Life Lessons I’ve Learned From Yoga
I’ve been a casual yogi for the past 7 years. By “casual” I mean that throughout the past 7 years, I’ve practiced yoga at least once a month, sometimes upping my practice to every day, but, overall, keeping a pretty steady average of about once or twice a week. And through all the time I’ve spent posing, breathing, and savasana-ing, I’ve stumbled upon a few principles that have helped me further enrich and deepen my practice. What might not be so surprising is that these same yogic principles can be applied to my everyday life to help me expand and grow as a person.
It has been challenging work to actively incorporate these teachings into my daily consciousness, but I proceed to work on them, so I can continue developing into the person I know I’m meant to be. And as I work on them, I thought I’d share these 6 life lessons yoga has taught me.
Lean Into the Pain — (Find Joy In It)
Over the years, yoga has required that I contort and stretch my muscles into a myriad of various uncomfortable positions. I’ve learned the key is to breathe into the pain. When I encounter pain, my knee jerk reaction is to withdraw from it. I accept this inclination, but instead of giving in to it, I consciously do the opposite: I lean into the pain. My desire is to fully experience the pain. I pinpoint where the pain is and I let myself relax into it; I let it envelop me. And when I believe I can’t take anymore, I breathe into it. I breathe life, love, and space into the pain. Soon the hard, rigid discomfort softens and widens. I’ve filled it with ethereal space, and as I continue to breathe, I notice at the apex of each breath, there is a moment of joy. I breathe into that moment and feel the joy begin to fill the pain. I’ve found the joy in the pain.
In life, when I find myself in uncomfortable or painful situations, it’s easy for me to panic or to work to avoid the discomfort. In the past, I’ve avoided difficult conversations or situations with fervor, but yoga has taught me that pain is necessary for growth. And, the only way to move through the pain is to slow down and sit with it, to feel into it and get to know it, to let it wash over me. Because of my journey with yoga, I’ve learned that it’s necessary to become at peace with my suffering, so I may find joy in it.
It’s Okay to Fail — (Just Keep Trying)
In my 7-year journey with yoga, I like to think that most of the time, I’ve shown up to my practice on-time and fully present, with my mind and body ready to train. But there were many times when I’ve shown up tardy, with my mind elsewhere and my body simply going through the motions. There were even times when I wouldn’t bother to show up at all, sometimes for weeks or months on end. And here’s the thing: that’s okay. Failing is a part of the process; perfection isn’t required or wanted. When I fail at my yoga practice, I accept it for what it is, understand its inevitability, and I resolve to keep trying. You can try again tomorrow, I tell myself.
I’m trying to apply the same belief towards life. In the past, failure has always felt more debilitating than it should, like an insurmountable boulder placed in my way. I used to view failure as a final defeat, and, downtrodden, I’d abandon my path. But recently, when I fail in life or don’t show up the way I know I could, I try to take a note from my yogic teachings and remind myself that it’s okay; I can always try again.
I also fail in yoga when I fall and break poses. But when I fall, I understand that it only means that I’m stretching myself outside of my comfort zone; I’m pushing my limits; I’m trying. In life, when I extend myself further than I’ve gone before and I fail, I try to remind myself that it’s something to celebrate, something I should be proud of. I’m trying, and I just need to keep trying. Yoga has taught me that it’s not if I’ll fail, but when. And it’s taught me that failing isn’t the end; it’s just growth, and in order to continue to grow in life, I need to continue to fail.
Embody a Beginner’s Mind — (It’s Never Too Late to Learn Something New)
Every time I return to my mat, whether it’s been a day, a week, or a month since my last practice, I remind myself to stay open to learning something new. Every experience is a new one, no two practices are the same, and understanding that from the beginning is powerful. Arriving at the mat believing I know how to do everything will cause me to miss out on learning — experiencing something new. Even when doing elementary moves, I try to approach them from a perspective of what I can learn this time.
