9 Ways in Which Yoga Changed My Life … And Could Change Yours

This post is by Claudia Azula Altucher of Claudiayoga.com.

I started practicing yoga because I wanted to look good and feel good. I also wanted to meet men. Through my early practice days I saw that advanced students seemed peaceful, elegant, centered, and almost otherworldly. Little did I know at the time that those were merely projections. Yogis are people, and just like with other people, you can find all kinds.

The promise of what I thought I saw in these practitioners was enough to get me started anyway, and I am glad I did. Yoga brought into my life not just all of the things I initially believed I wanted, but much more. It made me more flexible in body, yes, but it also pointed out other areas of life in which I could bend or stretch more.

Here are some examples of where the practice had a life-changing effect for me.

1. Lifting me from depression

Yoga entered my life and lifted depression away, literally. I’d been on medication from 2003 until 2006, and through the daily practice and everything that happened as a consequence (having a teacher care for me, going to workshops, meeting people, going to brunches with other yogis, learning about yogic principles, and so on), I was able to stop taking drugs.

It didn’t happen overnight—not at all. It took a few years and a lot of trust, but it happened. These days the daily practice of yoga and meditation is so ingrained in my daily activities that I can clearly see how not having it could produce a void that, especially in winter months, could send me singing the blues.

For example, when I took my very first yoga retreat at the end of 2003 in northern British Columbia, I was for the first time aware that one can live life dedicating every action to a higher power, however way we understand that. During that retreat they had us wash lettuce as a dedication, make the bed with total awareness, and stop and pray on the hour, every hour.

Integrating an attitude of devotion, remembering how blessed I was to have food to eat, the possibility of a retreat, and a healthy body, helped me to slowly put things in perspective, and to come into health.

2. Changing the body

The very first way in which yoga showed herself in my life was through my body. I started practicing Ashtanga yoga, which is a set routine practiced every day in the morning, six times a week. What I liked about this particular style is that the student practices on his or her own and poses are added one at the time.

In the beginning the practice was short as I concentrated on learning the poses in the sequence, and the sweating was profuse. I practiced half in a studio and half at home (with a DVD), and within a short period of time of no more than six months I started to notice new muscles in my body, feel more energy, have better posture, and release weight.

Not all styles of yoga are intense like the one I practice, but most classes these days include a comprehensive workout for the whole body. They include backbends, which help with spine flexibility; twists, which help with toxic release and weight loss; inversions, which help us see things differently; and standing routines that build stamina.

Throughout the daily practice of yoga poses, my body began to learn new and change old habits. For example, eating after 7 PM was not an option when I knew I would be attempting a deep twist the following morning.

3. Learning to stop reacting

Practicing yoga asana (poses) every day is perhaps one of the strongest mirrors we can put in front of ourselves. For example, facing a deep twist like Marichasana C is a colossal event.

Marichasana C (author's image)

As we learn it, every single cell in the body seems to scream “no” in resistance. Having a teacher direct us to go deeper into the pose and keep breathing is a major exercise, one with profound consequences in real life. What happens when we are able to stay in a pose like this while still breathing and remaining equanimous is akin to a triumph of epic proportions.

We can see the positive effect of that equanimity later on, as we step off the mat. For me it became very clear at work, where I would attend a meeting and go through the usual tensions that spark in such settings. Yet I’d have a moment before reacting—a small silence, a breathing pause—where I would stay with the feeling before saying anything. Most of the time, if not all the time, situations had a way of resolving themselves before I even uttered a word, and all of this was just a consequence of a small silence, of a moment of staying present, quiet, and aware.

4. Finding true relationships

It never takes very long when one starts on the path to yoga to realize that the asana or poses are just the tip of the iceberg. In my own case this started to manifest in very practical ways, and before I even knew that there were ancient codes of behavior, breathing exercises or other limbs, or branches to yoga (there are eight).

Through learning about the new branches I realized that I had some ingrained habits that were no longer serving me. For instance, I was attracting men into my life that were not good for me, and were usually unavailable. Te truth is that this is not something that stopped at men, it was a trend within my life—there were other people around me who I thought of as my friends, but who clearly were not. Through reflection I became more aware of what I was doing not just to my body but also to my emotional being.

Changing a lifetime of habits is not something that happens overnight, and breaking that pattern was not something I did at the snap of my fingers—it was a process that started mostly with point three above. Having enough time before reacting or saying “yes” or “no” to something gave me a better opportunity to search for clarity, and to connect with my own inner wisdom. I continued to make wrong choices (I have to admit) but at least I knew that I was choosing the wrong thing. Whoever says that change is easy is probably not being entirely honest.

