Lessons Learned on the Mat: 15 Things Yoga Has Taught Me

You know that image of the girl doing yoga on the beach? She’s the same girl that you see in the city carrying her yoga mat through the subway, or the one drinking her almond milk latte after a sweaty practice somehow looking flawless. I am not this girl.

pexels-photo-67818As a teenager and young adult, working out was an activity that I loathed. Growing up, my dad was always working out. He was what you might call a body builder, but take away the spray tan, the baby oil and the competitions. He always encouraged me to workout and often offered to help me with the machines or show me how to safely do certain exercises. But going to the gym felt like a punishment on my mind and body. I never once left the gym feeling like I had treated my body nicely or that I was doing myself a service. It was more like, “What did I do to deserve that?!” Was I out all night at the bars with my friends, followed by a greasy breakfast at Perkins? Better go to the gym and make up for it. Did I eat pizza and pasta for dinner last week? I need to work it off in the gym – my body will thank me later. Do you know how hard you have to work to burn off those calories? I do, and I’ll tell you this, I was never glad that I did and my body never thanked me for it. So, I stopped going.

I always felt way too intimidated to try yoga classes at my gym or, god forbid, at a yoga studio. I didn’t know the names of any of the poses, I wasn’t a “zen” type person and I really worried that I would make a fool out of myself. One time I went to a spin class at my gym that was meant for all fitness levels, and ended up having to sit on my bike without pedaling for half of the class.  The idea of yoga was such a foreign concept to me, I didn’t even know where to begin. I had thought about doing it for a long time, but was never able to take the leap. That was until one day a friend who seemed to be leaner and more trim lately was talking about her workout routine. Something that surprised me was that she did yoga everyday, and that was it. No cardio, no weight-training, just yoga. I figured if she could look that good doing just yoga, I needed to give it a try.

yogawithadriene_logo.pngSo, yes, I got into yoga for superficial reasons. I wanted to lose some weight, get lean and toned and look good. I went home that day, opened up my computer and tuned into Yoga with Adriene, the YouTube channel my friend told me about. I started with Yoga for Complete Beginners, a twenty minute workout. Adriene Mishler was the perfect guide for me. I didn’t want to listen to some hippie-type chick talk about “being one with the breath”, or to chant “Om” every 30 seconds. Adriene is light and funny, while still taking the practice seriously and helping you focus on alignment, which is such a hard thing to do from your home, without an instructor in the room to help make adjustments. Ever since that twenty minute video, I was hooked. I immediately signed up to do her 30 Day Yoga Challenge and started Day 1 that same day.

I don’t really know what it was that pulled me in to yoga after that first video. I’m sure part of it was curiosity as to whether I would have the same type of results that my friend did, but after sticking with it for 30 days, that no longer seemed important. Everyday, I would come home from work and take about twenty minutes to do the yoga video for the day (some were longer, some were shorter, so there was a great mix). At the end of each video, I felt restored. The stress from my job just washed away and I felt relaxed, at ease and ready to take on the rest of my day. My shoulders felt less tense and I became more aware of my posture.

I didn’t see any physical changes after 30 days, but I definitely felt different. I felt lighter, more confident and, dare I say it, happier. When I mentioned it to Mike, his response made perfect sense: “It’s probably all the positive talk that instructor is using. If you listen to positive messages about your body and mind for long enough, I’m sure it will start to sink in.” It was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly shed light in all those dark corners.

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Yoga was different from any other type of workout I had done before. For the first time I felt like I was actually doing something that my body enjoyed. There were some days when I moved a little slower and other days when I pushed myself a little bit further. Most days I would end my practice sweating and feeling like I had worked out my muscles, while also tending to my mind. Over time I realized something: Yoga had become a part of who I am. It has now been three years of practicing yoga on a regular basis. In those three years, yoga has taught me so many things about myself, my practice and life in general. I’d like to share them with you.

The journey matters more than the destination. In yoga as in life, the process is where all learning happens. You can only be a beginner once, so embrace the process. Know that you will make some mistakes, but that’s how we learn and grow. Be where you are now, because you will never be in that exact same place ever again, so you might as well enjoy it while you can.

Self-care is not selfish. Often people feel selfish saying that they want to take some time to do something they want to do, whether that be taking a bubble bath and reading a good book or binge-watching your favourite TV show. I recognize that I am a much better wife, friend, co-worker and person when I invest time in myself. How can you help others when you’re not at your best?

Notice the little things. Through practicing yoga, I have become more aware of the little things, like when I’m using negative self-talk, if I am slouching in my chair or if my body feels slightly different than the day before. Being in-tuned with your body and mind is a powerful tool to help you recognize how you’re affected by everything going on around you.

Slow down. Everyone is in a rush, rushing to get to work, to get that promotion, to get to that next stage in life. It’s amazing what happens when you slow things down a little. In yoga, I become much more aware of my movements, my thoughts and how my body feels when I slow down and observe.

