For most western “yogis” these days, yoga starts as a form of exercise. It’s an activity to supplement a healthy lifestyle, become more flexible, strengthen our muscles and relax. Over time though, whether we intend to or not, our practice begins to influence our lives on a deeper level. After all, the definition of yoga is “to yoke,” meaning to unify our mind, body and soul by realizing that everything is connected. Suddenly, we start to eat better because it helps us feel better. Our thoughts become more positive. Our clothes more comfortable. Life, more enjoyable.
In the many years that I have been practicing yoga, I have learned valuable life lessons that impact me every day. While these teachings will continue to multiply through my practice, here are a few important things that yoga has taught me:
Pants are the worst. This very important lesson is what inspired this article. I was sitting at my desk the other day thinking, “Work would not be so terrible if I could just take my pants off.” It’s the first thing I do when I get home. As yogis, we need the freedom to move. Jeans, khakis, slacks, trousers, corduroys…they’re so constricting. If I cannot practice hanuman asana in them, they are dead to me. Leggings, which I don’t consider to be pants, are where it’s at. Luckily, thanks to Gaiam and many other brands, crazy patterns and styles of leggings or yoga pants are popping up all over the place, helping yogis everywhere be a little more free.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Up until recently, I spent the majority of my days cringing about bad memories or coping with anxiety-fueled nightmares about what’s next. Practicing yoga, pranayama and meditation helped me realize that life changes moment by moment. Yesterday is gone. We’re never getting it back. Take what you need from it and leave the rest exactly where it belongs – in the past. Tomorrow is never a guarantee. Seize every new day as an opportunity to begin again and don’t burden this fresh start by over-planning – it will only lead to disappointment.
A deep breath is just what the doctor ordered. Our society is clouded by stress, anxiety, depression, ex-boyfriends, credit card bills and bad gossip. Stop. Close your eyes. Inhale. Exhale. Feel better? Exactly. Breath controls the mind and our mind controls everything. Before you react to anything, take a breath. Notice if you’re able to source from this energy and see a new perspective, or articulate your response more positively and therefore, more powerfully. Let the breath feed you and inspire you.
Meditation is like a massage for your mind. Our mind, just like any part of our being, needs a break. We live in a world of constant stimulation. We go to bed watching TV, we snuggle our cell phones like teddy bears and we receive information we never knew we even wanted in 140 characters or less. It’s exhausting. But it’s a cycle that it so hard to break. I still struggle to meditate every day because there’s so many other things I could be doing than just “sitting there.” Wake up early and before you can even check Facebook, go sit in front of a window. Look outside. Take in the beauty of our natural world. Focus on your breath for 20 minutes. Do this and I bet you won’t even want to check Facebook until at least lunch time.
What happens on the mat, follows you out the door. Practicing asana is really just one big mirror into our daily lives. No, that doesn’t mean if you suck at urdhva dhanurasana then you suck at life. It’s how you prepare, enter and react to those struggles that tell the larger story. Did you rush through your sun salutations? Did you take shortcuts coming into bakasana? Were you comparing yourself to someone else in class? Were you picking a wedgie instead of finding your drishti in vrksasana? Did you want to run out of the room in frustration?
These are symptoms of life’s distractions taking us out of focus. By learning to take our time through postures we become more patient. By finding proper alignment we protect ourselves from getting hurt. By eliminating external disturbances, we find balance and celebrate our unique growth. And by ignoring self-deprecating thoughts of failure, we discover the most important thing of all – to love.