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More than skin deep: 5 surprising spiritual lessons yoga teaches Hot Conversation

    Beryl Bender Birch
  1. Breathe in, breathe out.

    My husband died almost three years ago of a massive heart attack at age 52. Losing him was a huge change to go through, and my yoga practice and all the years of learning to be present was very helpful. It’s like that quote from Buddha: “List of things to do today: breathe in, breathe out. End of list.” Okay, I might be paraphrasing a bit! But the idea is that what gets us into trouble is thinking, “Oh my God, what am I going to do without my husband?” Or, regarding the economy, “What’s going to happen to me tomorrow?”

    Yoga training brings your attention to the present moment and focuses on your breath. It doesn’t mean that you just accept injustice, or that you don’t take time to grieve a loss, whether it’s a job or a family member. But, if you’re stuck in the mud, rather than thrashing around, first acknowledge the reality of it. Then you can start to take very logical, present, sensible steps to extract yourself from the situation. And you realize that this is life. Everything changes, and this too will pass.

  2. Take a deeper spiritual journey.

    Young people in their 20s and 30s tend to be focused on the physical aspect of life. But as I’ve pursued my yoga practice over the years, I’ve seen more people asking deeper, more philosophical questions and being more concerned with the lifestyle and philosophy of yoga than just the very, very small aspect of asana, or the practice of the postures. That’s the equivalent of kindergarten in the yoga world! Asana is great. It’s important for maintaining health and fitness and strengthening the immune system and keeping the body detoxed. But it’s designed to lead to a deeper spiritual journey.

  3. Pay attention.

    In Sanskrit, the word practice is abhyasa, which is translated as “effort towards steadiness of mind”–making an effort to keep your mind focused on one thing without distraction or interruption. Another really interesting translation is the constant struggle to stay firmly rooted in the stable state of the true self. Well, where is the true self? How do I find the true self?

    Yoga for Faboverfifty womenYou can experience abhyasa whether you’re in yoga class, trying to meditate, sitting at a traffic light, or chopping carrots. The test: if you’re chopping carrots and you’re thinking about taking a shower and you cut your finger, you know you haven’t been practicing yoga. So I ask my students, “If that’s the definition of practice, when can we practice yoga?” And eventually someone will say, “All the time.” It’s just about paying attention. Forget about stretching. If you want to take a stretch class, go to the Y!

  4. Be a spiritual revolutionary.

    It used to be, if you were going to follow the spiritual life, you had to be a recluse in the mountains and renounce worldly things. You might do scholarly research; you didn’t engage. I don’t see that as the case anymore. I think we who are on a spiritual path have an obligation to be spiritual revolutionaries. We have an obligation to help clean up the planet, care for people’s health, eliminate suffering, and be involved in animal rights, water rights, and air rights. More and more yoga practitioners are getting involved in social action.

  5. Take right action.

    Some things are worth dying for, but not everything is. Your spiritual journey, whether you’re a Buddhist or a practicing yogi or a Christian, should teach you through what the Buddhists call skillful means to be able to take right action in the moment. In other words, your practice is going to tell you when to jump in and fight like mad, and when to back up and put your hands together and bow and say, “Okay.” It’s like the serenity prayer in some of the twelve-step programs: the wisdom to know the difference between changing what you can change and letting go what you can’t do anything about.

What motivates you to practice yoga? Share your response below!

Posted in health & fitness, live it! lists, spirituality.

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add your responses

19 Responses

  1. Steele Steele says

    I am now 50 years old and have basically started my ife anew.  I got remarried in 2007, moved to a new city with my son and have turned my life upside down.  I NEED the relaxation that yoga provides me!  I remember my mother taking on yoga at around the same time in her life–I still have a picture of her in the lotus position with my cat lying on the floor in the cradle her legs made.  Yoga helped her focus and it is doing the same for me.   And, yes, remembering to breathe IS important!

    1 like

  2. VintageIsVogue VintageIsVogue says

    Although I have not started practicing yoga consistently, I’d love a tool/source to help encourage me to begin yoga.  I have begun meditating daily, evolving and growing spiritually, and begun a new exercise and diet regime, too.  Starting over myself from ground zero on all levels, I, too would appreciate a book that speaks directly to the Baby Boomer woman, too.  And yes…breathing is SO important in all areas of fitness and spirtuality.

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  3. Generic Image mhbsun says

    In college I had a small paperback book called 28 days of Yoga.I went thru that book many times and it relaxed me and helped me face each day. I’ve wanted to get back into it although I’m 50 lbs heavier and don’t know if I’m flexible enough. I try to get to the gym at least 3 times a week but think yoga would be what I would be able to relax and meditate with.

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  4. LoisW LoisW says

    This book comes highly recommended at Heartsong Yoga of East Longmeadow, MA. As a matter of fact, two of the models in the book are the owners of Heartsong Yoga. I fully believe that Yoga saved me last summer.

    -Lois W.

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  5. Generic Image Lynne B says

    What motivates me now, more than ever, is the committment I made to myself to stay calm and focused during every phase of my life.  With all the issues with “recession”, etc., etc., we need to breathe in and breathe out more than ever!!!!

