There is a funny t-shirt that reads “I do yoga so I don’t kill people.” While the sentiment is (extremely) tongue-in-cheek, there is a semblance of truth to it. Without yoga, many of us would be a lot less pleasant people.
Can you remember what you were like before you began practicing? What were your relationships and exchanges like?
I remember (sometimes with horror) how irritable and volatile I could be. I worked in the movie business for a man notorious for his explosiveness. It was an industry built on “screamers” and stapler throwers. Netflix the movie Swimming with Sharks and you’ll see what I’m talking about. I lived in constant fear of getting yelled at and was therefore always poised for battle. Most of my interactions were reactions.
Being stressed or in fear means living from an adrenalized state known as “fight or flight”. It is the reason driving makes people so mean and angry – not only are we rushing and under pressure, but there is a survival element. One wrong move means major consequences and the primal brain is very aware of this. Being cut off is not just a matter of getting one’s ego hurt; it triggers an instinctual response to fight to save one’s life.
Yoga and meditation reduce stress and soothe the nervous system. Slowing down thoughts allows time to decipher between reacting versus responding. The benefits are also cumulative – the more we practice, the longer lasting and more holistic the effects. When we are less stressed, we are more peaceful. And when we are more peaceful, we are nicer.
Sometimes, it is not stress that makes us unpleasant. I was not only tense in my old job, I was unhappy. My mother was battling cancer, and I was not living my truth. This made dealing with others strained. When we are down, it is challenging to be kind to others. Teachers of Loving Kindness meditation (where you offer short statements of love and goodwill to people) are adamant that if you are having a hard time, you should only direct the meditation toward yourself, because in those periods you need all the love you can get.
Yoga makes us happier people. It helps us to find our truth by rising above the desiring mind and accessing our heart center. It teaches us contentment. Identifying the ego develops a self-awareness that allows us to observe behaviors more as an amused spectator rather than being helplessly whipped around by them. Self-awareness also breeds empathy. We recognize that other people are responding from their unique circumstances, just as we are. This enables us to be more forgiving and compassionate.
Yogis still have down days and go through stressful times, but a dedicated spiritual practice teaches that lows are only temporary. When we remain self-aware, we know when it’s wiser to hide in the apartment eating cookies and taking care of ourselves rather than trying to have a major discussion with a significant other. Our practice helps us respond to others from a place of judicious spaciousness and compassion. Yoga makes the world a nicer place by making us nicer people.
Sarah Ezrin, E-RYT-500, is an energetic and humorous yoga teacher, writer, and YogaWorks teacher trainer based in Los Angeles. With a profound love of travel, Sarah runs around the globe leading trainings, workshops and retreats. For Sarah, yoga is not about the tricks or the postures; it is about finding one’s center amidst the challenges and chaos of the world. She believes that life is short and that it should be spent laughing, with the people and animals we love, and doing the things we most enjoy, like yoga! Practice with her at several of our LA based studios, or online with myyogaworks.com. For more information on Sarah, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook.