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Thank You Yoga for the Life Lessons

The physical practice drew me to yoga. Learning the asanas, mastering new poses, trying arm balances and inversions. I had a competitive, overachieving personality and loved the sense of accomplishment after a vigorous class. Yet the more I did yoga, deeper thoughts and lessons creeped into my head. It became less about the number of sun salutations I could do and more about what I witnessed in my body and mind. Now I have enjoyment from the physical practice and more inner peace with a mind-body connection that didn’t exist before.

I wanted to write about how yoga positively affects my life. What I’ve learned and taken off my mat, into my world. I starting listing my favorite yoga-to-life lessons and the amount grew quickly. There were too many to write about today, yoga truly is teaching me! Here are three of my favorite that continue to impact in my life.

Stop comparing myself to others. Yoga is true self acceptance, not in relation to anyone else, in the present moment. This is hard to do in yoga and life. I will look around a class and self-judge my poses, my clothes and my body against others. I’m in my early 40’s and during my recent training I self critiqued, a lot. Surrounded by beautiful, younger women and amazing yogis, my immediate instinct was to compare then negatively judge myself. It took me time to let go of my ego and self criticism and fully experience being in Costa Rica and simply enjoy my yoga. The same can happen in life, how I measure up with friends, family or co-workers. Comparison is a joy killer and robs us of the present moment and true connection. Practicing gratitude for what I have and seeing everyone (including myself) as unique individuals are two tools I use when the comparison saboteur creeps in.

Community and connection with others is vital. It allows us to have shared experiences. Yoga gives me energy when practicing with and teaching people. During Covid when studios closed, I struggled. The studio where I taught closed along with some of my favorite studios to practice. I tried online classes and couldn’t stick with it. I missed being surrounded by other yogis, hearing everyone breathe and work through their practice. Especially the big, collective exhales after a challenging pose or class. Having community in life provides the same comforts, support and opportunities to learn, grow and be heard. Research continues to show people with thriving social lives live longer and are healthier. Even just one or two people you trust can make you feel more secure in the world. I’ve found meeting new people as I get older and cultivating true friendships takes time. The next time you are in a yoga class or any activity or place you visit regularly, try talking to someone new. Offering a compliment or asking how their day is going are simple conversation starters.

Yoga and life lessons happen in the in-between spaces. The transition from one pose to the next, the pause between the inhale and exhale. There are many variations of the quote, life is not about the destination but the journey and what we learn along the way. Most vinyasa yoga classes have a specific flow: we warm up, do sun salutations and standing poses, have a peak pose, cool down, stretch and end in savasana. The breath moves at different speeds throughout the class and sometimes we rush from one pose to the next. During your next class (or doing anything) pay attention to the transitions. Be present, breathe slowly and deeply, try not to rush. Focus on the pause, the place between the inhale and exhale, the spot between one task to the next. Feel every part of life. I get on auto pilot some mornings and then it is dinner and I don’t know what happened. Or we get so focused on accomplishments and events: the next promotion, the next vacation, falling in love, buying a house, finishing a degree. These are all important yet so are the little moments we can miss when rushing through the day. Cherish the moment-to-moment, the day-to-day. I sometimes teach and have the transition from one pose to the next be exaggerated and slow. We will all get to warrior two from warrior one, why not enjoy the ride there.

Yoga is in everything. Equally in a scorpion pose and savasana. Being my authentic self and understanding every day is different. Knowing we all are whole and enough and have the gift of the present moment and the joy when connecting with each other. We can listen and be open to the lessons of practice, on and off the mat.

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