    Lynne Brewer

    Dallas

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  6. lindawis lindawis says

    I started doing yoga for help with back pain (scoliosis) but now it’s more than that – part of my spiritual practice. I always know I’m going to feel better after a class, and doing a few asanas in the morning centers me for the day ahead.

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  7. Generic Image paula eilertson says

    I can rarely ever relax having a.d.h.d Yoga helps me do that and it a nice form of exercise also. I would love to have this book ad learn more, I dont have any tapes (lost everything I owned) and cant afford any at this time due to unemployment. Thankyoui, Paula Eilertson

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  8. Generic Image firstnonna says

    I have always wanted to try yoga. Maybe this will be the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and I’ll actually do it if I receive the book.

    Lavonna

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  9. Generic Image donna says

    Beryl, I’m so sorry for your loss, both your husband and Sri K Jois. Sending you love and Blessings. I’ve enjoyed all your books, and taught myself most of Power yoga.  Donna- Yoga teacher-YogaEast, Louisville Ky.

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  10. Generic Image aklein1227 says

    Hello!

    This is wonderful!

    I am NOW 60!!! Yicks….

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  11. Generic Image Madolyn says

    I have always been interested in various spiritual practices, Yoga meant to me ‘bending yourself into impossible positions.  BUT And, this is a big BUT..new .in our community started a 101 Meditation Group..and it has opened my eyes to the many ways Yoga can enrich our lives. I am wanting a more peaceful, meaningful life and this introduction to yoga as meditation and relaxation has already improved my life.  I am motivated to learn more about Yoga and practice its’ various ways to improve myself.

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  12. Meryl Zegarek Meryl Zegarek says

    I started practicing Yoga recently, and find that it relieves stress, centers my thoughts, and gives me newfound energy.   I traveled to India for the first time this past winter, and each time I practice Yoga and begin my downward facing dog, I am reminded of a little dog stretching on the banks of the Ganga River.  It brings me back to that place and time, and a moment of true serenity.  Priceless.  Meryl Zegarek, NYC

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  13. Generic Image gerogiebrown7 says

    For the past 10 years, my life has been totally out of control. I lost a job and could not get a similar one regardless of how many I applied for. I am now coming out of a depression and have begun to look forward to life, I have hope now. I have begun practicing yoga, I feel centered and with the hints above I feel more positive about living again. Thanks

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  14. Generic Image firstnonna says

    Beryl, I was lucky enough to get a free copy of Boomer Yoga. I have wanted to try yoga for a while, but I can’t afford classes. I got the book and started reading! I was so excited to start. Then I got to the page about learning Ujjayi Breathing. I don’t understand how it’s done. Can you help me?

    Lavonna

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  15. Diana M. Diana M. says

    I am ready to breathe – not just exhale, but really breathe!  And I am contemplating the transformations that are possible in my life and experiences by focusing on this practice.

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  16. Generic Image J Voyles says

    I loved Power Yoga and I’m dlighted you have this new book out.  I hope I win a copy, but if not, I’ll surely purchase it.  Your teachings are wonderful.

     

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  17. Kim Hough Kim Hough says

    That small voice of intuition said to me “see where a yoga class is,” at a time when my mother had Alzheimers with Parkinsons symptoms called Lewy Body disease, my son entered “teen” mode, and I was servicing 300 accounts in my corporate sales/marketing/mgt. job. I quickly saw how this was another beautiful way to help people find peace within (up until this time I was often in a position of being asked for advice and guidance). My yoga practice really saved me through all that stress of keeping the Doctors on the same page, my Dad using me as his support group, my husband and step daughters and son and their needs, perimenopause, etc. I went on to take a teacher training certification 8 months later and not long after that left 22 years of corporate life and became certified in massage therapy and energy medicine as well. Dana Faulds wrote one of my favorite passages…”It only takes a reminder to breathe, a moment to be still, and just like that something within me settles, softens, makes space for imperfection. The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper and I remember again that life is not a relay race; that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what we were born for. As many times as I catch myself charging forward without even knowing where I am going, that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe, and be, and walk slowly into the mystery.” Yoga is a way of life, a conscious act, a handbook for living. Yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not a command performance about how far you can reach your toes or how many repetitions you can perform. Its about honoring your body, letting of of expectations of how you think you should be and accepting with gratitude how things are in the present moment. True yoga begins when you step off your mat. How compassionate can you be to yourself and others? How much can you refrain from judgement and love and accept yourself and others? For it to truly be called yoga, its essence must be embodied. As you transform within, your inner light radiates peace outward making a positive difference in the world!

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  18. Generic Image BethS says

    I turned 55 last weekend.  Both children 19 and 23 are finally on their own, I was informed last week that I have no job after May 30 (I changed careers 3 years ago and became a special education teacher).  My life is turning upside down, I am contemplating ending a 33 year marriage, and starting over again.  After weight loss surgery 5 years ago that allowed me to lose 300 lbs, and finally earning a masters degree, only to find education a profession under fire, I am feeling a little “at loose ends”.  I loved the couple yoga classes I have managed over the years, and know that at this point in my life, I have to “breathe”.  I am practicing breathing in , and breathing out, just trying to stick with the moment, no matter what challenges keep disrupting my serenity.  Congrats on the book it sounds wonderful!

    0 like

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