Yoga is the closest thing I have to religion in my life. Yoga tomes are my sacred texts; classes, my worship; the Eight Limbs, my Ten Commandments.
You could say I’m pretty devout.
I found yoga last October when I was going through a difficult time. I was pushed-to-my-limits stressed, and yoga was my savior. It gave me a welcoming place to go and turn off my brain. It taught me how to breathe again. It showed me that, no matter how big or small I am, there are things that my body can do that are pretty remarkable.
More importantly, yoga helped me open my heart and forgive.
During one class at a particularly stressful time last winter, our instructor led us through a loving kindness meditation. During this kind of meditation, you repeat a mantra to yourself while inhaling and exhaling deeply, sending good wishes to yourself, someone you love, someone you know only in passing, someone who is causing difficulty in your life, and, finally, everyone in the world.
I can say without irony or exaggeration that that class saved my sanity. It changed my life.
I began to use the loving kindness meditation as a way to pray. Even though I don’t believe in God per se (I’m more of a deist or even a Buddhist than an atheist), I do very much believe in love and in kindness. And, so, when the stress began to overwhelm me, when I began to feel anxious or angry or afraid, I would pray:
May I be happy
May I be healthy
May I be free from pain
May I be peaceful
May I be joyful
And may I be content.
I would repeat that mantra – for myself and for others in my life – until I began to feel better. A yoga teacher I know once said that it’s impossible to feel stressed when you’re deep belly breathing, and she was right. Some combination of the deep breathing and the words helped me release the tension and anger I was holding on to. It’s hard to stay mad at someone when you’re sending love and kindness to them.
Over my past year of practicing yoga, I’ve grown stronger both in my body and in my soul. When I roll out my mat, I set aside the stresses of the day, if only for an hour, and find space in myself. Through yoga, I’ve learned to trust my gut and respect my own limits, if only for an hour. And every time I practice, I’m able to let go of my ego a little and just be as I am, if only for an hour.
My yoga practice saves me from myself, one hour at a time.