Why I stopped making fun of yoga …
by Jennifer Belmonte, LMSW, CHC
(licensed therapist in Grand Rapids, MI)
Truth be told, I am a former yoga-mocker. I could not comprehend how intentional body contortions and even the practice of stillness could possibly alter one’s physical health. After all, isn’t exercising about working up a sweat, increasing your heart rate, and being near collapse at its conclusion? At one point in my life, I was a cardio junkie…running, kickboxing, stepping, even spinning. What then, could possibly be the point of something low-impact, slow-paced, and well…seemingly downright boring. The whole notion of yoga was rather confusing to me. Silliness, actually.
A few years ago, my dear sister announced she was going to pursue certification in yoga instruction. I tried my best to be supportive of her perplexing vocation. She used fancy words like “shavasana” and “namaste.” Interestingly, I began to notice that people practicing yoga seemed more relaxed, more balanced…more grounded, if you will. Slowly, and I do mean slowly… I came to a realization… Do we not practice things that don’t come easily to us…such as riding a bike, cooking, or public speaking? Perhaps I needed to practice relaxing. Yes…practice relaxing!! I was well-acquainted with the concept of mindfulness (we’ll talk about this further in a later post), and its importance on one’s mental and emotional well-being. Yoga, of course, is a manifestation of mindfulness…both physically and mentally. I began attending a few classes. Yoga eventually no longer seemed a waste of time! In fact, I began to experience greater mental clarity as well as physical strength. I realized that ideally, a strong body and a strong mind are two sides of the same coin.
Moreover, the mainstream medical culture has begun to recognize the importance of consistently practicing relaxation…ideally, deep relaxation. As Dr. Edmund Bourne highlights in The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, when we engage in this discipline, we experience a myriad of physiological changes including decrease in heart rate, decrease in blood pressure, and decrease in muscle tension. According to Dr. Bourne, other benefits of deep relaxation include increased energy and self-confidence, reduced insomnia and fatigue, and even an increased awareness of your emotions (as muscle tension is a significant barrier to emotional awareness).
The idea of practicing mindfulness or even deep relaxation may seem daunting at first. So, let’s start with intentional, every-day choices… making eye contact during a conversation, enjoying a cup of coffee (or a meal!) while seated, saying NO to things that do not nurture our bodies, our spirits, our healthy relationships. These are things that require intention and practice, especially in a culture, which glorifies busyness.
Part of my role at Health for Life GR is to help you connect the dots of your life…experience greater balance, find your voice, and be intentional in your relationships. After all, this journey called life is much more enjoyable that way.
You can see Jennifer Belmonte for counseling or health coaching, in addition she loves to teach and will be hosting many classes at Health for Life GR.