…IF you take my advice and resolve to practice yoga, meditation and work-life balance this coming year. As we round the corner from one year into the next, now is the perfect time to consider who it is you want to be in 2014 and how you are going to achieve it.
Urban Practice is a blog all about sharing ways for you – the busy urban professional – to incorporate ancient techniques for maintaining a healthy, happy and thriving mind and body into your modern daily life.
Although I know that there are many beneficial mind/body practices out there (and I do discuss some of them – like martial arts, dancing, theatre, even mindful exercise – on this blog), I am partial to the teachings of yoga and buddhist-cum-secular vipassana meditation because they have had a particularly huge positive influence on my life.
So while those other practices very well may give you many benefits in 2014, I am still going to plug yoga and vipassana meditation as the best way to improve your work, your life and the balance between both. Here are 14 reasons why.
1. You will move from your core with confidence. Keep in mind that yoga is about so much more than physical movements/postures and meditation is about so much more than sitting cross-legged. If you practice both of them regularly, you will tap into an innate, infinite intelligence that already exists in your mind and body – right at the core of who you are. Once you access this magical core, a lot of problems in your life – that come from your perpetual issues with your self-esteem – will start to drop away.
2. Your selfie will look smooth and sexy. Now, getting a hot body is far from the goal of yoga (and the physical postures – the asanas – are only the tip of the iceberg of yogic teachings). But if you practice every day, or even every other day or even once a week, you will notice some nice changes in your physique. I call the smooth and sexy yoga body a “convenient side effect” from doing yoga: you practice yoga for the mental, emotional and psychic benefits but the improvement in your body, or at least how you see your body, will make you want to show yourself off on instagram.
3. Your joints will thank you. Your joints have a big job enabling you to move your arms and legs, hands and feet – not to mention your spine, which is one long line of moveable joints. There is a viscous liquid that fills most of your body’s joints, called synovial fluid, and guess what? The many different postures of yoga help circulate synovial fluid around your many different joints and that in turn feeds essential oxygen and nutrients to the cartilage lining at the ends of your bones. The result is healthy happy joints.
4. Your mind will be able to focus. Meditation teacher Daniel Goleman says that we modern urban beings live in a state of perpetual partial attention. You know, checking email while texting while talking to your mom on the phone while walking across the street, and so on. Yes it is fun to practice multitasking, but there are plenty of moments when we want to focus on a single task – a deadline for example – and we have a hard time doing it. The single pointed attention that you gain from practicing meditation every day will “exercise” your mind so that when you need to home in on a task, you are able to do it fully and at will.
5. Your memory will improve. Ditto above regarding your memory. When you are able to focus on what you are reading, listening to, thinking about, your mind will retain it so that you can call it up later.
6. You will sleep better. The reason for this is multi fold: first, yoga moves your body and exercises your muscles in a way that burns up the anxious energy that might prevent you from sleeping; second, certain yoga postures (like shoulder stand or forward bends) calm your nerves and stimulate relaxation hormones in your body; third, meditation teaches you to observe your mind, rather than engage it, so when you are caught in a thought-loop at 3 am when you should be sleeping you can focus on your breath, calm down and just watch the show, which will eventually lull you back to sleep.
7. Your heart will be healthier. I hear this all the time: yoga is not aerobic exercise, it doesn’t get your heart rate up. To that I say: bollocks. It is true some yoga styles focus on alignment and slow movements. But others, such as astanga or vinyasa, focus on repeated challenging movements taken on each inhale and exhale. These styles certainly get your heart rate up and make you sweaty. So yes yoga does have all the heart health benefit of an aerobics class or jogging, but with a whole bunch of energetic benefits to your heart chakra as well.
8. Your breath will feel luxurious. This is the one that made me fall in love with yoga. I remember lying in savasana after those first few vigorous astanga classes and thinking ‘damn I feel awesome!’ And it was a lot because I had spent an hour and a half breathing deeply, for the first time in many years. So yoga will teach you to breathe in a way that maximizes your oxygen intake and use to make you feel sooooo good. And meditation teaches you to use your awareness to home in on your breath as it is. Combine the two and you will end up marveling at how rich and valuable your breath is.
9. Your inner critic will quiet down. One of my favorite parts of challenging myself in yoga is that there is no right way for any given posture, meditation, or state of being. Time after time I have heard teachers tell me to treat myself kindly, and leave judgments at the door. I remember these words often, and I share them now with my own students. With all the positive affirmations telling you that what you should do is refrain from judging yourself, it is hard to not absorb and integrate it into all parts of your life.
10. Your balance will amaze you. I have yet to meet anyone – student, friend or colleague – who does not improve their balance after beginning a consistent yoga practice. Consistency is the key: it takes practice to understand, experience and engage the many different elements that put you in balance. But you will get it eventually and when you do you will likely be inspired to share it (see #2).
11. Your moods will become less mysterious and more interesting. Yoga and mediation teach you to just observe: your body’s capacities and limitations, your mind’s tendency to wander and fret, your general habit patterns and style of engaging with the world. The skill of mindful observation – as opposed to blind reaction – will start to bleed out of your yoga/meditation practice into the rest of your life and you will start to notice connections between your moods and your choices, environment and even diet (see #12). This will provide you with a lot of clarity and endless entertainment, like watching a blockbuster movie where you are the star, the director and the audience.
12. Your diet will improve. There is something about tapping into your core intelligence (see #1 above) that encourages a change in your choices of what food to put into your body. This was one of the first things I noticed after I started a daily yoga practice (all those 12 years ago): all of a sudden I was more aware of the cause and effect of what I ate and how I felt later. So I began to choose more fruits and vegetables, fresh home cooked meals and less alcohol. But I do still have a strong craving for chewy sweets (like jelly beans) and I do let myself indulge. Note that the practice is not about suppressing all desires, but rather replacing them with healthy ones.
13. You will flow more than resist. Yoga and meditation will teach you discern what you should work on changing and what you should simply surrender to, whether in your body or your mind. The result will be a lighter attitude and less grasping of the-way-you-think-it-should-be. You will become adept as striking the balance between effort and ease on your yoga mat, your meditation cushion or at your desk.
14. You will become aware of the passage of time. Yoga and meditation will sharpen your perception of the continuous little changes that are occurring each and every moment of your life in both your body and your mind. It will also help you see – and accept – some things you might have preferred to avoid prior to beginning a practice. A wise teacher once told me to think about my yoga practice in terms of decades, rather than days, weeks or months. Reflecting on who you are physically, emotionally, mentally, or psycho-spiritually through the perspective of yoga and meditation for years and years will give you the kind of insight that makes you wise.
Okay okay, even if you are not going to resolve to practice yoga/mediation every single day in 2014, do tell me what you plan to do. I want to know what lights your fire…
As always, if you are interested in learning more about how yogic breathing techniques, mindful movement/asana, meditation and work-life balance can improve your urban life send an inquiry here. And share this post with your friends!
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