Yoga isn’t easy, and that’s okay. When I started out, I wanted nothing more than to do Crow pose. If I could do Crow, I was a true yogi. I tried several times and all I ended up with were bruised arms and a sore forehead from tipping over too many times. So, yes, yoga is hard, but when you finally lift off, even for a fraction of a second, it is so worth the joy you experience!

If you stumble or fall, you can always get back up. There are so many times in yoga when you will stumble, shake or even fall, but it doesn’t matter how many times you fall. You can always get back up, start over or try again. Yoga has taught me to think about how I want to respond when I fall. Do I want to give up, or do I want to try again?

Balance is everything.  You’ll never improve your balance when you rush to get to the pose. Instead, you have to slow it down. Focus on alignment. Concentrate. The same can be said with life. If you try to cram everything in all at once, you’re probably going to end up stressed, with sub-par work or even resentful of the things occupying your time. For me, some days balance looks like assigning a small amount of time to each of the things on my list and other days it means recognizing what can wait until tomorrow. It’s not about procrastinating, it’s about setting priorities and pouring my energy into the areas that are going to serve me best today without sacrificing quality or my sanity.

Every day is the chance to start fresh. Maybe yesterday’s practice didn’t go very well, or maybe you weren’t able to make it to the mat at all. Guess what?! Today is a new day. In yoga, you are constantly reminded to be present. That means not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Take a moment and cut yourself some slack – you’re allowed to be human.

It’s not a competition. This was a lesson that I learned at exactly the right time. Life isn’t a race and it’s not about who learns to do a headstand first, or who gets the biggest promotion, or who’s car is the nicest. When you’re in competition with others, you miss out on what is happening right in front of you. You’re alive and you’re missing it! Have goals and strive to achieve them, but ignore the little voice in your head that says you’re not winning because I’ll give you a hint: In your own life, you’re always winning.

Your mat will always be there to welcome you back. I recently returned to yoga after a brief hiatus. There were a lot of things calling to me and, unfortunately, my practice was one of those things that didn’t make the cut. I have since returned and I feel stronger, more focused and more centered than before. There is no judgment in yoga. Especially in a home practice, your mat isn’t going to shame you for not showing up to the last few sessions. Instead, your mat is there to support you, comfort you and guide you through – just like a true friend.

It’s never too late to start – yoga or anything! The most important part is that you do start. I know of some people who started doing yoga in their seventies! Is there something that you’ve wanted to do, but haven’t? Give it a try!

Be open. This is one that is really difficult for a lot of people, but when you open yourself up to opportunity, good things come your way. Whether you are opening up your heart space in Upward-Facing Dog, or opening up about your feelings to a trusted friend, cultivating an openness in one area of your life can often spread to others.

You’re stronger and more capable than you think. What I love about yoga is that is really gives you some perspective. When you’re in tree pose, focusing on a point on the wall so you don’t fall, you start to realize how strong and capable you are. In yoga, negative talk doesn’t help. Your not going to nail that pose if you say, “Just do it! Don’t give up, you wuss!” But with a little tenderness and self-love, you might just get there, and yes, that is a difficult thing to do sometimes, but you’ve got this – you’re strong.

If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t – Listen to your body. In Yoga with Adriene, she constantly encourages others to “Find What Feels Good”. If you’re in a pose and it’s creating more tension than release, find something else that works for you. If something else in your life just doesn’t feel right, it might be time to re-evaluate and explore ways to make it better.

When all else fails, just breathe.

IMG_3389I’ve learned a lot in my yoga journey, and a lot of it has more to do with life off the mat than it does on the mat. I love that yoga can mean different things to different people. I love that it can be your answer to just about anything you might be feeling. But most importantly, I love that it does not discriminate, but it welcomes you in with open arms.

I’d love to hear about your experience with yoga in the comments below!

-KQ

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3 Replies to “Lessons Learned on the Mat: 15 Things Yoga Has Taught Me”

  1. Wow! Great post Kels! I totally get where you’re coming from about the gym lol…As for yoga, well a couple years ago I would do it quite regularly but like most things, once you break the routine, its hard to get back.

    Maybe I will start again!

    Like

  2. I also do YWA (not everyday, generally 2-3 times a week, I can’t seem to make it a daily practice for some reason). Anyways, when I read that you do YWA after work, I was wondering how you deal with possibly being sweaty for the rest of the day (if you do one of her more intense practices). I prefer to do yoga in the middle of the day/late afternoon but don’t necessarily want to have to shower immediately after.

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    1. Hi Erin, thanks for visiting! If it’s a sweaty practice, I’ll usually shower right after. It’s usually around 5 when I get home from work so I do yoga and then shower and get into comfy clothes for the evening. If I know I have things to do, I’ll just do one that’s no so intense.
      I also really struggled to make it a daily practice. The 30 day challenges would go well and then life would get busy. I’ve recently started doing it in the morning and it’s been a game changer for me! I’ll be writing about that soon!

      Like

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