the top 10 lessons yoga taught me over the years and especially in 2020 as I was leaning heavily into my practice to carry me through separation with my ex, covid, financial uncertainty, isolation and other life challenges a lot of us experienced last year. Hope they will resonate with you as well.
- The end goal of yoga is not a sexy lean body or defined muscles - we go to the gym to build a better physique. Although yoga certainly helps improve overall health, flexibility and physical appearance, the purpose of the yoga practice is to be at peace, to remove the fluctuations of our overstimulated brains, to still the mind until it rests in a state of tranquility. When the water becomes still, we can see clearly and experience life as it is: as reality, free of illusions.
Everyone can practice yoga and anyone can succeed in it but it takes time and discipline to consistently show up on the mat. As with any other traditional and holistic practices, patience and persistence is key.
- Yoga has the power to transform people’s lives for the better by making very gradual changes and better aligning us with our true selves: what we are meant to be, born to be.
Yoga can boost and strengthen the immune system long term. There’s not enough scientific evidence to prove that yoga can make us more resilient against viral infections like covid. But I observed that people who have a consistent yoga practice are less likely to contract covid. I was in direct close contact with someone who got sick with covid for 10 straight days and did not get it. I wasn’t just asymptomatic - all my covid test results came back negative and I did not have antibodies.
Yoga is not about getting more flexible or mastering more advanced variations of asanas. It’s about listening to your body and quieting the mind. This is where the magic happens. And yes, flexibility and strength tend to naturally increase on the way of yoga. I recently noticed my feet touch the ground in downward facing dog, something I wasn't specifically focusing on that just happened over time.
True yogis have less ego and are kinder to people. Yoga teaches love and acceptance of all living beings, starting with the most important one in your life - You. One other thing I noticed with myself and others who practice yoga regularly, people will start mentioning that they experience the feeling of peace and calm when they are around you. One may become like a living "zen generator" oneself. That is a great sign that our practice is going in the right direction, more so than the ability to headstand per se.
Yoga can change us in surprising ways: my whole life I used to be a night owl, struggling to get up for work at 7am or even 8am (OK, full disclosure, I used to sleep in until 11am on weekends). Now I have no problem waking up at around 6am and starting my day with sunrise yoga or a surfing session. Just because it feels good.
Yoga can help with addictions, unhealthy habits and can change our food preferences for the better. I used to be a social smoker and couldn’t imagine weekends without going out and having drinks. I quit smoking 11 years ago and did not drink alcohol for the most part of last year as I started questioning everything about alcohol consumption. Today I may still enjoy a glass of bubbly every now and then, but feel more content, centered and happier without.
And no, we don’t have to become vegan to progress in yoga, although we may notice that our tastes will start to gravitate more toward healthier choices and plant-based diet as we deepen our yoga practice.
Yoga makes us more intuitive through better communication with the subconscious. As we declutter and detox the deep depths of our minds through the process of yoga, we heal our repressed wounds and traumas so they can no longer cloud our judgement or influence our decisions and actions. As a result, we make better choices and get better outcomes in relationships, career and life in general. This process can be a roller coaster ride as we may realize the need for difficult changes, as I experienced myself. Probably the hardest lesson of all.
- Communication skills: yoga is not about escaping from life by adopting a monk-like lifestyle in ascetic isolation. Besides physical and mental benefits as well as personal growth that come with practicing yoga, it can also improve communication. When we are mindful, we are more present in conversations with other people thus strengthening our connections and increasing those positive interactions. This study confirms through the analysis and interviews that yoga improves interpersonal communication.
Most importantly, yoga is about embracing life fully and becoming the best version of ourselves, free of anger, anxiety and ill will and realizing that everything we need to be happy is already inside of us.