I came to yoga at the ripe old age of 51. What started as a 30-day challenge has extended to a year-long practice that I plan to continue as long as my body will allow me to do so. Along the way, I’ve become a yoga evangelist, singing its praises whenever I can! I discovered that yoga is a mirror of life. The following are six life lessons I learned on my mat:
1. If you try too hard, you will fall. Slow down. Breathe. Be present. Sit with your discomfort and see what happens. It will passes or ease a bit. I notice that I often hold my breath. If I’m overworking my body in a pose, I topple over. There is probably a moment every day when I try too hard. I rush to get everything done so I won’t be late; then I am late. Or I attempt to make everyone happy, and then I end up stressed out and unhappy. Notice. Do what you can, you might fall, but it will be okay.
2. Practice, not perfection is the goal. In our daily lives, we become so attached to the desired outcome that we don’t enjoy the process. I am convinced that showing up, consistently and with intention, is the way to find “success,” whatever that means to you. Striving for perfection is a waste of time as we are already perfectly imperfect. Enjoy the process. In steady practice, you will find peace and fulfillment.
2. Be still and you will feel more. The invasion of technology and social media provides a tempting distraction from looking inward and feeling. We stay on a hamster wheel, mindlessly going through the motions of daily life in the pursuit of something better, subconsciously trying to avoid feeling anything negative. But this numbs all of our feelings, both painful and positive. It is on my mat while flowing through a vinyasa or holding a pose, long-forgotten pain, as well as laugh-out-loud joy, bubble up into consciousness, cleansing and opening my heart.
4. There is comfort in unity. As I stand in mountain pose with 25 other people, the scent of warm bodies mingles with dappled sunlight and it feels almost sacred. I experience a sense of connection and calm that can move me to tears. In my counseling practice, I often suggest that clients try yoga when they are struggling with anxiety, depression, or sticking with an exercise program. They typically respond with fear of feeling too self-conscious standing next to a perfectly attired yoga body. My fears revolve around my performance. Will I be the worst one? Will I look stupid? The yogis around me allay my fears. On and off the mat, we are all in this together, trying to do our best.
5. When you are sure you know something, go deeper. I thought yoga wasn’t challenging enough to get a “good workout,” but I was wrong. Yoga is more difficult than the high-intensity classes I used to power through. It not only pushes me physically, but mentally, and emotionally and well. There is always more to learn about my body and my soul. In life, we tend to justify avoiding what we don’t know with random excuses. Guilty as charged. Be open to new ways of thinking.
6. No one is watching (and if they are it doesn’t matter.) I am only competing with myself. In other words, IT’S NOT A COMPETITION! When I learn a new pose or a master a small refinement, I am joyfully pleased. My satisfaction, the result of my efforts, feels pure. No one is comparing me to others or pushing me to do more than I can. I smile when the teacher suggests, “You might want to deepen your lunge, reach around for a bind, or you might not.” It’s all up to me. Just as in life, I am solely responsible for my choices.