The Self-Care Benefits of Yoga, On and Off the Mat

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Welcome back to our 12-part self-care series, where we’re putting you back on the list.

“We all need to disconnect with the world, and reconnect with ourselves every day in a position of deep ease if we are going to be able to act with compassion and clarity in our lives.”Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, PT, master yoga teacher and author of Restore and Rebalance.

Yoga is a powerful tool for restoring balance – emotionally and physically – to one’s life, and offers many other self-care gifts including breath, strength, kindness, patience, flexibility, and support.

Beyond your time spent on the mat, yoga philosophy can have far-reaching effects in your life off the mat. According to the Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, yoga principles known as yamas can guide how you interact with other people and the world at large (known as yamas), while the personal practices known as niyamas govern how you relate to yourself.

In an earlier article, we explored how the principles of yoga can specifically help heal food issues. Let’s revisit that list and see how all of these ideas can apply to general self-care as well.

  • Letting go – Instead of using food behaviors or other harmful activities to bury uncomfortable feelings, let them go.
  • Getting centered – Instead of feeling pressured and anxious, pause and come back to the present moment where you can make more self-compassionate choices.
  • Connecting to other people and to a higher power – Food, feelings, or other life circumstances may have all been barriers between you and other people.
  • Tolerating discomfort – Learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings will give you the power to move through them without using food or other harmful coping mechanisms.
  • Taking time to relax and regenerate – Instead of feeling intimidated by silence and stillness as they compete with your busy mind, let it all go and give your body and mind the break they need.
  • Being grounded – Feel a sense of support and connection to the earth below.
  • Soothing yourself – Instead of reaching for excess food or other harmful behaviors, learn to self-soothe in healthy ways.
  • Surrounding yourself with beauty – Empower your sense of self-worth by choosing to indulge in healthy forms of joy and pleasure.
  • Witnessing without reacting – Let go of judgment and practice accepting things as they come.

If you’re ready to begin a yoga practice as part of your gentle movement routine, keep these five tips in mind:

  1. Be ready – Open your mind to having a positive experience, and let go of assumptions or expectations. Trust me, you won’t have to bend like a pretzel! First and foremost, know that nothing should feel uncomfortable or painful (please speak up if it does), though you will be asking your body to stretch into what may be unfamiliar poses.
  2. Be gentle – Yoga is about getting into a space of unconditional and non-judgmental self-acceptance, so that you can discover your own unique brand of yoga that will help heal your food and body image issues, whether related to anorexia, bulimia or compulsive overeating.
  3. Be comfortable – Wear well-fitting clothing that won’t ride up when your body is stretching into different postures. It’s actually best to not wear socks, because you want your toes to grip the mat. Consider bringing a second layer such as a top or shawl, since it’s common to feel cool during the relaxation segment at the end.
  4. Be flexible – In order to adjust each pose to fit your body, your yoga teacher or therapist may show you how to use cushions or blocks to prop up against. Sometimes he or she will suggest an alternative position just for you.
  5. Be yourself – When you need to adjust any of the poses, relax and know that your yoga experience is just for you. It’s common to compare yourself to others. If this happens, here is a yoga expression and philosophy you can use: “Keep your eyes on your own mat.”

Yoga is much more than a physical practice. It is an opportunity to disconnect from the world, reconnect with the self, and learn new ways of functioning more peacefully amongst the stressors of daily life.

This post was adapted from a series of earlier posts from the White Picket Fence Counseling Center blog.

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