After I repeated the pattern of choosing the wrong path while completely aware that I was doing that a few times, it suddenly became clear that I could try something new. For example, I could give myself the chance of believing that I was worth loving. I learned to love and respect myself in this way, slowly but surely, and to re-think my circle of friends and intimate relationships. It paid off.

5. Becoming more efficient

Through a practice we learn to pay attention to the breath. This sounds like an unimportant part of our daily life, but as soon as yoga starts kicking in it becomes clearly the most important thing.

How much energy is used to lift up of a chair, to make a cup of tea, how many words we use in every sentence, how focused we are on the task at hand, it is all deeply connected to how we are breathing. Shallow and fast breathing leads to over talking, and to wasting “prana” or vital energy.

Becoming more and more aware of my breath was the doorway into efficiency within my own body. I started noticing all energies coming in and out, and also how often I was going to the bathroom, what I was eating, what I was talking about, and what I was reading.

By making better choices in all of this areas life became less burdened, I started giving away old clothes to charity and eventually, when I lost my job in 2009, I gave away pretty much everything I had. I became lighter, and determined to carry around only those things I really treasure and need. I became efficient.

6. Changing the spirit

The spiritual side for me manifested in trusting my own insight and intuition, and in listening—truly listening—to what I wanted to do, to the song my heart was singing. Through it I became more and more interested in writing, in reading about yoga, in teaching. Many other doors opened up by way of what I call Divine grace: I learned the powerful effect of mantras, I started paying attention to coincidences and chance encounters, and to follow the clues offered in the most trivial situations.

A challenge of stepping into this path is remaining grounded. When someone starts talking about mantras it is easy to dismiss and think that a person might have gone coo-coo. I would not blame anyone for thinking so; it’s always good to keep things in perspective. Good yoga encourages this, to find the connection with the wondrous spiritual world, yet keep the feet solidly grounded in reality, in feeding the children, and in doing the laundry.

7. Changing the mind

Patanjali is a sage who created a masterpiece called the “Yoga Sutras”—a little book of 196 sentences in which he explains the whole science of yoga, and which needs to be de-coded through a lifetime of study. In the book, only two of the 196 sutras are dedicated to asana or poses. All the rest deal with different issues, mostly related to controlling the mind.

The very first sutra “yoga chitta vritti nirodhah” means that yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, meaning that yoga is becoming still, one-pointed, so centered that whatever we put our attention on we burn with the fire of intention and we can pretty much manifest anything we want. Funnily enough, apparently once one gains that power, one does not want anything. The paradoxes of spiritual advancement!

Learning to work with the mind transformed me by introducing daily meditation into my life—ten minutes, 20 minutes, or sometimes even 30. It took a while (in the beginning I never found the time or motivation), but these days I need it. Life seems meaningless and depraved of magic if I do not sit on the cushion and meditate.

When I was working in the corporate world in busy New York City, I used to take a walk every day at lunch time to a nearby meditation center and sit for the first half an hour of my time off. This conspired in my life to make me a lot more aware of my priorities, of where energy was being wasted, and gave me insight into how to proceed when in difficult situations.

Meditation is the branch of yoga that has brought the most amount of miracles in my life, perhaps the biggest one being that I now live and do work I love, for which I am very grateful.

8. Traveling

Maybe it’s our curiosity to discover traditions that have practiced yoga for a long time, or perhaps it is the fantastic nature of the stories we hear from people coming back from India that eventually makes us curious to travel to see Yoga in its place of origin.

There are many top yoga institutes in major Indian cities like New Dehli, Rishikesh, Chennai, and Mysore. I visited the latter in early 2008 and will be returning soon. For someone living in north America like me, the possibility of visiting Thailand with all its retreat centers and fasting and cleansing facilities became more than a treat. It was a dream, and eventually it happened. Through the grace of yoga I became a curious traveler.

Traveling has a strong effect in the life of the voyager: it opens our eyes, forces us to see things differently (people eat fried insects in some parts of the world), makes us adapt (no brushing your teeth with tap water in India), surprises us, and alchemizes us.

9. Going down the rabbit hole

Somehow this happens when we step on the yoga path: we say goodbye to our old preconceptions and begin to give ourselves the opportunity to look at everything that happens in a new way. We start thinking with new types of images, we dream new possibilities, we become kinder, we notice things, and we see things.

The yogic path is a rewarding way of living, a grounded way to connect with spirit, and a doorway into the magic that lives within us—even as we toss the spinach salad!

Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for over a decade and all over the world including the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India, and at Centered Yoga in Thailand. She writes daily at Claudiayoga.com.

