In our first YTT lesson, we learned that yoga improves not only flexibility; we work on stamina, strength, and of course stretching. Since starting YTT in July, I have noticed improvement in all three of these ways, in body and in mind.
Stamina is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “The ability to sustain prolonged physical or mental effort.”
I used to struggle to do a headstand. As soon as I felt a small wobble, I would bring my legs down and I could barely hold the pose for 3 breaths. Now, even after an hour of practice, I can comfortably hold headstands for 10 breaths, overcome the wobbles and breathe more calmly. I will continue to build my headstand stamina to 12, 15, 20, 30 breaths…
The past year has been challenging for me personally and professionally, but with every challenge – particularly since starting YTT – I have surprised myself, at how I have been able to work through difficult situations to ‘bounce back’ quickly with solutions. I’ve also noticed greater persistence; for example, I’ve stuck to a daily gratitude practice. My mental stamina has definitely improved with practice.
To Strengthen is to “Make or become stronger.”
How do I know my body is getting stronger? One way is seeing improvement in jumping back from bakasana (crow pose) to chaturanga. It takes strength and control – from isometric contraction of the legs in crow pose, engaging the core, and all the while the arms hold the weight of the entire body as the hips and legs move up in the air and back. I couldn’t do this before YTT; I accomplished this for the first time in a YTT session!
One of the yama is satya – truthfulness, or living one’s truth. To me, this is not just about being honest; it’s also about staying true to oneself, not being swayed or affected by external views that aren’t one’s own truth. I like to ask advice from many people, and so it has also been easy for me to be swayed by others’ views. But this year I have learned to be stronger, how to better weigh up others’ advice, and come to what I think are more ‘truthful’ ideas, and ways of looking at people and the world.
The dictionary offers several definitions for the word stretch.
- “Straighten or extend one’s body or a part of one’s body to its full length.”
Before I started yoga, I could not touch my toes. With my own tight hamstrings, I marvelled at those superhumans, who can completely fold in half, chest to thighs, in forward folds like paschimottanasana. Although I could reach my toes when I began YTT, I was nowhere near ‘fold in half’ flexibility. But, during a YTT session, for the first time I could feel my chest/belly on my thighs during a forward fold. Yes, my classmate was assisting me at the time, but it was clear that my flexibility has improved significantly!
- “Make great demands on the capacity or resources of.”
In YTT, we were introduced to many topics I had never thought about, let alone studied before. Chakras, aura, and other metaphysical topics were particularly challenging for me. In the same way one might stretch hamstrings or do ‘hip opening’ poses, I too had to stretch and open my mind, to try to understand and appreciate the ideas. I’m grateful that I had these prompts to make my mind more flexible.
- “Cause (someone) to make maximum use of their talents or abilities.”
For me, that is what the YTT journey has been all about.