Why Yogis Hug Trees and Rub Food on their Bodies
Pause for a moment and ask yourself this question: What are the side effects of my yoga practice? The unintended and unexpected things that have changed since you started practicing yoga. Think about all the different aspects of your life.
Subtle physical shifts – like better balance or improved hand-eye coordination – are often the first things to pleasantly surprise us. Side effects related to our emotions or mental states sometimes arise more gradually and, without reflection, may go unnoticed. I remember realizing, a few years into my practice, that I rarely had imaginary conversations any more.
What do I mean by imaginary conversations?
When I was upset or angry with someone, I used to play out conversations with them in my head. Conversations where I was able to say the exact things I wanted to say and I always put the other person in their place. An air of righteousness infused every word I said in these fictional dialogues. Even though no one else was directly involved, these conversations would often be quite emotionally distressing. But, despite that unnecessary distress, I never tried to stop having these conversations. I just woke up one day and realized they were (for the most part) gone.
I actually used to be proud of my busy and engaged mind because I thought it was indicative of intelligence. I was always thinking, reflecting, and problem solving. Years ago I would have proudly told you how busy my mind was. But, these days, when I hear people talk about their busy minds, I feel really grateful for how much calmer mine has become as result of practicing yoga.
Different sorts of side effects
The side effects related to improved physical, mental, and emotional health are often amazing and life-changing, and it is wonderful the way that they can catch you off guard – like my imaginary conversations disappearing. But, it is a different sort of side effect that I love the most.
I love that yoga eventually leads people to act differently.
With time, a dedicated yoga practice begins to influence how you decide to move through the world. You can see evidence of this shift in many of the behaviours associated with yoga practitioners: making ethical purchasing decisions, trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and eating healthy whole foods.
How could the practice be responsible for transforming peoples’ actions in this way?
Yoga in action
The relationship between the practice of yoga and growing care for the people around us and the planet we all live on plays out in the context of the eight limbs of yoga that Patanjali offers in the Yoga Sutras.
With a dedicated yoga practice, we begin to find a meditative state with more ease, and we develop a growing awareness of our interconnectedness. The ethical concepts (offered in the first limb of yoga) become more integrated as we see ourselves as less separated from everything around us. The practice of ahimsa (non-harming), for example, begins to arise because we see how causing harm to other people and to the planet we all share is inherently harming ourselves. Instead of a paradigm where we don’t hurt people because it is “bad” or “wrong,” the yoga practice guides us towards a place where we don’t harm because we are actively revealing our inherent compassion and generosity.
The impetus to study and practice the ethical guidelines grows stronger as a result of what we have experienced in our practice. We begin to make decisions based more on our collective well-being. We start to do typical yogi things like drink out of glass jars, make home made body care products, eat organic food, and passionately talk about peace, love, and interconnectedness.
I often reflect on how my “pre-yogi self” would have rolled her eyes at so many of the different things that I do these days. My day-to-day life is filled with unintended and unexpected side effects of practicing yoga. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have even envisioned myself sitting in meditation – let alone rubbing coconut oil, baking soda, and corn starch on my armpit and calling it deodorant.
Yoga is a wonderful and magical practice that continues to transform us in ways we could never predict. What have been the surprising side effects of your practice so far?
Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov