10 ways yoga changed my life in 10 years
Steven Schwartz reflects on his yoga journey over the past 10 years and how it has turned his life around in so many wonderful ways
I 'll never forget the day my doctor told me: "Steven, every scoop of ice cream is stealing about 10 minutes of your life, and if you keep going in this direction, your life will end 10 years too early.”
I didn't know what to say. I loved ice cream (still do), but I knew things weren't going in the right direction. My joints hurt, I was hardly moving throughout the day, and I was addicted to making late-night reservations at bad restaurants.
But looking back, it was more than that. I was easily irritated by everyday situations. I was consumed in thoughts about things I could never control. My potential as a human being was slowly slipping away.
As I walked out the door, sort of defeated, my doctor said one last thing to me.
"You said you started hot yoga? If you decide not to change anything, at least stick with that."
This conversation occurred 10 years ago, and I did stick with it.
And it changed my life. I connected with an incredible community of people that challenged me physically, mentally and spiritually. Yoga gave me the confidence to take back control of myself and the clarity to be at peace with the world around me.
These are the lessons I learned along my journey over the past 10 years.
1 - Eat to feel good and find what works for you
I was a five-star eater my whole life, and I used to encourage my kids to order dessert only because I knew they wouldn't finish it. This way, I would have an excuse to indulge in a guilt-free second scoop of ice cream. However, as I began practicing yoga, I realised the correlation food had on my body and mind. I no longer ate what tasted the best but rather what made me feel the best. As a result, my diet became an experiment, and I constantly tested new foods to see how my body would react. Everybody is different, and I learned how important it is to find foods that work for you.
2 – It’s better to be a player than a spectator
My ideal Sunday used to be sitting on the couch for 10 hours straight watching every single NFL snap. Shortly after starting yoga, I realised how much more enjoyable it was to be in the game rather than watching it. Yoga motivated me to be the star player in my life and even encouraged me to try activities I had never imagined. In 2016, I ran the New York City Marathon, which seemed impossible since I could hardly walk around the block without pain only a couple years before.
3 – See the world from all sides
The world of yoga is as diverse as they come, and you never know who is lying on the mat next to you. I have met some of the most amazing people from all circles of life that have given me new perspectives on everything from business to life philosophies. In a world where it is fashionable to be extreme and polarise yourself with similar views, I find it refreshing to be surrounded by such an eclectic community of people. They taught me to see all sides of the Rubik’s Cube.
4 – Inner peace and collaboration over external wins
I grew up playing traditional American sports, which favour winning at all costs and individual accolades. I had been taught this from a very young age, and it wasn't until I started yoga that I began to value something more than winning. I learned to love the journey, the energy of the group, and the process of improving without having to justify it with a label of victory. In a yoga class, you are only as strong as your weakest link, and everyone brings something to the table. The win is inner peace, and the accolade is connecting with the people around you.
5 – Breathe through the chaos
Life is filled with moments that irk you to the core. That guy who cut you off on the highway, the woman with the screaming baby on the 12-hour plane ride sitting right next to you. I used to mentally fold during these moments, but yoga taught me to breathe and keep things in perspective. By all means, I am blessed, and yoga helped me tap into gratitude during moments of annoyance.
6 – My creative playground
Creativity is a hard thing to explain, and it is even harder to harness on command. However, one thing that’s true about creativity is it starts to flow when your mind is silent, and your thoughts are judgement-free. I co-host a radio show, and before every segment, I take a couple of deep breaths to connect with my body and relax my mind. A mind that used to be filled with jumbled thoughts before big moments is now a blank canvas with a ton of neatly organised life experiences to paint with.
7 – You can live pain-free
At my lowest point, I was in so much pain that I considered getting surgery on my knee. My body was breaking down, and I was doing it no favours by sitting in an office chair or on my couch for 10 hours a day. Yoga helped me tap into muscles I never knew existed, and I began to move in ways I had never before. Simply getting the blood flowing in my body regularly through purposeful movement has helped tremendously. At 60 years old today, my body feels better than it did in most of my 40s and 50s.
8 – Lead through connection
This year, I got my license and began teaching yoga at my local studio, giving me a new insight into leadership. The biggest challenge for a teacher is when you have a beginner, a seasoned veteran, and a casual yogi all in the same class. You have to connect them all to each other while motivating people with different levels of engagement through the journey. It is a lot like running a business, and teaching yoga made me a more empathetic leader by understanding that everyone has their own unique story. To motivate them, you need to connect their story with the overall vision.
9 – You can only control what you can control
There are no guarantees in life, and yoga taught me that you can't be responsible for other people’s happiness. You can only help. As a father, you want nothing more than to see your kids thrive and be the best they can be, but you can't control their every move to dictate the outcome. You can only give them the best of you and share your undoubted support along the way. As a husband, I learned to be present and enjoy the little moments. The ones we cast to the side too often because of the responsibilities life throws us.
10 – Live simple
Simplicity is the key to life, and yoga helped install a sense of simplicity in my life. Every breath, every moment, one step at a time. Nothing is that good, and nothing is that bad, always striving to be balanced, somewhere in the middle. A yoga class is made up of a bunch of poses, and life is made up of a bunch of moments. Some are harder for some people, and some come easier.
But if you take it one step at a time, we will all make it through the class of life.
Steven Schwartz is a student of life and a lifelong adventurer who brings a spark of contagious energy to every situation (steviegreeneverybody.com)
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.