I am a yoga novice. I’ve been practicing for a year, and while there are many poses that are still highly difficult for me, I keep going back. Why, you may ask? Because not only has it improved my balance, strength, and flexibility, but it has also improved my outlook on life. Here are my top five life lessons I’ve learned from yoga.
1) Stay on your mat. Stop looking over at that person in class doing a headstand, while you are just trying to get used to balancing on one leg–much less your freaking head. The headstand is in her practice–not yours. Let her be her and you be you. Just do you. The more you are focused on what others are doing, the more you lose focus and the capacity to grow in your own development. Stay on your mat and take care of you.
2) Be present. All you have is this moment-this breath in your body right now. Your life is happening right now. In yoga, I am forced to pay attention to how my body feels when I’m holding different poses. My attention will wander, but it inevitably comes back to my body and breath. In the moments of stillness, I have to come back to my body and breath, no matter how hard that may be. In a culture such as ours where we are constantly future-tripping or past-tripping, we naturally do not live in the present. It is a skill that must be learned. And once you begin to practice that skill, I promise you, it can change your life.
3) When you fall or topple over, that just means you’ve found your edge. Life is so hard. Sometimes when we fall, we feel like a failure, but in reality it just means we fell at a difficult moment. In yoga, you stand back up and try again because that is just what you do. In life, it’s pretty much the same-we fall down, but that is not a signal to stop. It’s not a signal to make up some story in our heads and analyze why we fell. We just need to accept the reality of the fall, live in the present, and get back up and try again.
4) The pose doesn’t really even begin until you want to leave it. That’s the exact moment to stay present and hold that damn pose you hate and feel the uncomfortableness. Can you imagine how our lives would be if we did that every time we felt uncomfortable? I have learned the hard way that if I can sit in the pain or uncomfortable feelings without trying to numb them or react immediately, then THAT is where the true journey begins.
“So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.”- Pema Chodron
Feel the uncomfortableness. Feel the feelings, but don’t start making up some story in your head about how you got there. The feelings we feel are important–but the thoughts and stories we tell ourselves may need to be quieted.
5) You must learn to let go. This is the one I hate the most. I lived so much of my life believing in the importance of holding on tightly to things and people I loved. What happened when I did this was that I never allowed them to grow. In the same way, when I come to my mat in yoga, I must let go of my ideas and feelings about the past and future, and set a specific intention for the practice. I have to let go of my “smaller self,” so to speak, so that I can surrender to what is happening in that moment. It took me years to learn that letting go of something you are fighting for isn’t necessarily “settling” or giving up. Rather, its about the courage to move forward, free of a specific attachment. It is an act of surrendering in faith, so that you may experience the present moment.
My yoga teacher read the following poem the other night, at the beginning of class. I asked her if could share it with you, so here it is:
And here’s my little yogi and I in her favorite pose: Malasana.