Many people see Yoga as a physical exercise, and use the postures to tone their body, increase flexibility and strength, improve stamina and overall fitness. While it is true that Yoga will do all these for you, there is so much more that Yoga has to offer. Yoga is not just a form of exercise, it is a holistic system for living.
Yoga has a rich and in depth philosophy at its foundation. The postures, also known as Asanas, are just one part of it, just as your body is just one part of you. You, and your life, have many aspects, not simply the physical, and Yoga reflects that.
Yoga can teach us a great deal about how we live, and how we can live a life that is more in alignment with our best interests.
If you attend a regular Yoga class, you will have noticed changes happening in your body. You may notice that you sleep better. You may have noticed that your mental state is improved. Perhaps you have found yourself making healthier diet choices. Yoga can create many unexpected changes with regular practice.
Your class practice can teach you valuable lessons you can take off the mat and into your daily life. Here are eight simple but life changing lessons Yoga might teach you if you are open to learn.
Listen to your body
Whenever a new person comes to my class, I have a few guidelines I give them. The most important one is to listen to your body, and act accordingly. Your body is constantly giving you information that you can use to inform your actions, yet so often we ignore it and act against our body’s needs. If you’re tired, rest. When you’re hungry, eat. If you need to move your body, move. The more you practice Yoga, the more you are able to tune into your body’s signals and give it what it needs.
If it hurts, stop
This is another of the instructions I give to new students. Yoga is not a ‘push through the pain’ kind of practice. Your muscles will stretch best when your body is relaxed (relatively speaking) in a posture. If you are in pain, you cannot relax at all. How often do you continue to harm your mind and body, failing to notice or accept that something is causing you pain, or harming your life somehow? I spent 20 years in the misery of alcoholism, I know all about self harm. Look at where you are causing hurt in your life, and think about how you can treat yourself with more love.
Start where you are
Many people seem to think that they have to already be proficient at Yoga in order to start. ‘I’m not flexible enough’ is a common reason I hear for not coming to class. Yoga is all about accepting where you are right now, and working slowly towards where you want to be.
Always be a beginner
Yoga is constantly offering us lessons about who we are, how our body is, and how our life is. If you remain open to learning, even when you think you know it, you will always learn something new. This is true of us all. Life is one long lesson, we certainly don’t stop learning when we leave school. I think that adulthood is where our education truly begins, because that is when we really start to learn who we are. Stay open and remain teachable, and your whole life will benefit.
Remember that you are breathing
Your breath is a constant throughout your life. The first thing you do as you enter the world, the last thing you will do as you leave it. Every breath you take in between is a gift. And yet, we rarely appreciate it, taking our breath and our lungs for granted. When you focus on your breath, you connect to the present moment, you connect your mind and body together, and you let go of tension and stress. Your breath can get you through uncomfortable postures and challenging moments in life. There is great healing and restorative power to be found in your breath. Always come back to your breath, and remember you are breathing.
Don’t judge your progress by anyone else’s
One thing that 4 years as a Yoga teacher has shown me with absolute clarity, is that bodies are all very different. You cannot look at the way someone else is performing a posture, and expect to look the same as them. Anatomically we have the same body parts, but they are all put together in very unique ways. Some people have very long arms, and can touch their toes easily. Some people’s incredible flexibility might be the result of a childhood of dance or gymnastics, or it might be hyper mobility syndrome. You are you, and they are them, your progress will not be the same.
The same is true of life. We cannot judge our life based on what we see in another. Judgement and comparison never lead to happy thoughts, so celebrate your wins, celebrate the wins of the people around you, and know that there is enough for us all to enjoy.
Practice makes progress
If you want to get the full benefits of Yoga, you have to practice regularly. You can get benefits from just one class every now and then, but regular practice will give you far richer rewards. I see my regular students making remarkable progress, it is a joy to see. The same is true of anything. If you want to be a writer, you must write. If you want to make craft, you must keep making. I am writing this post during an 82 day streak on 750words.com. I am a writer, so I write. My writing isn’t always good, but I keep writing.
Perfection doesn’t exist
Many people strive to the goal of the ‘perfect posture’. I think this is missing the point. The perfect posture is, I believe, the one that you are doing. If you are present and focused in the posture, you are gaining. I might correct you if you are really out of position with it, but often, physical limitations will mean that ‘perfection’ isn’t possible in the posture. If you can’t do it ‘perfectly’, it is better to do it imperfectly than not at all. It all comes back to acceptance of where you are. When we aim for perfection in anything, we run the risk of not even trying.
(bonus) Know when to stop
I could keep this post going for a very long time. Yoga has given me more gifts and lessons than I can list in one blog post. Knowing when to stop, when to rest, when to move on is a powerful lesson that I am still learning all the time. This applies to yoga postures, to blog posts, and to all aspects of life.
What lessons and gifts have you gained from Yoga? Share in the comments some of your most powerful learning moments.