The unexpected life lessons of Yoga

Only here for the Savasana? Well don't miss out on the real world wisdom that comes from getting on the mat.

Let me preface this by telling you that I am not a yoga instructor. I have not done a 200 or 500 hour YTT, I have not spent years pouring over Sanskrit, nor have I devoted my life to the ancient practice. But, I have incorporated yoga into my everyday being consistently over the past 5 years. I practice on my own, I trial all styles on offer at as many studios as I can find, and I am constantly amazed by how the practice evolves in the body. I guess you could say, I really believe in showing up on the mat and seeing what happens.

The magic of cueing

As I emerged from one such session recently, I sat down with my phone (because such is the life of a millennial attached to that silver rectangle) and jotted down a cue point that stuck with me from the class into my notes – in the perennial hope I would one day scroll through, find it and reflect on the sentiment.

I looked at the note I had written “don't look down, look forward” and thought to myself, well sh*t! isn't that just a lesson for life in general. Which in turn, led me here, where suddenly it all clicked and I thought, what are those lessons we learn in yoga, that apply to our lives OFF of the mat.

So from one unqualified, yet passionate, Yogi to you, here are the life lessons of Yoga – as picked up by way of gold spouted from the mouths of very wise teachers (who are actually qualified) and shared with you.

 

Don't look down, look forward

In yoga, you will end up falling on your head. In life, you will close yourself off to opportunity. In order to progress, you have to keep momentum, and to keep momentum you have to keep propelling yourself forward. So often we are looking back over our shoulders into the past, or dropping our gaze downwards - scared of what may arise, but this is just be wasted energy from allowing ourselves to bound into the future. It’s just like one of my favourite sayings “you don't have to see the whole staircase to take the first step”, here you have to keep looking forward to make sure you are able to ascend that pathway.

 

Before you bend, lift up

Bending is great, the ability to negotiate and the skill of compromise is one that is necessary to fine tune in order to facilitate development and growth. But before bending, particularly if it means bending to the will of others – or compromising your authenticity, beliefs or goals – see if you can first lift up, find a little room to expand and find a way to stay true to yourself in the process. That way, when you do ultimately bend, you have not only protected yourself but you have facilitated the opening for new opportunity also. 

Always try to find a little more space

You know those postures when you feel all tangled up, confused about which body parts are connecting where, unsure if it’s even physically possibly to breathe and then just when you think you’ve reached the very end of your limits, you suddenly find just a smidge more room and space to grow into. Whenever you feel blocked, trapped or confined, by way of restraints on yourself or constraints from others, look to find that little bit more space which will let you evolve. It’s there somewhere, you just need to trust and unlock it.

Be all in as you lean forward to find balance

In order to find the counterpoint needed to nail those arm balances, you have to learn forward. If you’re not all in, you’re not going to succeed. This too, speaks volume in life – if you are held back, be it by factors such as fear or uncertainty about going fully in, then you need evaluate why this is and perhaps reassess. Is it a lack of confidence? Or perhaps it’s your intuition suggesting you are not fully aligned to the opportunity. Once you address this you will be on the path to finding a balance point when you lean fully into it and find the ease to fly.

Stay grounded

“Root to rise.” “Strengthen in the feet first.” “Feel the earth below you.” In class we hear this all the time. Movement starts from the ground and builds up, not just once, but always. In life we can translate this and lock it into our memory– things take time to grow and we constantly need to come back to foundations. Stay grounded and you will find the freedom to expand and explore with strength, clarity and ease.

Breathe into it

Ah, the breath – the vital force that sustains our life. In yoga we deepen, manipulate and focus on the breath to build a meditative state that strengthens our mind-body connection. However, even when we practice this on the mat, when we walk out the door we often lose the breath to the daily hustle, particularly in moments of emotional turmoil, heightened stress or anxiety. In order to regroup that inner calm and clarity, we need to come back to that very simple meditation of acknowledging and finding the breath once more. It can be as simple as counting five deep, slow, full breathe cycles which will help restore the harmony of the nervous system.

It’s not about how the posture looks, it’s about how it feels

In the current era of the self-love movement and body positivity, this lesson is exceptionally relevant in and out of the yoga studio. Every body is a yoga body and in our practice, it is about how you move, express and feel the posture, rather than what the external look or outcome may be. In class we often have the benefit of withdrawing from external stimuli – such as removing mirrors so we can’t find a reflection to critique – but in real life, the struggle can be all that much harder. However, it IS possible to reduce and ultimately lessen the intensity of external and internal pressures and complexities surrounding aesthetics. By making conscious choices to focus on how we feel in ourselves and within our relationships or interactions with others, rather than placing value on our more superficial attributes, we can make subtle shifts to acknowledging more than just looks.

Don't compromise the form, especially in the pursuit of overextending to look like someone else

Hands up who hasn't ever tried to copy someone else in order to fit in? Not many of us, I’m sure. But when we replicate in this copycat nature, we compromise our own form, which is our own unique power and stamp in this world. When you compromise the posture in Yoga, you don't receive the benefits of building strength or finding release, which it is designed for. There are no shortcuts, on the mat, and in life, so take it slow, be exactly where you are, and relish in the uncomfortable, because in doing so, you become yourself – not an overextended, inauthentic version of someone else.

Stay on your own mat

The practice encourages you to firstly get on the mat, and secondly, stay there. Not to be looking around and seeing what everyone else is doing, but putting in the work by yourself, in yourself. In life, it’s the same thing as staying in your own lane. You have to be so obsessed with investing in yourself that you don’t waste time comparing yourself to others. In this way, you become truly, authentically yourself, aligned to exactly your own needs, desires, goals and dreams. Which is where the magic happens!

Who knew that by attending Yoga classes you would get more than just longer limbs, a stronger upper body and an addiction to Kombucha (well, every single Yogi master, but you know what I mean…) Next time you slip into class just to reach Savasana, tune in to what arises from within yourself, or from the words of your teacher, you never know what life lessons you may walk away from your mat with.