I never liked yoga.

Actually, that is a lie. I liked yoga when I was pregnant (which was over 11 years ago). But for the better part of my life, I had no patience when it came to this form of exercise that felt more like torture than anything else. And the final savasana – or corpse pose – that comes at the end of each yoga practice? That was my idea of hell. Lying there with so many things to do, but pretending to quiet my mind? No way. Not me.

Except that something happened. I started learning to love yoga.

I never thought I’d now pick yoga over going for a run. Or that my workout calendar would show four consecutive days of yoga last week. Or that I’d cry tears of joy when my feet first lifted off the ground after many failed attempts at bakasana – crow pose. Or that I’d strike up a pose in locations around the world when I am traveling. Or that I would choose to travel to a destination for a yoga retreat. Or that I now look forward to the stillness that comes from savasana.

You might say that I’ve become a bit yoga obsessed.

Not quite “I want to become a yoga teacher” obsessed – but almost. (Admittedly, when my studio announced a new yoga teacher training session… I did get the details. You know, just in case.)

I could narrate the story of my newfound love affair with finding my OM – starting with the daily sunrise yoga during my a hiking and fitness retreat almost two years ago and ending with the bruises that I wear like badges of honor on my triceps after practicing the bakasana pose over and over again. But I’ll spare you the specific details in the interest of time. Suffice it to say, I was as surprised as anyone, but I wouldn’t change the journey to for anything.

I can honestly say that travel is at the core of my learning to love yoga. I’ve had the opportunity to experience yoga classes in some incredible places from the mountains of British Columbia to the shores of Cambutal, Panama. I’ve been moved to create my own flows overlooking the cliffs in Malta and in hotel rooms in southeastern Turkey. I get it. I’m very fortunate. Being away from the constraints of daily life while traveling helped me be more open to the possibilities that existed on my mat.

But perhaps the most important factor in my newfound dedication to yoga are the people with whom I’ve had the honor to practice. I’ve been fortunate to find good – no – great teachers – whose encouragement and prompting inspire me to push my boundaries. But also? These teachers have helped me foster a deeper appreciation of yoga through life lessons that evolve from the practice and into a lifestyle on and off the mat.


Learning to Love Yoga | LiveDoGrow

 Learning to Love Yoga through Life Lessons

Yoga is the ultimate teacher of gratitude.

Whether you practice daily gratitude or not, it is hard not to be appreciative after (and during) a yoga class. For the time you took for yourself to get on the mat, for your body allowing you to move with strength, for the progress you made in a pose…you get the idea. I’m constantly surprised at the feelings of gratitude that bubble up in me throughout a flow – for big and little things – that I’m then able to carry through the rest of my day. I started a daily bedtime gratitude ritual a few years ago – where I reflect on six things I am grateful for. But yoga has helped me to more mindful of giving thanks throughout the day. Yes, I’ve become that person who looks out the window and thinks “I am grateful for the blue sky overhead today.” As inconsequential as that might sound, I believe that the focus on gratitude creates a ripple effect – where I focus more on the positive instead of the negative. And for that …I am thankful.

Yoga provides a constant reminder that each day is a new day.  

Have you ever had a really excellent day that is followed by a “no-good-terrible-day”? Or the opposite? Yup. On my yoga mat, I never know exactly what I might find. Sometimes my body falls easily into poses, other times it is as if my body wants to pretend that I’m a complete beginner. This process is humbling quite frankly. But also empowering. Because no matter how good or how bad I feel one day, I know that tomorrow offers new potential. To make more progress. To make new choices. To be kinder to myself and others. To challenge myself. To question. To be curious.

Life lessons in yoga | LiveDoGrow

Practicing my bakasana pose at home after a morning workshop where I “took off” for the first time. Experienced yogis will tell you that I need to engage my core more to depend less on friction.

 


Learning to Love Yoga | LiveDoGrow

Progress on day 2!

Learning to Love Yoga | LiveDoGrow

Day 3. No visible progress per se, but I can feel my core engaging a bit more…


Falling is good for you.

This is perhaps one of the most important yoga life lessons. (It is true for surfing as well…but I’ll get to that on another day.) When Carrie – one of my Core Power Yoga instructors – shared the Erin Hanson quote about falling at the end of her arm balance and inversion workshop recently, I wanted to hug her. I’d spent the last 75 minutes attempting to find flight with arm stands and even tried a wall supported tripod headstand. There was a lot of falling. And teetering. But I kept smiling. And most importantly, kept trying. And somewhere along the line, something clicked in bakasana. My feet lifted off the ground. Mind you, only for a few seconds – and I’m sure I was muscling through the pose instead of truly engaging my core – but still. I felt it, and a few of my fellow yogis saw it happen. Tears of joy (and pride) welled up in my eyes. I could not believe that I’d actually done it. And while the rest of the class moved on to try advanced poses, I kept at the basic bakasana. I even practiced when I got home. And every day since. Not every attempt has produced air. But some have. I’ve started to engage the muscles in my root core and lifted my feet and legs higher by an inch or so. I’ve also fallen. On my shoulder. On my face.

I’ve teetered and lost my balance at least once during every single one of my yoga sessions. But you know what? After each misstep comes a new chance. To focus and to start over. Life is no different. Whether you fall physically or emotionally…it happens. To all of us. The question is – will you get up again?

Yoga is a kickass workout.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Strength, balance and flexibility are the cornerstones of a yoga workout. Whether you practice Hatha, Vinyasa or even restorative yoga…each style provides a workout of a different sort. And each are incredibly valuable for the body and perhaps even more importantly – for the mind. Although I’m now partial to heated yoga classes (hello drippy detoxifying sweat!!), I feel my body talking to me even when I get up from my desk during the day for a few Sun Salutations. Honestly, my body feels stronger with 3 yoga sessions each week than it did when I was in full training mode for a marathon.

Savasana teaches mindfulness

How often do you take five minutes to let your body be still? (Apart from when you are sleeping!)

Regardless of the schedule and to-do lists that await you off the mat, taking time to rest in savasana at the end of a practice is integral to the full experience. Two minutes, five minutes, ten…as long as you can give yourself – the better. But the point is to resist the temptation to jump up and go back to your day. I think that I used to resist this pose because I felt as if I could not clear my mind. But then I learned that meditation and stillness can take many forms. I can focus on my breathing. I can scan my body without judgment. And despite my early incredulousness – and as hokey as it might sound – I’ve “seen things” during this final resting pose. I’ve felt waves of energy move across my forehead (or “third-eye” chakra”) eventually forming a solid heart shape that was as visible to me as a real life picture. I’ve seen flames rising and a bright yellow color. These moments would never have happened had I not opened myself to the possibility that comes from the stillness.

 

While it might seem strange to you to see me practicing a pose – like dancer, tree, Warrior II or even bakasana on a hiking trail or in the middle of a city sidewalk – these are more than just Instagram motivated moments. These opportunities are symbolic of how I’ve come full circle in my learning to love yoga.  From avoiding it at all costs, I now seek out chances to practice – at home, while traveling – and everywhere in between. Trust me, there is no better way to appreciate the grandness of a vista than to take it all in while you breathe through a pose.

 

 

Written by Elena Sonnino

Elena Sonnino

Chaser of Dreams. Life coach, wellness and travel writer, yogini, former teacher, adventure seeker, hiker, foodie …and oh right, cancer survivor. Elena writes about finding everyday wellness in far-flung lands and in her own backyard in the Washington D.C. suburbs.

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