In life, it’s easy for me to go on auto-pilot. I know I need to meet these people, send these emails, go to this event, etc. But yoga has taught me that it’s imperative for me to slow down and approach every situation with a beginner’s mind. To seek out what I can learn from every interaction and to not come into situations with a preconceived belief of how it will go. I’m trying to allow myself to be surprised with new information, to allow myself to be a new, better person than the one who did the same things yesterday. And I’m trying to extend that allowance to other people as well — to understand that they too can change and even if it’s been a decade-long relationship, to realize that they have the ability to be a new person every time we meet — to see them for who they are now and to see what I can learn from them and about them.
Ensure You’re Aligned — (Be Deliberate With Moves)
In asana yoga, it’s an absolute necessity to be correctly aligned. The knee should be directly over the foot, the hands precisely under the shoulders, hips squared and centered, and so on. A big reason people can perform seemingly impossible bodily feats in yoga is because they started with and maintained correct alignment. Correct alignment is one of the most basic building blocks of yoga, and the only way to ensure correct alignment is to go slowly and deliberately. Yoga requires me to slow down and be present with each movement. To be deliberate with my moves and conscious of how each movement contributes to my overall stance. Yoga asks me to move thoughtfully and align properly, so I can achieve endeavors I didn’t think were possible.
In life, it’s no different. I’ve found that I must move with intention and ensure every move I make aligns with the values I hold. I evaluate every client I take, every connection I make, and every shop I patron. I’m not hasty with the decisions I make; everything I do is done slowly and thoughtfully always with the question: Does this align with who I am and who I want to be? Examining alignment isn’t something that’s just done once; it must be done constantly or at least periodically. I say this because if you’re not checking for it, misalignment will feel normal. You’ll succumb to the belief that this is the way things have to feel. It’s not until you properly align that you realize how misaligned you were.
Don’t Be Afraid to Open Up — (Be vulnerable)
Yoga demands that I open up. It asks that I give myself freely; unafraid to open up and present myself bare. Unlock, Open, and Breathe, yoga beseeches. Unlock your heart; open your throat; breathe into your belly. My most vulnerable parts — the parts I automatically keep closed— yoga asks me to bare them forth confidently, and breathe into them calmly. Opening up grants me softness and expansiveness; it allows me to deepen my connection to the world and to myself.
In life, I try to display my vulnerabilities with the same level of composure and softness. I challenge myself to open up, even when it’s hard. To be transparent about what I’m thinking and feeling, and to not be afraid of being susceptible to potential harm. This is something I work to incorporate into my personal and professional life, and I’ve found that there has never been a situation that wasn’t improved after I unlocked my heart, opened my throat, and breathed from my belly. I’ve also found that when I feel like I’ve given all I can give, there’s usually a little bit more. I can always open a bit more, soften a bit more, expand a bit more. That’s what’s so beautiful about yoga and life: we can always enrich more; we can always go deeper. The depths are neverending.
Rest — (Appreciate What You’ve Done)
Yoga invites all practitioners to rest. There’s rest in poses, there’s rest throughout sequences, and there is, of course, the built-in rest at the end of most asana practices (savasana). Yoga teaches there are different levels of rest, from actively resting to fully releasing the body and mind. Regardless of the type of rest, yoga asks that you simply relax and be. Reflect on how far you’ve come, what you’ve just done, and be content. Be present with the accomplishments achieved. Appreciate your body and mind for the rigor they endured. Be proud of what’s been achieved.
In life, it can be hard for me to allow myself to rest. I often feel like it’s undeserved, especially when I think of how far I still have to go. But I’m working on resting and releasing at the end of each day. Appreciating the work that I’ve put in that day. Celebrating the steps I’ve taken in the direction of this life I’m trying to live. Rest and reflection are vital and provide me with the strength to go further next time.
Yoga is a wonderful teacher.
It teaches me to sit and be present with the only real thing I have autonomy over: myself. In a hyper-focused setting, it’s easy to enact these simple principles, but when living life off of the mat, these lessons can slip away and get lost in the vertiginous dance called life. Even still, yoga continues to remind me that that’s okay.
Yoga and life are paralleled in not-so-surprising ways. Yoga is a constant ebb and flow of effort and ease, just like life. And I’m still improving in yoga, just as I’m ever-improving in life. And the best part of both: I get to keep practicing. Each day, each moment is another chance to try again. And I can say this: I’m getting better.