8 life lessons I learned from doing yoga

Could this post title sound more like a “white suburban woman?”  and perhaps my next post will be titled  “I love organic green tea because…”  All kidding aside, here are my 8 life lessons from doing yoga over the past year.

  1. Like many things, you might not like it the first time. Like asparagus or kale. images
    Honestly, I hated it the first time I tried it. Bikram Style, 105 degrees, 90 minutes of sauna like conditions with sweaty half-naked beautiful body people. I felt chubby and “athletically depressed” as it had been 5 years since my doctor showed me an MRI scan of my arthritis trashed knee* (insert extended saga below here or skip along).  So I tried yoga, went three times and cried each time from pain and frustration. I threw in a very sweaty towel and went back to spin and weight lifting class and after another year of hard work, no weight loss, knee injections and daily pain meds…I got sick of it all and tried another style yoga, Vinyasa Style. The beautiful creature who taught my first class helped me find modifications, made me feel welcome and the room was dimly lite ( a huge perk). It was hard, but it was only 85 degrees, 60 minutes and I was “in like” with the planks and poses that I could do. I kept going back and have been going for over a year, about 15  pounds down, have not had knee injections since I started. I am in now in love with yoga (said the white lady).  Sometimes, you have try again, in a different style, different studio or a different time…don’t give up!
  2.  Yoga feeds your brain and body, like school.
    I love learning and being a student. I love “how to videos” and invest time in researching things I do not understand (like how to change the header fabric in a car – did this for my son). Google is on my speed dial.  If these things describe you…you will likely enjoy yoga.  Is fits into the psyche of “learning” as it is a process how to do poses better, how to make things more challenging or sometimes easier, how to control stress/breathing/negative thoughts and sometimes how to just chill out and think of nothing. Plus there is no homework.
  3. My perspective needed to be re-wired for success.
    I was “athletically depressed”, and that made me crabby and unmotivated. I was a gymnast (knee surgery #1) , a runner, a sports enthusiast…and I wanted to try it all. Skiing (surgery #2) , snow boarding, triathlons, mud-runs, rock climbing, boot-camp, kickboxing (surgery #3) and I did not want to admit that some of my parts were aging faster than me. Blame genetics. I was stuck in a mindset about all the things I used to be able to do, and not what I could can do. I can do yoga, can almost sit on my heels, hold a plank, do splits one way and a hand stand against a wall. A 2011 review of published clinical studies on yoga concluded that yoga movements stimulate skin pressure receptors that boost activity in your brain and vagus nerve, both of which influence the production and release of various hormones. As vagus nerve activity increases, the levels of stress hormones like cortisol decrease. It also triggers the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role not only in your mood, but also in appetite control and sleep patterns.  Amazing brain/booty training.
  4. Winning isn’t everything.
    I am competitive. I like to win, but I admit I will never be the best in class. I am an average girl, average looks, average athletic ability and I am finally okay with that. There are some amazing acrobatic bendy beautiful people in class..think Circ Du Soliel meets yoga pants. Amazingly, instead of envy or competition, I feel inspired by them. I admit that sometimes I close my eyes and remind myself to celebrate their ability and not compare myself (I am only human dammit!).
  5. There are other ways to pray.
    Yoga meditation compliments faith and prayer. It is an opportunity to be quiet, be faithful and pray the way you want. I am a spiritual person, but not a routine prayer. I pray now, in every class. I give thanks, I pray for friends who need it, for patience, for forgiveness and every time for my mom, who is in her third year so fighting breast cancer. It has centered me and I am so thankful for this lesson.
  6. If you want to be successful, associate with successful people.71ff14e015394c33f54ad891890de2ef
    If you want to be happy, surround yourself with happy people. In general, I find yoga enthusiasts to be happy people. The instructors are walking love mentors, quoting philosophy and happy points of view. It’s part of the mantra of the yoga classes I attend. It’s uplifting and soulful. A study done by Dr. Nicholas Christakis of Harvard Medical School and Dr. James Fowler of the University of California in San Diego found that individuals who associate themselves with cheerful people have a happier demeanor and consequently a better sense of well-being. The effects of one person’s happiness influences another person’s mood which boosts another person’s mood. It is a chain reaction! I love the happy.
  7. I walk taller.
    My posture has improved. I sit at a desk all day like many people, slumped in front of multiple computer screens and rolled shoulders. Recently I noticed that my posture is improving unconsciously from frequent yoga practice. It’s now a habit. Who knew that would happen?
  8. Infinity.
    infinity-256x256The number 8 is the infinity sign. Yoga is for everyone, race, creed, size and age. In class there are muscle guys, retired people, millennials, mid-lifers, teenagers…a melting pot of peoplekind. I am impressed most by retired people in class who are much more flexible and able than me. According to a new study, intensive daily yoga practice is linked to an increase in two key substances linked to youth and longevity: Growth hormone (GH) and (DHEAS). The study found that  both men and women who did yoga in the study had significant increases in their blood serum GH and DHEAS values from baseline to the end of the 12-week yoga program. They also experienced notable declines in their body mass index (BMI), a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Um, hello time machine?

Thank you for reading, may you find your own wonderful life lessons.

Namaste. Peace.

*optional extended saga:
I had thumbed through the knee replacement brochure he gave me, noticing the attractive older couple ballroom dancing on the cover.  I asked, “Can I run on a fake knee?” He responded, “Well, artificial knees last about 15-20 years, but it varies person to person and how aggressive you treat it, as it does wear down and every time you have it replaced, the success rate goes down”.  I awkwardly snorted and said “I guess I will have to learn to ballroom dance” to hide my sadness.  I left his office confused and sad how 5 years earlier I had been training and participating in sprint triathlons and now I had a hard time sleeping through a night without pain.  I was not ready at 41 to have knee replacement understanding I would have to do it again at the age of 55-60 and maybe again at then at the age of 75-80 with less success rate each time. Someone suggested yoga.

Second to last note:
Sharon Kolasinski, MD, a professor of clinical medicine and a rheumatologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia studied the effects of yoga on people with knee osteoarthritis (OA). Her research supports that yoga is proven to help people with arthritis improve many physical and psychological symptoms. Recent scientific studies of people with various types of arthritis show that regular yoga practice can help reduce joint pain, improve joint flexibility and function and lower stress and tension to promote better sleep. Yoga comes in many different forms, but generally involves positioning the body in various poses along with coordinated breathing and meditation exercises.

Last note:
To the instructors at Yoga by Degrees in the Chicago West suburbs, thank you for being my mentors of love and yoga.

Andrea Leppert
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