I understand if at first glance it seems like I am just trying to create a flashy article that will ultimately end up being slightly superficial or surface level. The truth is – you can practice yoga asana every day for the rest of your life and never experience any life altering revelations or lessons.
The beautiful thing about yoga is you can apply as much – or as little of its teachings to your life as you want. It is my true belief that if you really allow ‘yoga’ to become a way of life for you, that there is no limit to what it can do in the way creating positive changes. So, if you are willing, here are the top five areas where your time on the mat can help you create beneficial life habits.
1. It Teaches Self-Responsibility
Any good teacher will begin their classes by telling you that the class you are about to take is your class. They will encourage you to listen to your body, do what you know is right for you, and move how you wish to move. This is more than just a sneaky way of covering their butts for injury liability. This is essentially handing the responsibility of your practice fully and totally back into your hands.
This is a way of letting you know that you are the one creating your practice, and your experience. You have the right to choose what you do, how you move, how you breathe, what you think, and how the practice affects you. So it is with life. There may be a general direction or flow to your life, but you are ultimately responsible for your experience. How you practice, and how you live, is up to you.
2. It Teaches Self-Awareness
Body awareness is generally the very first step in the path towards total self-awareness. The body is tactile. You can feel it. You can touch it. You can use all five of your senses to perceive it.
In yoga you are cultivating an awareness of how you feel when you move, you are cultivating an awareness of how you are breathing. You are cultivating tools for awareness in general. Yoga helps take you out of the ‘going with the motions’ way of life most of us have, and gets you to tune in. If you are to take this newfound skill and apply it to your emotions, your diet, your reactions to others, your thoughts and habits, then you are quite literally on the path to total self-realization.
Remember that the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step. Mind your body and your breath, and see where it takes you.
3. It Teaches Self Love And Compassion
It is basically drilled into your head in our society – try harder, do more, push farther, become better – most of us live with sky-high expectations of ourselves and of others. Then, you step on the mat and the teacher demonstrates a pose that leaves you questioning whether or not you share the same biology with them.
In this moment, you have two choices: 1) you can push yourself, beat yourself up for not being able to contort into the demonstrated shape, or 2) you can send yourself some love and compassion. You can chuckle. You can lighten the mood and learn that it is OK to be where you are. The world is not going to come crashing down if you cannot get your leg behind your head.
This opportunity to love yourself right where you are at, even in your perceived inabilities, is so applicable to life. Ease up on you on the mat, and learn to ease up on you in life. I promise, it will make life way more fun.
4. It Teaches You When To Use Strength To Move Forward
Sometimes there are moments in yoga class when the teacher has you in a particularly challenging asana, and s/he is counting down from 5 or 10 at a pace that has nothing to do with actual seconds. You are left hanging there for what feels like an eternity. Every fiber of your being wants to give up, to surrender into Child's pose and curse the instructor for putting you in such a strange and uncomfortable situation.
But as you stick with it, through your discomfort, you will start to become aware of your own strength. You will start to learn how to release the ‘drama’ of uncomfortable situations and allow your mind to relax a little. This will teach you how to use your strength and your power in life. It will develop your confidence that you can get through uncomfortable situations with grace and without mental gymnastics. This will make you a much more calm and zen achiever.
5. It Teaches You How To Use Surrender
In all postures, there is a delicate balance between effort and release. Sometimes there are areas of your body that can relax and surrender in order to make way for a deeper stretch, or for proper strength utilization in another area of your body.
Sometimes it is important to hold tension in your body while you learn to surrender the tension in your mind. Yoga asana is a beautiful training ground for learning the art of release, relaxation and surrender. You cannot always control what happens to you on the mat or in life, but you can always choose how you relax. How tight you become. How much you allow yourself to relax and surrender to what is.
What do you feel are the greatest mirrors yoga offers? Do you resonate with any of the above points? I would love to hear your thoughts!