How yoga changed my life

In the spirit of National Yoga Month, we asked three of our favorite yoginis to tell us how yoga has made over their lives. As most of us know: it's so much more than exercise. Be inspired, and then find a free yoga class in your area.

"Yoga has reminded me to be easy in my body."
--Tara Stiles, creator of Yoga Anywhere and Slim Calm Sexy Yoga

"Studies have shown that women who practice yoga regularly have a more positive body image than those who don't," explains Esther Kane, MSW, author of It's Not About the Food. "It's not about how we look on the outside that counts in yoga."

Abigail Steidley, a Martha Beck certified mind-body coach, adds that connecting to our breath in yoga roots us in our bodies, instead of letting our minds run willy-nilly, "rushing off to think about daily to-dos, concerns, and stressful issues. When we fully inhabit our bodies, we feel confident because we accept and love our bodies and feel at home in them. This is probably the most important thing anyone can do to improve their confidence."

"It's not about perfection, it's about practice."
--Kimberly Wilson, author of Tranquilista and Hip Tranquil Chick

For many of us, the pressure to be perfect is everywhere we turn in this world, but yoga makes us confront that out-of-whack expectation head on. Explains Kane, "our yoga [is] different every day depending on how we are feeling. Every day is different for us--some days we're stiff, cranky, tired, energized, or elated. I think the gift that yoga gives us is that it helps us remember that we don't have to be perfect--we just have to get on that mat and give the effort."

"Yoga has taught me how to listen and when to breathe."
--Elena Brower, founder of Virayoga

When we breathe through our mouths we send "emergency signals to the brain (i.e., fight or flight) which make us anxious and jittery," says Kane. Breathing through our nose, as we do in yoga, " sends relaxation signals to the nervous system which helps us be calmer, more grounded in our bodies, and generally happier and more at ease with life."

Think of the metaphor of breathing. When we breathe in and out, we both take in and release energy, rather than just hold onto it (like when we unconsciously hold our breath). "This helps us to stop suppressing or avoiding emotions, which is often one of the major sources of tension in the physical body. As a result, the body is able to relax more completely more of the time," says Steidley.

"To me, yoga is thoughts, words, and actions contributing to happiness for all." --Kimberly Wilson

The physical practice of yoga helps deal with stress and can reconnect us to our bodies in a positive way. But the mental and spiritual aspects of yoga "teach us how to stop living our lives entirely in our heads," says Steidley. "We learn how to step back from the mind and connect to our own inner wisdom. This creates deep calm, peace, and well-being. When we feel this way, it is easy to be loving, accepting, and joyful with others."

"Yoga has taught me to trust in myself and my vision." --Elena Brower

We live in a world of self-improvement. We strive to be more organized, smarter, more productive, skinnier, whatever. But yoga, says Kane, "helps us accept ourselves exactly as we are on many different levels, physically, emotionally, and spiritually."

Moreover, yoga can help us hear more clearly the power of our own inner guidance. "As you start to trust this guidance on and off the mat," says Steidley, "you soon learn that no one outside of yourself knows what is right for you. You begin to take a leadership role in your life."

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