How Yoga Can Help You Find Kindness on and Off the Mat
I was such an Oscar the Grouch before yoga class the other day. Not only was I was not looking forward to it, I also was consumed with a sense of dread about having to move through my flow. But once I was on my mat and a few asanas down, the anger melted away, and I was immersed in my practice. Sixty minutes later, when I was leaving the studio, a sense of peace washed over me (I believe I was even... smiling), and it occurred to me that yoga might actually make me a nicer person...and I'm not alone. Yoga, is after all, meant to place your body, mind, and spirit closer into alignment.
"Yoga is everything to my mood," says Kyle Miller, yogi pro and co-founder of Los Angeles's Love Yoga space. "Practicing gives me the time and space to pay attention inward, to recalibrate myself, and to be selfish in a good way. It's taught me everything about human nature and the fleeting nature of moods and feelings, and that ultimately everyone has the same desires and fears. This soothes me and helps me when my mood is slipping from my control."
"[Yoga] soothes me and helps me when my mood is slipping from my control." —Kyle Miller
Of course, after any workout, you feel that rush of endorphins (and thanks to Reese Witherspoon I know that endorphins make you happy). But that's not quite the extent of it with yoga, because it's a holistically mindful experience. "Yoga involves not just movement, but it also really focuses on mindfulness and breath," says Eudene Harry, MD, doctor and holistic expert, author, and medical director for Oasis Wellness and Rejuvenation Center. "It's like a meditation in motion. So if you're able to think more clearly, be more goal-oriented, and remove negative thinking, that makes you be a nicer person."
She says to think about how your brain works when you're upset: Typically, your thoughts are running on a negative loop (yup). "In that mode, you won't be nice because you're stuck in negativity," says Dr. Harry. "But when you're able to think clearly, you'll be able to recognize things for what they are—just feelings—and move on, which ultimately makes you a nicer person."
So the mind-body work that you're doing in yoga is working towards its true goal to make you more aware and conscious—which, as Dr. Harry explains, eliminates the chance for you to feel anger or not be kind since those emotions tend to happen as a reflexive trigger. "Yoga helps make people nicer because it's all about becoming more conscious," says Miller. "You realize that being angry, resentful, and mean isn't in your own best interest and isn't an expression of a conscious existence." As you're bending your way through the asanas, you're constantly instructed to move through your breath, connect with your body, and even dedicate your practice to something or someone. In that hour, you're broadening your experience, enabling you to truly see things differently—which, of course, leads to a more open mind that's more prone to receive and offer kindness.
Also, you may have realized that during yoga, you don't really have the mental capacity to feel anger or think negative thoughts (well, besides: "when will this chair pose be over?")—because you're busy conquering the challenge of the pose at hand while focusing on your breath. The kindness you're giving your body via yoga translates and spreads to your mind. "Having a practice like yoga that lets you tap into yourself and be expansive makes it difficult to be 'mean' or thoughtless," says Miller. So if you ever feel yourself becoming, say, the Grinch (as I once did), consider stepping onto the mat. It will make your heart grow three sizes, promise.
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