Updated: Mar 10, 2020
My Personal Lessons from Yoga
About three years ago I tried Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga for the first time. I had read about it and my intuition told me I might connect with the practice (for those of you interested in learning more about Ashtanga, you can find information here). I slowly learned the first series one on one with my teacher and became a part of a lovely community, one that is dedicated to making yoga accessible to all. Now, years later, I can’t imagine doing any other style of yoga.
Over the years I’ve gotten questions about why I do yoga and I’d like to take this opportunity to share a few of the lessons yoga has taught me.
1. I will fall…and I will get back up
My yoga practice completely shifted the day my teacher told me “you need to fall.” Up until then, I had been avoiding a certain posture because I didn’t want to fall. And it wasn’t until I fell (ironically there was a way to fall out of this pose that my teacher showed me, who knew?) and faced that fear that I learned…nothing earthshaking happened. It didn’t hurt, no one stared at me, no one even noticed really. Then, the even more shocking revelation was that the next time I tried the pose – I could do it! The fear that I had built up in my mind was the very thing holding me back. Based on what I learned that day, I started to think about what else I was avoiding because I of what feared would happen. All the ways I hold myself back, thinking I was being prudent, but really by avoiding those risks, I was also holding myself back from the rewards.
2. Progress will happen if I show up
When I started regularly practicing, I would judge myself based on what everyone else was able to do. Secretly wishing I could do everything that everyone else around me was doing and thinking my practice wasn’t ‘good enough.’ In the studio I practice in, all levels practice together. And now that I’ve practiced for almost three years, I realize most of my progress is really due to me showing up. I got stronger. I got more flexible. I learned new postures. But NONE of those things make my practice any ‘better.’ That ‘good enough’ feeling that I was looking for doesn’t really exist in yoga. Does that mean I don’t get excited when I finally can do a posture that I’ve been working on for months? No! But I get excited because it represents the amount of work I’ve done. The practice has allowed me to appreciate what others do in life as a representative of how hard they’ve worked. It’s not a competition. We’re all one our own journey, some are just farther along than others.
3. Everyday is the same, yet vastly different
Ashtanga is rather repetitive, or at least I thought it was. It’s comprised of certain sequences of postures done in certain orders, which can seem rather rigid. But in the repetition I found so much diversity. This practice allowed me to tune into my body in a way that I wouldn’t have necessarily done if I weren’t doing the same postures over and over. I learned to pay attention to what I needed based on how the postures felt day to day. The practice has also provided me the opportunity to stay present in the repetition of life. Those tasks that may seem mundane, like washing dishes, brushing my teeth, or making dinner, are mindfulness opportunities to tune inward.
4. Everything starts with the breath
Ashtanga is led by the breath. Poses are held for a certain number of breaths. The practice has allowed me to connect with my breath in a powerful way. In the rest of my life, this skill has been beneficial in connecting to my breath and notice changes. For example, when I’m anxious I started to notice my breathing became shallow. But if I would start to take deeper breaths the breathing itself would lessen the anxiety.
5. I deserve to take up space
This was a big one for me. I’m introverted and don’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention. As I got older though as a young adult, this transitioned into not wanting to take up much space at all. The format of class in Mysore-style though is that the studio is open a set number of hours and you come during that time and do your practice. Which often results in people needing to move they mat over to fit others in. Walking into a packing room and having people make space for me to practice is a beautiful moment. The personal invitation to practice next to someone, to include me, it always makes me feel wanted. With that invitation came the realization that I am deserving to take up that s