Feel-Good Game-Changer: How Yoga Taught Me Mindfulness And Self-Love

by Joelle Nanula

I had done a little yoga before this past summer.

I made a mother-daughter habit of it during childhood; I attended sporadic classes with friends, and I went a few times during my freshman year whenever I was feeling particularly overwhelmed.

But, this summer, I really started doing yoga.

I saw it as another step toward taking better care of my body, which I'd promised myself to do. I went to classes, and when I could no longer afford them, I watched online videos.

I didn't allow myself to think about other things or to glance at the clock, as I had done during the student-taught yoga classes at my school. The amazing thing was that after a few hour-long practices, I stopped wanting to.

I have to say, I really didn't expect this shift in perspective or the mental clarity yoga would bring to my life. Whenever I don't want to practice (usually when I'm turning some thought around and around in my head, and I don't want to be pulled out of my pool of self-absorption), those are the times I know I need it the most.

The more yoga practices I do, the more refreshed I feel afterwards. Now, I look forward to the one-hour window of calm yoga brings to my day.

I set an intention at the beginning of each yoga practice — to be more present, to work on my fitness more or to simply be more grateful — and I pour that intention into every movement I make for the next hour. I relish the strength yoga builds in my body, the soothing voice of the teacher and the connection it makes me feel with the Earth and myself.

But the thing I value most about yoga is the way it has transformed my mind.

I don't want to do myself the disservice of labeling myself an overthinker, but I do have the tendency to linger too hard and too long on a single thought. I used to believe it was an immutable part of my identity; that it was inextricably linked with my imagination, my creativity and my analytical mind.

But as I spent an hour each day getting in touch with my body and being grateful for the air I breathe, I began to break my lifelong bond with overthinking. I was able to recognize the link between my thoughts and self-absorption.

You can, of course, think in a way that makes things clearer. You can look calmly at the facts and filter in your values and feelings about them. However, you can also think so much that you lose all clarity in a haze of your own making.

Personally, I believe overthinking is a form of narcissism. When you overthink something, you're willfully blocking out the facts of any given situation. You're ignoring all the opportunities for health, resolution and balance around you.

When you overthink, you are choosing to wallow in your own mental stew.

Simply put, you're focusing all of your energy on yourself. If you want clarity, that's the last place you will find it.

Don't get me wrong; self reflection is a wonderful thing. If we don't understand ourselves, we can't resolve our problems and go forward toward the people, environments and pursuits that make us happy. But if we keep these thoughts alive in our minds, we can never graduate beyond our struggles, our fears and our preconceived notions of ourselves.

There are a lot of things we can't control, but happiness is almost always up to you. Yoga teaches you to clear away your anxieties, fears and desires. It tells you to be grateful for what is already all around and within.

The other day, I read a quote that said, "Yoga is a means to achieve a non-dreaming mind."

The words made perfect sense to me.

However, if I would have read that quote before this summer, I would have been taken aback.

Stop dreaming? Why would anyone want to stop dreaming? For a person whose creativity is central to the things she likes to do, the prospect of a non-dreaming mind would have been terrifying.

But because of yoga, I know now it means a calm mind, a clear mind. It's a mind that, when it dreams, travels with purity and direction.

It doesn't go down convoluted avenues or into mazes that lead you away from the beauty and truth of the present. As you get closer to that kind of mindfulness, you'll find that making choices that are right for you is much easier.

So, why should you do yoga?

I wish I could give you a clear answer. In truth, there are a thousand different reasons people do yoga. They practice for strength, for flexibility, to escape chaos, to make friends and to carve out small windows in their days that belong to them and them alone.

But I believe there is one universal reason why all people practice yoga. It clears out the muddy excesses of our minds and of our everyday lives, and it brings us closer to the people we are meant to be.

Yoga is movement with a purpose behind each heartbeat. Yoga is gratitude for your life just as it is. Yoga is love for all the inhabitants of this Earth. Yoga is charity, humility and selflessness.

And all of these things are acts of love toward yourself.