I would love to tell you that during my very first yoga class (I was in eighth grade so cut me some slack on what's to follow...) everything clicked, I was a natural and I had found my passion. But really, the only thing noteworthy about my very first yoga class was that I fell asleep in shavasana and that my teacher had to give me a nudge as the class came to an end. Basically, I excelled in our final relaxation pose and that was about it. Since then, I've continued on my journey, toppled over a few times and had a few laughs. But I've also grown tremendously as practicing yoga has taught me invaluable lessons that keep me eager to learn both on and off the mat.
1. Life Is Not A Competition
As we grow up, we are exposed to a variety of ways that our society is driven by competition. From who has the coolest toy to who got the highest grade to who got the job promotion, many of us learn to equate doing our best to doing better than somebody else. I've been guilty of this more than I'd like to admit and it leads to setting unreasonably high standards for ourselves and being sorely disappointed when we don't meet them. My yoga practice has taught me that life is not a competition. My practice does not come with the goal of doing better than anyone else or being the best. Instead, my practice comes with the goal of maintaining my own health and wellness, learning my personal strengths and weaknesses and continuing on an ever-evolving journey where I am continuously learning new things.
2. Yoga Does Not Discriminate
I don't know how many times I've discussed the practice of yoga with friends or family members and heard, "I'm just not flexible enough for yoga!" While yoga may not be everyone's cup of tea, yoga does not turn anyone away. No matter your age, fitness level, religious beliefs, gender, or how "flexible" you are, yoga welcomes you. One of my favorite things to do in a new city is to try out a class at a local yoga studio. I'm always struck by how varied the make-up of the class is, but how during class, everyone fits together just perfect.
3. You Have To Learn To Laugh At Yourself
While yoga involves mindfulness, presence and meditation, I've got to be honest; yoga also involves a whole lot of stuff that I just cannot do (yet!). But since I've decided that practicing yoga is something that I would like to explore for many years to come, I generally won't shy away from those seemingly crazy moves that my instructor suggests students try if they're “up for a challenge." Up for a challenge? Sure! Falling over pretty much immediately? Probably. But laughing and trying again (or even trying again a little bit later down the road) is a huge step to learning what you're ultimately capable of. Once, during a hot yoga class (and apparently a thunderstorm), the power went out leaving the room pitch black. Our fearless instructor continued to verbally lead class, and when the lights turned on a few minutes later I was (quite obviously) in a totally different pose than the rest of the class. Laughter, rather than self-criticism or disappointment helps to keep your practice a gift rather than a burden, and it keeps me coming back week after week.
4. Listen To Your Body
When my schedule gets busy, sometimes I feel like I'm just going through the motions so that I can get everything done on my to-do list. Sure, I'm in attendance. But am I really present? Am I really giving my obligations and those who are important in my life the attention that they deserve? Yoga has taught me to slow down and to listen to my body. It allows me to recognize when I'm holding too much tension and when I need to take care of myself so that I can give my all to everything and everyone else in my life. On days when my body is feeling rested and strong, I can recognize this and take on new challenges. But when my body is telling me that I'm tired and need to rest, I can become conscious of this limitation and work to rehabilitate. Yoga teaches you to send mental checks throughout your body during your practice and to recognize and connect with muscles that feel tense or a head that feels foggy. From there, you can practice with purpose and with the knowledge that during your time on the mat, the most important thing you can take care of is you.
5. There Is Always More To Learn
Confession: I'm a huge nerd. I love school and I always have. What's better than being immersed in a world where you're constantly exposed to new things and ideas? Learning forces us to challenge what we know and to see new things in our ever-changing world. Now, when it comes to yoga, I am by no means an "expert." In fact, I don't know that I will ever get to a point where I would feel comfortable even referring to myself as "advanced." Why? Because yoga is a world that has so much to offer end explore that no matter how many years of practice we have under our belts, there is always something more to learn. Knowing this is not only exciting, but it allows me to keep an open mind and to be eager to learn from those around me and to challenge myself whenever I step on the mat. There's always a little bit further to go.