Yoga is a powerful practice. It has definitely changed my life and caused me to be a more conscious and centered person day to day.
I’d say it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for myself because of how it’s affected my perspective.
Yoga teaches us a lot about ourselves and others, how we move through life, how we react to things, how we process information. It teaches us how we’re all alike.
We have more in common than we realize, and the similarities are made more clear the more devoted to our yoga practice we become. By tuning in to our own nature, through the movement and concentration yoga fosters, we can deeply connect to the Truth we all share. Observing our innermost essence allows us to see the same essence in others, as if looking in a mirror.
So I imagine if these lessons are what I learned on my yoga mat, then chances are you stand to gain the same during your own practice…and then some.
3 Lessons I Learned From My Yoga Mat
I thought it fitting, after 10 years of practice, that I share what I’ve learned from my mat. Quite a bit has changed since I started yoga back in 2006. I’m stronger, wiser, more confident and more connected…to everything.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, but these 3 life lessons are amongst the most precious and life-altering; lessons I’m still learning to this day.
1. Be Mindful
On my mat, my thoughts become crystal clear. What I’m thinking and how it’s making me feel. How it causes me to react. How it colors my view.
As I move through my yoga practice, it is interesting to watch my mind wrestle with the postures. My mind will either tell my body to move, or pull my limbs back in fear.
I’ll witness my mind jump to conclusions about my body’s capacity to perform, thereby limiting it or freeing it to respond in kind.
If my mind places limitations on what I can do, I’ll see my body shy away from expression. If my mind is inspired to explore, I’ll see my body try new motions and extensions. As simple as a game of Simon Says, what the mind dictates, the body does. Our yoga practice either suffers or thrives at the hand of thought.
This attentiveness to the interplay of mind and body is what yoga helps us master.
The mindfulness we hone on our mat can extend into our lives off of it. The mindful attention we give our thoughts, beliefs, reactions and judgments is available even when we’re not in a yoga class. In this way, yoga is a way of life. And it takes practice.
We can stay imprisoned by the mind or the mind can set us free. We can practice monitoring our thoughts and adjusting what we think according to how we want to feel. We can stop clinging to thoughts that keep us down and hold us back.
Consider your environment and those people that surround you. Are you attentive to how your space and company make you feel, and, most importantly, what they might be causing you to believe about yourself?
2. Be Compassionate
On my mat, I learn patience. When I give my body the space to exercise new muscles, play with balance and concentrate on depth and lengthening—without judgment or criticism—I’m uninhibited and free to fall into each asana.
As I move through my yoga practice, I can be either critical or compassionate. I can be disappointed or impressed. I can be intimidated or motivated. It’s up to me to adopt the outlook that empowers my practice, not depletes it. The choice is mine.
When I’m patient with myself and my gradual growth, I don’t rush the natural flow of my practice. I let yoga be a journey, not a destination. I let how I am, how I look and how I move right now be ok. This is the essence of compassion.
Compassion for my body and where it is in any given moment is one of the many blessings of yoga.
If I lose compassion for myself, I start to compare myself with other yogis and complain about what is and isn’t possible. But when I stand in compassion, my yoga practice benefits from renewed devotion and determination. It is invigorated with graceful energy.
Such is true in life as well. Off the mat, when we’re compassionate with ourselves, we can more readily extend compassion to others. From that place of love and patience, we can embrace whoever and whatever we encounter without restriction or condition. Making life a lot sweeter.
It’s contagious. Compassion for one becomes compassion for many. When we start with ourselves, we create an endless, replenishing supply of compassion for all else.
Listen to the way you talk to yourself. Is it kind or harsh? Is it encouraging or discouraging? Are you motivated to love yourself based on what you hear? How does this dialogue play out in your relationships?
3. Be Open
On my mat, I welcome challenges. I breathe into the difficult until it becomes easy. I settle into uncomfortable sensations until they are just sensations.
When I accept the challenge of building strength and flexibility, concentration and mindfulness, through yoga, I accept that there is always room for improvement. There will always be a pose to harness and a posture to deepen. And I make space for the growth.
I stay open to new instruction, new movement and new curiosities about my body.
Being open to this unfolding allows me to see the beauty of discomfort, the treasure of fatigue, and the miracle of imperfection.
Like with the breath, where we open the lungs and allow the oxygen to smooth out tension and tightness in the body, yoga offers powerful opening techniques—in both mind and body.
As our minds and bodies expand and open up to the discoveries and possibilities on our mat, we can take that same openness into the world where we might face more obstacles. Where we might face more that tries to throw us off balance and knock us off our center.
If we can remain equanimous and composed regardless of what happens to us and around us, we will always know peace. The more open we are, the less we resist and struggle. The less we resist and struggle, the easier life becomes.
Observe yourself when something feels painful. Do you run away or embrace it? How open are you to new challenges, new obstacles and new conflicts in life? Are you just as open (or not) to new beginnings, new possibilities and new discoveries?
My hope is that you can take these three life lessons I’ve shared with you and apply them to your own yoga practice—on and off the mat. Take your yoga everywhere.