If you read my essays regularly, you know that I believe that the way yoga changes our bodies is the least of its gifts. That said, a regular yoga practice does change the body – sometimes in really dramatic ways. Not only does practicing make us leaner, but it creates muscle tone and definition. (I know you know what I’m talking about – Madonna’s killer arms, Jennifer Aniston’s lean physique, your neighbor’s perky bottom.) The more vigorous types of yoga can enhance strength and endurance. All yoga improves posture, which is a huge benefit as the way we carry ourselves has a great impact on how we look.
It is important to note that all of these physical changes touch more than just our ego as we look in the mirror. They also improve the way we feel – physically, mentally and emotionally. When we feel better in our bodies – free of nagging discomforts, able to breathe deeply, healthy and strong – we are simply nicer people. When we’re pleased with the way we look, we’re more confident, a little braver, more willing to go out on a limb, prepared to greet people with a ready smile. It’s also a fact that when we feel better physically, we feel better emotionally – we have a brighter outlook, more energy and more bandwidth to navigate the peaks and valleys of each day.
But there’s no way yoga can change your body unless you practice. Reading about the practice, signing up for classes, buying a mat or a pair of stretchy pants just won’t do the trick. You’ve got to show up to the classes. You’ve got to put on your new pants, unroll that mat, breathe deeply and move. In other words, you’re not going to get the butt you want by sitting on it!
You’ve got to do the work to reap the rewards. And yoga is generous with – and fairly quick to deliver – its rewards. When I first started practicing, within only a few weeks I could see and feel changes in my body. Many students say the same to me. This is a way that the practice keep us coming back for more.
It is also a way that yoga teaches us – quite viscerally – that hard work pays off.
As is yoga’s tendency, the lessons we learn on our mats rarely stay there. The quick and dramatic results we see from our practice can inspire us to a powerful notion. We begin to wonder what would happen if, rather than wishing, or planning, or dreaming or hoping, we’d get off our butts (i.e. show up and do the work). This applies to anything – things we’d like to do, become or achieve. Better yet, we begin to believe that doing, becoming and achieving are totally within the realm of possibility.
Being certain (or at least very hopeful) in the possibility of great change, in turn, inspires us. We become willing to stretch ourselves further. To challenge ourselves. To take risks. To have high hopes and big dreams. That job you want suddenly seems achievable. The family environment you yearn for suddenly seems possible. A damaged relationship suddenly seems fixable. That new skill – learning to play the guitar, to ballroom dance, to knit or to speak Arabic – all seem within reach. Because you know that all it takes is (to quote my dad) “a little elbow grease.”
And you know you’re capable of elbow grease! After all, just take a look at all you’ve been able to do on your mat!
So, whether you’re hoping for a perky bottom, a new career or to live a more peaceful life, take a lesson from your mat. You’ve got to get off your butt, show up and do the work. When you do, anything – absolutely anything! – is possible.