I learn a lot about life from yoga.
When I started practicing, most of the learning came from the poems and personal anecdotes that teachers would lay on me at the end of a class, when I was all sweaty and blissed out and receptive. A succinct, lyrical retelling of a universal truth helps it stick with me for a while. These days, I’m also learning from the physical practice itself, sans commentary. Just going through the into-pretzel, out-of-pretzel motions every day hits home some life lessons that are applicable off the mat as well.
The strong move slowly and with purpose.
Is yoga the only “sport” where the longer you practice, the slower you go? When I first started, I moved quickly from one standing pose to the next because it hurt to hold the masochistic contortions for more than a couple breaths. But the more I practice, the stronger I get, and the slower I move. There is a feeling of power and mastery that comes from holding my body suspended and then moving with control, instead of rushing to avoid pain and ending up flustered and off-balance in the next thing.
I get the same feeling of quiet confidence off the mat when I think carefully about a move before I make it and then go only as fast as I need to, not wasting energy with missteps and circular thinking.
Focus gives you strength and balance.
Yoga involves a lot of trying to hold steady in challenging positions. A bit like life. If I place the sole of my foot on my inner upper thigh in tree pose and then start looking around the room, I fall over. Every. Bloody. Time. But if I stare at a single spot, not too far in front of me, I can stand firm and focused for long periods of time.
It’s the same in life: when I set my gaze on something in the future before I start moving, I get there faster and I wobble less on the way.
Discomfort will fade if you sit still.
Sometimes my yoga practice does not feel good. I get into a tough pose and my hamstrings whine or my shoulders kick up a fuss. But if, instead of squirming or quitting early, I sit still and breathe, things slowly stretch and soften and the pain subsides. And if I do this day after day, class after class, the small softenings compound and something that used to hurt, doesn’t anymore.
This is a hard lesson to transfer into life; I’m as guilty as the next in looking for an out when the going gets tough. But when I do sit still in discomfort, I learn, I grow, and eventually I move beyond.
Sometimes we need another person to take us where we need to go.
After many years of practice, I’ve learned enough to do yoga on my own. I like the freedom of being able to choose my own music, string the postures together in the order I prefer, and practice for as long as I like. But I’ve noticed that when I’m in charge of my own practice, I spend lots of time on the postures I like, and I skip the poses I find difficult.
So I go to class whenever I can, to do the poses that are hard and humbling and sometimes hurt a bit. Doing the tough ones rounds out my practice and builds strength that helps even the postures I’ve already mastered. And in life, when I face the people who ask me uncomfortable questions, they usually help me see the bits of me that need the most work.