By Maryann Huynh, Vinyasa Flow, Power Yoga and NuPower Teacher
For many, including myself, the early days of one’s yoga practice is almost an entirely physical experience. Beginners often come to the mat in search of flexibility, space and mobility in their bodies. After a class or two or three, particularly for those practicing Vinyasa, students realise just how physical the practice can be – and building strength becomes an unexpected bonus.
With a bit of dedication and perseverance, time on the mat often morphs into something else. Something special and almost magical, where the “results” are invisible and intangible. Over time, for most, touching one’s toes or standing on one’s head isn’t really the priority anymore, and the yoga poses become a gateway to unlocking all that the practice has to offer.
Here are 3 powerful life lessons that I’ve learned from yoga – beyond downward facing dog
How to breathe, because my life depends on it
To be honest, I think I lived the first 20 years of my life without really knowing how to breathe. Inhaling and exhaling were completely subconscious, and almost unintentional, activities. Yoga taught me that breath is incredibly powerful… and it sounds obvious, but our life depends on our breath! I’ve gone from shallow, tiny, quick breaths that I didn’t even notice to deep, long, meaningful belly breaths. Difficult poses required fuller breaths so that I could sustain them physically, but an awareness of breath and how to breathe is definitely something I’ve taken off the mat and into everyday life. I breathe now to communicate to my body and my nervous system, I breathe to slow my mind down, I breathe to get present, I breathe to create space mentally and physically. Breath used to simply keep me alive, now it allows me to live more fully.
How to be where my body is
I’m not sure I ever slowed down enough prior to yoga to even notice what a wacky place my mind can be. My brain houses an endless stream of thoughts, worries, concerns, plans, to do lists, judgements and opinions. In the early days, I would physically be in classes attempting to do various poses… but my headspace was somewhere else. It wasn’t until I was asked to get present, to feel where my body was in space, to land my eyes on something intentionally… that I realised I live a lot of my life in my head. For lack of a better way of putting it, I found myself thinking, “Where am I?!” quite often when my brain started to dwell on the past or anticipate the future. I’m by no means a master of my mind after years and years of yoga, but I’m getting better and better at bringing myself back to the present moment.
The power of community
Yoga has a way of creating union within individuals by bringing mind and body back together again. But the practice can go a step further, and so often I find that it brings like-minded people together, even though they might be from various backgrounds, countries, cultures… all walks of life. In the end, I find that yogis are similar to one another in that they tend to have deep-seated desire to be the best version of themselves possible. It’s something I see and observe again and again in any yoga studio or environment I teach in (particularly at APPI!), the buzz and energy between humans before and after class – conversations and connections about life. I firmly believe that, for many, catching up with one another is just as important as what we get up to on the mat. Chinwags are almost equal to chaturangas. To me, particularly after experiencing COVID and a number of lockdowns, it’s obvious that we need each other and that we need to feel like we’re a part of something – community!
Beyond these three life lessons, there’s so much more that yoga has given me, I could go on and on and on…
The practice continues to be my life boat, and I feel humbled to be able to share this practice with others. In class I offer up a chance to find strength and space in your body, but I hope it can be something more – I hope we can find ways of living life better not just as individuals but as a collective. And remember, standing on your head is just a yoga bonus, not a requirement!