We call it a yoga “practice,”… but what are we practicing for? We practice an instrument to perform in a concert. We practice swinging a bat to hit a home run in the next game. But in yoga, what am I practicing for? I’m not training for a yoga competition. No one is going to judge my pose and compare my best effort to the person next to me. There’s no trophy or accolades to earn.
I’ve learned that my practice isn’t to prepare me for some big event in the future. Rather, my yoga practice prepares me for…now. Yoga teaches me how to be my best self each day. The lessons and skills I develop on my yoga mat help guide my life off of the mat.
Lesson One: Showing up
They say the hardest pose is rolling out your mat. Just showing up for anything in life is half the battle. Showing up consistently well, then, the battle is almost won. In yoga, this lesson is quickly learned. After just a couple weeks of consistent practice, not only do I feel stronger and more flexible, I can physically see and measure a change in my body. I can stretch farther and hold longer.
Showing up consistently is just as important in other areas of life. Unfortunately in real life, we can’t always physically see our progress and we don’t always reap the benefits as quickly, so it’s easier to give up. But I know that what is true in my yoga practice is true in life. I try to recognize and act upon all the ways that just showing up consistently for something can help me. Showing up for work consistently has obvious benefits. But how else can I apply this lesson? Am I showing up for the people I value in my life? How can doing this enhance my relationships? Am I consistently showing up for new opportunities when they present themselves? What could I create for myself if I do? Yoga is teaching me the importance of investing time and energy into the things and the people I love.
Lesson Two: Patience & Non-attachment
One of the yamas (a moral guideline) in yoga is Aparigraha, which is the practice of non-greediness or non-attachment. Every yogi probably has a pose that they are working on…but the real goal is not to be attached to the attainment of that pose. If your end goal is solely putting your body into a physical position, then you’ve missed the point of yoga entirely. Nothing happens on a prescribed time table…or at least not on the time table we would prescribe for ourselves. I know that showing up consistently to yoga gets me closer to (fill in the blank): <doing a handstand> / <binding in ardha baddha podmottansasna> / <coming into full splits while levitating and reciting the yoga sutras (in Sanskrit)> …but WHEN these things will happen, I can’t know. I can only breathe and practice patience. Trying to push or pull myself into a position that my body isn’t ready for only results in negative self-talk and an injury. Yoga challenges me to focus on my own actions (my consistent practice) and let go of any attachment I have to the end results of my actions.
I know what is true in my yoga practice is true in real life. In the same way that forcing a pose leads to injury, trying to force someone else to think or act a certain way will only injure the relationship. Learning to practice patience with myself and with others, and learning to not be attached to outcomes easier said than done. I had a friend who used to get very upset if someone didn’t thank her for holding open a door. She would grumble and complain about how rude the other person was. I agreed with her, that it was rude, but I would also ask her, “Are you holding the door open for them because you want to do something kind, or are you holding the door open because you want them to say thank you?” It’s difficult not to be attached to the outcomes of our actions. We tell ourselves, “if I am nice to this person, they will be nice to me” or “if I work hard, I will get a raise”…and when things don’t work out that way we think they should, we are naturally upset, angry, and disappointed. Instead I try to focus doing things because I want to do them instead of doing things solely for some hoped-for outcome that may or may not happen. Yoga is teaching me to let things happen in due time and to not be overly attached to outcomes out of my control.
Lesson Three: Bouncing-back from failure
Everyone has fallen out of a pose – whether it’s just putting a foot or hand down to catch yourself, or actually falling over onto the floor – no one is immune to being caught off balance at some point in time. You fall and you come back. Sometimes multiple times in a class. Sometimes multiple times in one pose. It’s normal and is acceptable as part of the learning process. Most of us fall out of a pose, brush it off in a second, and try the pose again without any negative thoughts about our innate abilities and without any long-term bruise to our egos. We quickly realize that the class didn’t come to a screeching halt when we fell, no one laughed, and in fact, everyone else in the room is just working on overcoming their own challenges.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could treat our failures in life off the mat the same way? No big deal. The world didn’t end. No harsh judgements about our ability to be loved, happy, or successful. I don’t think anyone ever did a handstand without failing at it first. So, whatever it is you want in life, you can’t get it if you don’t go after it and you can’t get it if you’re not willing to fail and try again and again. Yoga is teaching me that it’s okay to try new things and to fail, as long as I get back up and try again.
I practice yoga as often as I can...not to attain something great in the future, but because it greatly benefits my life in the now. Above all else, yoga is teaching me to let the journey itself be the destination.
At Ignite Yoga, we believe that yoga is for everyone–For people of all ages and all walks of life.