Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Why I Love Yoga: Strength

This last week, ever since the yoga conference, has been such a turning point for me.

I went to last night's gentle meditative yoga class, and then was back bright and early this morning for a Blissful Hips class. (Think lots of lunges, squats, things to get you loose in the hips and gently stretch out those hamstrings.)

Since I had an appointment with my therapist at noon, and it wasn't worth driving home 20 minutes only to have to leave again for the same town less than an hour later, I brought along my laptop and some work and a beading project, planted myself at one of the picnic tables in front of the bakery/cafe next to the yoga studio, and just...was.

The sun was shining. The wind was blowing. And I could hear the river rushing past me across the street, under the bridge.

After my appointment with my therapist, I decided to grab a little bit of lunch and then went for a little drive.

While I was driving, I was thinking about the ways that yoga has transformed me these last five months. And I realized that there are three reasons why I love yoga so much: strength, surrender, and balance.

The first one, strength, has to do with both the mental and physical strength. With the anxiety, it makes me feel stronger when I can recognize that an attack is imminent and make preparations to ride it out. It makes me feel stronger when I can catch the thoughts that precipitate an attack early enough that I can avoid it altogether.

It's really the way that yoga trains your mind. No matter what your body is doing, you have to focus on your breath. If you're not breathing, you're going to hurt yourself. So, while you're keeping an awareness of what your body is doing in each pose, once you've settled in, you focus just on your breath.

It's the same way in a meditation or a mindfulness exercise when I'm going through an anxiety attack. The goal there is for me to focus on my breath, regardless of what my body is doing. I'm aware of how my body feels during the attack, I'm aware of the thoughts, but it takes a lot of mental strength to allow them to just float away and focus on the breath.

As for physical strength, well, that's one that I wasn't really expecting. But I am physically stronger. I have better lung capacity - I can huff it up those hills now without thinking about it. I can sit and bead longer without any back pain or neck, shoulder, and arm pain. I can haul my 56-pound five-year-old around without hurting myself.

The physical symptoms of the anxiety have decreased greatly in the last two months. Hardly any pain in my stomach or under my ribs, no more pounding heart, no headaches. It's like I've been given this miracle drug without any (negative) side effects.

At first, there were a lot of muscle pains the morning after a strenuous practice the night before. On Monday, we did a lot of core work because Robin had injured her knee, and she didn't want to aggravate the injury. I woke up on Tuesday, thinking that I would have more pain in my belly, but no - nothing. I felt just as strong as I had in class.

The aches that I used to get in my legs after going through a flow between the Warrior poses and Extended Side Angle stretch? Gone.

Sure, sometimes I shake a little bit during practice. But, sometimes I don't. And just because I shake during practice this morning, that doesn't mean that I'll shake again in the evening.

I remember when I first started seeing my therapist back in February, she asked me, "When was the last time you felt strong in your own body?" I may not be back to my tearing-around-on-my-bike frame of mind from when I was a kid, but this is, without a doubt, the strongest my body has felt in years.

Don't believe me? Check out a couple of yoga workouts on YouTube and try to hold those poses. I dare ya. Yoga builds strength in more ways than one.

No comments: