I just returned from 5 weeks of living at an ashram in central Virginia. And while I undoubtedly feel transformed by the experience, I learned that more than anything else, yoga is a lifetime journey. I have days when I can feel the benefits of my practice throughout and days when it seems so distant. But over time, there are some defining characteristics that tell me the spiritual work I’m putting in day-in and day-out is benefiting me more than I ever thought possible. Here’s how to tell if your yoga and meditation practice is actually working.
1. Compassion makes you think twice before criticizing others.
The more you do yoga, the more you can feel your heart growing. Once you start to love yourself, you spread that same love to all living beings. People who you would have criticized before, you feel compassion for today. You’re able to put yourself in someone's shoes instead of having disdain for their perspective.
2. Compassion spreads to your diet.
Once you have compassion for your all living beings, it becomes more difficult to cause harm through your diet. I stopped eating meat entirely and became very aware of where all my food comes from instead of blindly digging in. Choosing organic becomes important not just for health reasons, but to prevent the harm that conventional farming causes the environment.
3. You find happiness just from being.
You’re happy just sitting there. You don’t need a fancy meal, brand new outfit, or a Caribbean vacation to feel happy. Rather, happiness bubbles out from your pores.
4. You learn to breathe through emotions.
The other day, a friend of mine was really getting on my nerves and I could feel the tension welling up inside of me. Normally, I would have lashed out eventually and told them what I really thought. But instead, I took 10 deep breaths and felt the intensity of the emotion lift. I thought ahead of time that I would regret expressing my anger, so I decided to choose a different path. Emotions and the feelings that are attached to them are passing, so it’s best to consider breathing through them before you decide to express them. It’s not that you're suppressing emotions, you just want to make sure that they come from a place of control.
5. You notice the little things.
Meditation allows you to live in the present moment and the more you’re able to live in the present moment, the more you notice all the beautiful things around you each and every day. Even if you live in paradise, if you’re not able to notice the beauty around you, it won’t seem like paradise at all. Meditation and the moving meditation of yoga involve noticing the present moment so you can carry that mindfulness into your day. More than ever before, you'll have gratitude for your life.
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Image: Matthew Ragan