7 Lessons Yoga Has Taught Me About Life

Heartbreak, Self

I realized what yoga was really about when I finally stopped worrying about my form.

I have been practicing yoga about once a week for 4 years. For the first 2 years it was mostly about learning the poses and the rhythms of yoga. Then I started noticing that there were meditative little nuggets that I could use with clients in my therapy private practice. Breathing exercises, thought flows, intention setting, etc. More recently I realized that yoga has been trying to teach me so much more about living a balanced life and how to be happy with each improvement.

1. Begin with stillness.

At the beginning of every yoga practice we start with stillness, meditation, intention-setting, gratitude, attention to our bodies and minds, focusing on being in the moment. You can all apply this to your everyday life. 

Start your mornings with stillness and an intention for your day. Begin a task by taking a moment to notice where you are at emotionally and where your vulnerabilities may lie so that you are prepared to address them as they arise. Taking a moment to find stillness before starting anything can help to settle the mind and increase focus.

2. There is no such thing as perfection.

Have you ever seen those pictures of yogis in amazing poses with facial expressions of pure peace and harmony with the world?

Well, even those experienced yogis have not achieved perfection. They continue to practice not because they figured it all out and there is nowhere else to go, but because there is always somewhere to take their practice—increasing strength, flexibility, focus, or just tweaking the most basic of poses to achieve greater depth of the experience.

It's easy to get down on yourself because you haven't achieved perfection. Stop now and then and be satisfied with where you are today and know that you get to keep trying every day that you are on this planet.

3. Challenge yourself.

When I started yoga I was challenged enough by a simple triangle pose and had no idea that I could ever do anything like a headstand, let alone a handstand. My yoga instructor was gently encouraging and always offered a little more advancement in class. So one day I said, "What the heck", and tried a headstand.

Planting my hands, setting the top of my head on the ground I slowly began to lift my feet off the ground. Half way up I had to come back down or I was going to flip over backwards. Then back into it I went. Slowly I reached my toes to the ceiling and there I was in a headstand.

Since then I have played with staying up longer, going to a forearm headstand, and am now working on a handstand. I keep trying to see if I can do that next level of different poses on different days, just to see where I'm at.

You can do the same thing with your everyday life. If you tell yourself you can't do something, then, sure enough, you will not be able to do that thing. But if you just try, you might find out you have more ability, skill, intellect, experience, or whatever is needed than you ever gave yourself credit for.

4. Trust your instincts.

Different days are different. When I am practicing yoga I might have a day where I feel strong as an ox and can take on the world. On another day I may be tired, injured or just plain worn out and need to hold back a little or I might hurt myself.

Instinct is that thing inside you that whispers to you, guiding you toward good and away from bad. It is not built from all of the worries about the judgments of others or fears that we are not meeting expectation or lack of confidence in our abilities.

Our instinct is that quiet voice under all of the noise that tells you to walk down one street versus another. It tells you when a person just doesn't seem right, or if they truly do seem to have a good heart. It even tells you when today you have the strength to take on a challenge or if today you will be setting yourself up for failure so it would be better to try tomorrow. 

The next time you have a question about yourself or your life, take a moment to listen to your quiet voice, trust it and let it guide you to the right choice for you on this day.

5. We are all in a state of change.

My yoga instructor has said, "When in a pose, you are not static, you are constantly changing. You are relaxing more, pulling your core in more, getting deeper, pulling up straighter, breathing into your pose." I finally started really listening to her and realized that we are all constantly changing.

You might become frustrated, because just when you feel like you've figured something out it changes or something else suddenly needs attention. Try relaxing into the acceptance of the changing nature of being human. You don't get to rest on our laurels and get away without change.

We are all aging, we are all interacting with a changing world, and with every experience we gain greater wisdom. So instead of fighting the changing nature of life, lean into it a little more and allow it to move you further forward toward your goals.

6. Pain is not necessary.

Knock on the door of pain and then step back a little. In yoga, as with most physical activities, if you push your body to endure pain, you are likely to hurt yourself, maybe pull or even tear a muscle. Yoga teaches us to challenge, but not injure.

You don't have to prove anything by forcing yourself to be in pain. It's the same thing in life. Yes, life comes with challenges and even some natural pain like grief. But it isn't necessary for us to remain in sustained pain.

If you are in a painful relationship, you are not required to endure that pain. Work on the relationship and if it doesn't get better, consider leaving. Even with pain like grief, there is a point that, if you are holding onto a state of sustained pain, it's time to question why you feel it is so important to hurt.

Any time you find yourself in pain ask yourself some questions: What are you trying to prove? What are you afraid of? Why do you feel you deserve to be punished?

7. End with stillness.

Just as we begin each yoga practice with stillness, we also end with stillness. Lying on our backs in a reclined position for what is called Shivasana. In this moment we allow the fullness of our practice to settle into our bodies. We reset our intentions, reassert our gratitude, and reground ourselves into the moment.

At the end of your day, or at the end of a task or event, you can do the same. Stop and put yourself back in the moment, pull out of the anxious thinking and reconnect with yourself for a more peaceful feeling of closure.

You don't have to practice yoga to understand and take these lessons to heart (although I'm such a convert that I recommend it to anyone who will listen). All you have to do is slow down and be willing to listen to your body and mind, and show caring for yourself.


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