Comments

  1. lilas says:

    congratulations, very nice post!
    i agree : yoga changes life

    • Claudia says:

      Hi Lilas, nice to meet you, I sense the voice of recognition there, perhaps from your own experience! good to find a fellow on the path, thanks for your comment :-)

  2. Yoga has helped me to reduce the stress and tension in my body. Now that I am stronger, I am moving on to more difficult positions and love how it makes my body feel! I love the flexibilty and the strength it gives!
    Bernice
    How does your faith affect your ability to cope?

  3. Ugh. I’m so embarrassed to write that I just wrote a post that illustrates my feelings of complete incompetence in the yoga studio. AND, all the inner focusing that happens sometimes makes me actually feel WORSE, rather than better.

    And yes, it absolutely implies that I need to do more inner focusing, rather than LESS.

    http://www.dothesekidsmakemelookcrazy.com/2010/12/29/yoga-sounds-like-the-word-yogurt-but-its-not-as-good-for-me/

    Good point, though. I just need to remember that the next time I muster up the mental resources to practice yoga.

  4. Claudia says:

    Tara, well, I remember feeling a little like that when I started yoga, nothing wrong with that, good luck on the path

  5. Sylvia says:

    Yes yoga does all that. Still I find it difficult to commit to it every day. So once a year I treat myself to a yoga retreat, where you can practice yoga twice a day and really have time to reflect and destress.

  6. Claudia says:

    That sounds wonderful Sylvia, I love taking time off to reflect and do yoga and distress!

  7. Andy King says:

    Wow, I was spellbound. I do yoga every day at least an hour, mainly breathing and some asanas. This article inspired me to do more and gave me a different viewpoint. Its my experience that it takes you out of depression, it makes you feel better, it make you beautiful from within.

    Now I will practice yoga with different view point and different meaning.

    Thank you so much Sylvia for providing such inspiring thoughts.

    • Claudia says:

      Andy, your comment is sweet, I am happy that the article inspired you. I find it very interesting that you also do some pranayama (breathing exercises).
      Nice to meet you Andy. Claudia

  8. It is so gratifying to witness the spread of yoga around the world, and part of it is a result of inspiring articles such as yours.

    Something I still run into, however, is the antiquated notion that yoga is some kind of bizarre cult-like religion, and that to practice yoga means you have to quit your job, sell your home and move to the middle of nowhere, where you will eat nothing but tofu and take part in daylong chanting sessions.

    Fortunately, I encounter people who have this belief less and less often these days, and most often when I do encounter them I am able to steer them in a more realistic direction.

    Anyway, thank you for your article. What you are doing is good for yoga, good for the triumph of health over disease, and thus good for the world.

  9. John Pigate says:

    I love this post. You have a gift with writing and certainly with expressing how yoga has changed your life. I just started yoga six months ago and recently I have come to realize that I had set my expectations way too low–yoga is far more than I could have ever imagined. I’m slow to put words to this because it doesn’t require my description in order to exist and I kind of like that mystification–it’s new for me. But I think you have given voice in this article to many things I have been feeling but did not yet know how to describe. I can’t wait to see what the universe has in store for me.

  10. Cat says:

    Claudia – I only started practicing yoga about 7 months ago and found something about Ashtanga over the other forms that intrigued me enough to join an introductory class and Mysore practice with competent teachers. I started out with Nicki Doane’s and Richard Freeman’s DVD and I found the sun salutation practice to the most helpful for my depression than the other DVD’s I kept picking up at the thrift store.

    I already feel better. My use of some of the medications I was on has gone down.

    I don’t know what else happened, but since I started practicing yoga, I have naturally dropped about five relationships in my life that were not real friendships, including males who I was dating.

    It was very lonely at first but now I feel I am on the right path and more willing to honor myself and what I know to be true – to be good for me and not good for me. Starting the Ashtanga practice is helping me become more serious about keeping my energy free and clear of toxic stuff!

    Thank you for this article and your other on on why you love Ashtanga. Very inspiring.

    Cat

  11. Simone says:

    Hi there, thank you for your lovely article! I only started to practice yoga a few weeks ago. So far, I love the practice and the way it helps me sleep! I haven’t rested so well in many years!! I would like to live a yoga lifestyle and am excited to find a healthier, less stressed me. Is there a book or DVD that you would recommend for a newbie like myself? I am also very interested in the retreat that you mentioned in Northern BC where is it and how can I get information on this retreat. I live in Northern AB and would really love to take some time to go to a yoga retreat centre but the places I have researched are just too far away for me at this time.

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