Mountain Mama: What’s the Deal with Yoga?

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Dear Mountain Mama,

I’ve gone to a few yoga classes. But I just don’t get what the craze is about. Even my grandma is doing yoga these days.

What am I missing?

Yours,

Inflexible

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Dear Inflexible,

I went to yoga classes on and off for 10 years before I really let myself be still enough to be present during the classes. Before, I was like you, only going through the motions. I kept glancing at the clock during the class and thinking ahead to what I’d cook for dinner during meditation.

That all changed after I hurt my shoulder and bicep paddling the Upper Gauley this past fall. I’d been spending too much time behind a desk and holding my toddler and not enough time paddling. My upper back and neck held so much tension that my shoulders touched my chin. For me, paddling has always been a path back toward my best self. So even when I found out that the recent rain meant that the water was pumping at three times its normal flow, I put-on the Upper Gauley for my first time.

The run went well until Sweet’s Falls rapid, when I plunged over the 10-foot drop into a wall of water folding around me. I braced into all that water, desperately fighting to stay upright. I let my arms get away from me and braced higher than I should have. When I paddled away, I knew I’d tweaked my arm.

Ever since then I’ve been working with a physical therapist, who’s been alarmed by how tight and forward my shoulders are. He explained that by living my life so far forward, hunched over a computer all the time, I had reduced the amount of space that existed in my body. Without space, our muscles and tissues have nowhere to go when impacted, so they rip or tear. As he told me this, I thought how my body mirrored the chaotic state of my mind. Always rushing around meant that even small problems derailed me. I had no space to absorb anything new, physically, emotionally, or mentally.

The physical therapist told me to stretch out in a doorframe like an eagle. He instructed me to press my hands into the doorframe and squeezing my shoulder blades back while taking a small step forward. Those two minutes opened up my chest and back, undoing my slumped-over-a-computer-posture. After a day, I felt the space inside my body. After a week, I felt the space within my mind too.  The physical movement of reaching helped me to become more open to the possibilities that existed all around me, where before I was too inwardly focused to notice. I began to look forward to those two minutes to stretch my perspective along with my back.

Researcher confirms that we can change our minds by changing how we hold our bodies. Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist who teaches at Harvard Business School, showed that we can change the feelings we have about our status through physical positions. Standing in warrior pose or mountain stance at critical times can change our lives in big ways. Election outcomes, hiring decisions, and deciding who to ask out on a date hinge on body language. Our own self-esteem does too.

Inflexible, if two minutes of standing a certain way can change how we feel about our lives, imagine what could happen during a 60-minute yoga class. The only barrier to becoming your best self is allowing yourself to be still enough to stretch into your own body and mind.

Make 2014 the year you reach!

Namaste,

Mountain Mama

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