Yoga taught me to appreciate myself; what kind of body I was given should not be taken for granted or ignored. That being said, I don't fully believe something can teach you to love yourself.
"Love your body: you've only got one after all", I'll hear from fitness instructors, health gurus on Instagram and the like minded.
Well, I'm hear to say I think that's expecting A LOT out of one form of exercise. Yoga, Pilates, kickboxing, Insanity; they are all exciting workouts, but they don't teach you to love yourself. That should come on your own terms and not from an instructor trying to preach how to see YOURSELF.
When I was younger, my mother would drag my sister and I (pretty much) by the heals to our local gym for an hour session of yoga on the weekends. This was usually during the winter season when I wasn't training for any school sports and my mom wanted both of us kids to get some form of exercise that kept us busy and out of trouble. She was always trying to instill healthy habits for us, so I guess driving an hour away to stretch my body into uncomfortable positions for an hour was a healthy habit.
As time grew on and I became more self-aware that yeah, stretching your body is VERY NECESSARY, I started to take up yoga on my own. Mind you, I ran cross country and track in high school and a little in college, so I had a conditioned brain that if I wasn't getting an intense cardio workout or lifting weights, I felt I wasn't really doing a workout.
All that conditioning really took a toll on my mentality and I started to grow really tired of forcing myself to the gym or the trials for another intense cardio workout. I wanted to sweat-out my frustrations, but didn't really want to leave my apartment.
Roll Out the Yoga Mat and Call Me a "Hippy"
I first started yoga during my freshman year with a 10-visit membership to my college rec center , one that you could pick any kind of fitness classes. I usually chose cycling or yoga or Zumba, which was actually really fun. But as I got more and more busy in my major and my radio gig, I felt that mental pressure again to force myself to go workout.
Yoga slowed my road down and destress my brain. It not only slowly stretched my body over time, but it stretched my mind, like when you twist your back and and it pops all up and down your spine, relieving all that built-up tension. Yeah, it feels that good.
Yoga is like a sport you can go your own pace and still come out winning
There is no time limit or stop watch ticking away at you to hurry up. No coach yelling from the sidelines to pick up the pace. In yoga, there's no pace, much less yelling coaches.
Now you're probably wondering by now: okay cool, but how did it help you APPRECIATE yourself and what the heck does that mean?!
Before I started to dedicate my mornings to yoga, I was stressed, frustrated, agitated and every synonym for those words. I would roll out of bed, turn on my laptop and start getting ahead in work or figuring out what assignment I needed to prepare for. There really wasn't any part of my day that I ever dedicated to JUST myself and for that I always felt drained before the day was over, like my mind was chugging along on three wheels and a popped tire, plus an oil leek and broken wind-shield wipers. Oh yeah, and it's raining.
Now when I get up, I make sure to dedicate at the very least fifteen minutes of my morning to quieting my mind. Meditation, yoga, anything. A happy-medium for me is 30-35 minutes of yoga + meditation. The act of even just rolling out of bed and rolling out a yoga mat and just laying in child's pose, sitting back in your hips, arms stretched out in front of you, chest almost touching the mat: that is amazing feeling.
That action is letting you brain know: "OK body, thank you for cooperating and getting out of bed this morning. I know we have a lot to do today, but let's just take this time to ourselves, then bring-on the ciaos. OK? OK. You ready for this? Great. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Namasté."
The dedication to yoga did not teach me to love myself. That is a journey all on it's own that I must continue to take. But yoga? That taught me to acknowledge how hard my body and mind works everyday and applaud it. It taught me to appreciate I am now more flexible than I was two weeks ago and hey! Look at that! My 'Warrior Two' pose isn't as wobbly as it used to be! Hot damn!
Yoga continues to teach me that so much happens in a day and most of it must be done to satisfy other people and that's OK. But don't ever forget who made those things happen. You did. Appreciate the hard work you did and reward yourself with a simple relaxation. The ultimate goal is to find total relaxation and the effortless journey to have a clear mind a good stretch.
Wanna get in the Yogi groove?
My advice: when you roll out of bed, take a chunk of your morning that is solely dedicated to putting attention on JUST yourself, nothing else. Roll out the mat, sit legs cross and soak up a few minutes of silence. Sit up straight and be in the present. If you have time, take 15 or 45 minutes of yoga. Remember, this is a 'sport' that is at your own pace. Start at what you feel is comfortable, then work your way up. The fact that you took that time to yourself this morning should already be a mental kudos to yourself.
What I've found: I downloaded this yoga app called Down Dog and it's really a great app for beginners or intermediate yoga-enthusiast who can't go to a yoga class or who are like me and find more comfort and convenience doing their morning routine at home. I love this app.
Meditate ~2-5 minutes; Yoga~ 15-35 minutes (again, happy-med for me is 35 min) then relax 2-3 minutes at the end. Drink a lot of water. Maybe sip some tea. Then tackle your day, knowing you acknowledge your strengths. Be confident and be in yourself unapologetic.
Great yoga playlists I love: Spotify Hot Yoga Beats or Breathe In