5 Ways Yoga Has Changed My Life Off the Mat
By Alison Feller
As a runner, I’ve always been told I “need to do yoga.” The physical benefits are immeasurable and produce tremendous results directly related to running and racing. Yoga makes you faster, stronger, and healthier.
I didn’t start doing yoga just to get faster, stronger, and healthier, though. I started doing yoga because Bethany and John opened a studio, and that sounded like something I would want to be a part of. I was hooked after exactly one minute of my first class.
Since I began my regular practice at Lyons Den, I’ve discovered that the benefits of yoga go far beyond the studio. The other day, during a particularly crowded downtown commute, I was inspired to lean slightly away from the strangers’ armpits to my left and right, and frantically start writing on my phone. With that, I present to you: The 5 Ways Yoga Has Changed My Life—Off the Mat!
1. I am much nicer on public transportation, in line at Fairway, and while waiting on a very crowded street corner on upper Fifth Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve lived in New York City for 7+ years, and I have never been the patient person on the sidewalk or the nice girl on the subway. Sure, I give up my seat for pregnant, elderly, or disabled people—and I do it with a smile, I swear—but I’m generally annoyed when I’m rushing around this crowded city and people are “in my way.”
I remember being in class at Lyons Den not long after it had opened. Bethany was teaching, and while we were flowing she talked about being nicer on public transportation. Being more patient, more kind, more compassionate. And it struck a chord with me. Why was I being so rude to and angry with these total strangers? We’re all in this together—we’re all the reason this city is so crowded and the lines at Fairway are down the block before a snowstorm.
You never know someone’s story. You never know what someone has been through or is in the midst of when you decide to shove an elbow in his or her direction for not walking briskly enough on the sidewalk…near Rockefeller Center…at Christmastime. Bethany teaches us to embrace community and to work together—and that certainly shouldn’t stop when we exit the doors at 279 Church Street.
2. I accept my mistakes—which I sometimes think of as failures—learn from them, and move on. It starts with a pose. I get into it—handstand, for example, which I’m working on right now—and then I come crashing down. Instead of being embarrassed and beating myself up, I figure out why it happened. Maybe my arms weren’t strong enough, or I wasn’t “hugging skin to muscle to bone.” OK, cool. So then I’ll try again. Maybe it works this time, or maybe not. But the “failed attempt” is behind me. And it’s not a failure, it’s a lesson. That’s why they call this a yoga practice, right? The same is true in life far beyond yoga. Maybe a job didn’t work out, or you pitched a client who wasn’t into your creative and totally gutsy vision. Fine. You didn’t fail—you just practiced being awesome.
3. I hate my body a lot less. I grew up a competitive dancer, surrounded by mirrors. I don’t remember a single day since age 7 that I didn’t think I was—or worse, that I didn’t call myself—“fat.” Yikes, I know. I was never skinny enough to be in the dance world, and I had a teacher who would remind me that I “would be able to jump higher if I were carrying less weight.” Totally encouraging. Eventually I transitioned from dancing to running, and my body completely changed. I was more lean and muscular, and slightly less critical. But it wasn’t until I started doing yoga that I truly began to appreciate my body not for how it looked, but for what it could do. I can do crow, tripod headstand, wheel, and a solid handstand prep. I am strong. And I have the best savasana around. (Seriously. I’m amazing at it.)
4. I’m much more patient. For years, my fiancé has told me to stop stressing over the things I can’t control. It’s great advice that I have always decided to fight and ignore. I’m a real sweetheart in that way. But go figure, when Bethany preached similar wisdom, I was all about it. So now, as I write this on a packed downtown 6 train, I am accepting that I may not be my desired 15 minutes early for my 9:30 AM class. Can I change that? Can I make the subway start moving? Nope. But I can accept it, and move on. Why waste energy on something I can’t change when I could be using those forces to work toward what’s possible?
5. I have abandoned my comfort zone. Like, completely left it in the dust. This started with simple things, like lifting into crow, and then trying jump-back from crow, and eventually going for a headstand and handstand. I learned that the worst thing that will happen is I’ll fall out of the pose. And then I can try again.
Lyons Den instructor Terri Bahr is always telling students that she loves when they fall, because it means they really went for it and tried something new, something daring. Eventually I became willing to let myself fall during classes all the time. I remember one particularly loud thud that was the result of an over-eager low-lunge twist. Was it a little embarrassing? Yes. Did a bunch of other people in class abandon their drishtis and turn to see what the noise was? Um, yup. But I survived, I got back up, and I got right back to twisting. This newfound gutsiness left the studio with me, and got me to finally quit the job where I was unhappy so I could seek out much bigger, bolder, more badass pursuits. It was a scary move, but a tremendously exciting one.
So basically, yoga has made me kinder, I’ve learned to pick my battles, and I’ve made major progress in my self-love life. Oh, and I did get faster, stronger, and healthier. Go yoga.