I’ve been doing yoga on and off for six years but it wasn’t until two years ago that I began a more regular practice. After I moved to Germany, the stress of not being able to find a job plus having to learn a new language and getting used to life here, caused me a lot of depression and anxiety. So I decided to have a mini-retreat, like the one I went to once after reading “Eat, Pray, Love”. I did an online meditation challenge with Oprah and Deepak Chopra and practiced with some yoga videos (you can find so many great ones on YouTube). This really helped me reduce my anxiety and sleep through the night. But finding peace within also helped me connect to my inner being. I prayed to find my path and asked for guidance, and I found the answer. I discovered writing and now my life is forever changed.
Yoga is not only an exercise, but a way of being. As my online teacher, Anita Goa says all the time (check out her YouTube channel), what happens on the mat spills over to what happens off the mat. Yoga helps you become more aware of your body and to keep your attention in the moment. It is impossible to do a difficult pose in yoga if your mind wanders. So here are a few lessons I’ve learned from my time on the mat and how I believe they apply to life off the mat:
1. Breathe through every challenge
Yoga is all about being aware of your breath. No matter how challenging a pose gets, you have to keep breathing. If it gets hard for you to breathe, then ease off. Sometimes a pose may seem challenging, but as you stay calm and breathe through it, you realize that you can do it. So it is in life. No matter how hard things get, just take a break and breathe, then keep going. It’s never as hard as your mind tells you it is.
2. Patience is key
You can’t expect to start doing the difficult yoga poses the first time you start. It takes time to gain the flexibility and strength needed, so just focus on your breath and keep practicing. In time, you’ll notice your body opening up and being able to do the more advanced poses. Like the saying “it’s the journey, not the destination”, we need to keep our focus on the present and what we can do today to achieve our goals. Before you know it, you’ve arrived.
3. Resistance is futile
If you try to do a difficult pose before your body is ready, you will hurt yourself. It is better to just let it happen organically – do the pose and in time you will be able to do it. When life presents you with a difficult situation, just accept it and then try to solve it. If you resist the situation by complaining or getting angry or afraid, you’ll only cause yourself more stress. Accept what is and take the steps needed to change it or to adapt.
4. Don’t put yourself in compromising positions
This goes hand in hand with the above. Why put yourself in a pose that causes pain or discomfort? In life, you have to accept your own limitations. Don’t give yourself unrealistic goals and do something you hate just to please someone else. Do what feels right and what is right for you. Life is too short.
Sometimes one side of the body is more steady or flexible than the other, and yoga strives to bring both sides into balance. The practice helps you become aware of this imbalance and how you can correct it. When one side of our lives, like work or obligations, dominates the others, we risk losing ourselves and having too much stress. So be aware of what you can do to bring more balance to your life. This can entail blocking out time to dedicate to something that’s important to you, or reducing/eliminating some unneeded task or habit.
6. Life may have twists and turns but always maintain your center
Some yoga practices are unpredictable and move at a fast pace, where you don’t know what pose will come next. To be able to do the practice you have to focus on every movement and every breath. If in life, we focus on the present and always connect to our inner beings, we can conquer any obstacle that presents itself. If we stay centered, we won’t fall into fear or self-doubt. We will remain aware and focused.
7. Change does not happen overnight
After two years, I still can’t do many of the advanced poses. My body has transformed ever so slightly and I know I’ve made progress, even if the small changes are only noticeable to me. I’ve accepted that any change I want to make in myself or in my life will take time. I just have to keep working at it.
8. Be compassionate towards yourself
Some days you can do a difficult pose and the next you can’t. Some days you’re more tired than others or not as focused and you keep falling, and that’s okay. It will happen. Just try your best. When you fall, pick yourself back up and keep going. Don’t be too hard on yourself. The important thing is not to quit.
9. Go at your own pace
There are certain limitations that my body has and it may be that I’ll never be able to do a crow pose or a bind. Yoga is not about the difficult poses, it’s about becoming aware of your body and your breath, knowing what you can and can’t do. I may never be an athlete or run a marathon or be a great cook but I can write a novel and sing. We all have our strong points and our weak points. Own them. Be yourself and do what you can. Don’t compare yourself to others. Live your own life the best you can.
10. Let go
A yoga practice can only be fulfilling if you let go of expectations and thoughts of what you can’t do. So let go of perfection. Stop trying to control everything. Just be. Just breathe. Live. The meaning of life is to be happy. If we’re not happy then what’s the point?
I still struggle to find balance in my body and in my life. I’m sometimes too hard on myself and get depressed when something falls out my control. But I have to take it day by day. It’s a practice. The more aware I become and the more I try to change whatever I’m not happy with, the better it will become. It may never be perfect, but at least I keep trying.
Has yoga changed your perceptions about yourself or your life? What other lessons have you learned? Let me know in the comments below.