Want To Change Your Life? Get On A Yoga Mat.
Think you’re too old for yoga? Too stiff? Too inflexible? Too much of a man?! You are not alone.
by LUCY EDGE
Yoga Journal’s most recent Yoga in America Study asked people why, despite knowing yoga was ‘good for them’, they’d never got on a mat. They replied that they saw yoga as only for:
Really flexible people 48%
Young people 29%
A physical practice with physical benefits?
Thinking about what lay behind these statements I realised that yoga is still seen primarily as a physical practice with physical benefits, when in fact no physical prowess is required and its greatest benefits are much deeper – extending into a greater sense of self, an ability to listen to our own insight and the courage to put our ideas into action.
Sharing our stories
It struck me that what yoga people need to do is open up – to share our stories, in order to break down this wall of physical resistance. When we share our own personal stories, from the heart of one human being to another, we allow our experience to open up as a possibility for someone else. This, after all, is what Prince Harry is doing to great effect with his Heads Together initiative – changing the conversation around mental health by talking about his own experience – one he kept bottled up for 20 years after the tragic death of his mother, Princess Diana.
I was a burnt out corporate, working eighty hour weeks in advertising. I couldn’t touch my ankles, let alone my toes. Nothing was working for me, and all those years of debating what song a sunflower should sing landed me with clinical depression. I tried popping pills but they didn’t work so I decided to straighten myself out with six months in the yoga schools of India.
Encountering Gucci’d up gurus and poolside body fat contests in which the winners were always the Ashtanga students wasn’t what I expected but the yoga got to work anyway, peeling back the layers to reveal new possibilities. I realised, as I packed five volumes of diaries in my suitcase for the journey home, that my happiness lay in writing. And I ended up writing a book about it called Yoga School Dropout which Random House published it a year later and which has sold about 40,000 copies.
A shared journey
As I’d shared the story of my unlikely transformation, from corporate burn out to born again writer, readers shared theirs; how yoga was helping them transform life’s obstacles and create lives they loved – as small business owners, mothers, yoga teachers, designers. The list went on, and on. It was touching, moving and inspiring.
I created The Yoga Map Project as a place to share these yoga stories. So far over 350 people have shared their stories, hoping to inspire new people onto a mat.
These are stories that stretch from New York to California to London to Tel Aviv to Durban, South Africa but they have one thing in common – they all describe our transformation from lost souls dealing with some pretty significant life challenges to joyful people living lives filled with purpose. That’s the power of yoga. And that power is what I want to share – to inspire you onto a mat.
By far the most common theme (44 stories) is feeling utterly lost and wanting a new life.
Broken girl made whole
“I stumbled into yoga a bird with severely broken wings. I had tried just about every unhealthy means of managing an overwhelming life, chronic pain, failed relationships and a broken heart. I finally decided to try something that wasn’t going to make things worse. I knew yoga would help with my physical pain and the limitations I was suffering due to chronic disease but I didn’t realize the way it would massage my heart, my liver, my stomach, my intestines and every other internal part of my body to wellness. Today I live a whole, happy life filled with joy and mindfulness.”
Story and image by kind permission of Roquita Williams, Student, #PoweredByYoga since 2007, Memphis, USA
Managing stress is another familiar tale (24 stories)
Fulfilling my dreams, living out my dharma
“Yoga is absolutely responsible for helping me to fulfil my dreams and live out my dharma. In my late 40s I made the transformation from a stressed out corporate executive to a blissed out beach yoga teacher and have never been happier. Yoga has blessed me with the opportunity to do work that I love, help others, share love and compassion, travel around the world, meet the most OMazing people and make new friends, lift up and support women, and provide an outlet for my creativity. It is my life insurance policy that will keep me healthy and vibrant both physically and spiritually and I look forward to living and sharing this practice both on and off my yoga mat for years to come!”
Story and image by kind permission of Maria Santoferraro, Teacher, PoweredByYoga since 2004, Richfield, Virginia, USA
Anxiety and depression split 20 stories between them
“As a sufferer of OCD and anxiety my daily practice allows me to find a sense of inner peace. It hasn’t been always an easy path, but one full of facing up to my own demons every day and each time I step onto my mat. Without that daily grounding and centering I know I would today be a very different person living a very different life.”
Story and image by kind permission of Zoe Goodyear, Teacher, #PoweredByYoga since 2010, Andover, UK
Building self esteem is central to the power of yoga (18 stories)
“Yoga had changed my life! Before yoga, I was a completely different person. I wasn’t myself. I was the person I thought I was supposed to be. I had an “image” I was trying to protect. I had such a busy lifestyle trying to be this and that, here and there, I never had time for myself, just other people, businesses…I had a life of pleasing everyone else. I also held on to everything! Grudges, arguments, past relationships…my mind could’ve exploded with all the stress and negativity I kept within me! Thank goodness for yoga, I finally learned how to LET GO! Let go of what isn’t me. Stop trying to be this and that. Let go of planning every single thing and trying to be everywhere for everyone at once. Let go of what isn’t there anymore. Release what no longer serves me. Be in the present and forget about the past! I never truly knew what “letting go” meant until I started practicing yoga and now I have become so much more relaxed, happy, peaceful, balanced, present…the list goes on! I can deal with so much more now because of meditation and yoga. I found myself through yoga. I am a happy being because of yoga. I love my life now! Namaste”
Story and image by kind permission of Emerald Barcelona, Student, #PoweredByYoga since 2014, North Hollywood
Body image and eating disorders account for 13 stories
Yoga healed me, & helped me grow into a healer
“I’d suffered with an eating disorder from the age of 12. There was a time when I was too weak, both physically and mentally to walk more than a few steps. But I could still breathe. And where there was breath, I found yoga. I used yoga to help me heal; I rejected medications and turned to meditation. Suddenly I find myself being a #medicyogi: studying medicine, giving holistic massage AND teaching what I love – YOGA. Yoga helped me shape and sculpt myself in to a stronger, more satisfied human being. Yoga stopped me using my as a source of suffering, and let me see it as a source of satisfaction & celebration… of how far I have come, and all that I have yet to discover.”
Story and image by kind permission of Rose Bird, Teacher, #PoweredByYoga since 2012, Bristol, UK
So please do not be stopped by a fear of judgement, of not feeling good enough. Yoga can help the most broken of birds end their suffering, and live a life filled with purpose and creativity.
Read more stories on The Yoga Map. Let’s get everyone #PoweredByYoga!
The last word goes to Ellen Van Velden, sharing her beautiful yoga story from South Africa:
Yoga made life beautiful.
“Yoga healed my heart. Every life on this earth endures pain and suffering, most of it that is never set free. Yoga allowed for an inward journey on a massive scale. It allowed for the past to be put in its place, making space for the life giving present. Without suffering I would never have found the yoga practice and without suffering I wouldn’t understand how to heal. It’s worth it to feel pain, if it means those lessons can be channelled to healing hearts and maybe even the world.”
Story and image by kind permission of Ellen Van Velden, Teacher, #PoweredByYoga since 2013, Durban South Africa