In early 2011, I met a friend for dinner and we we talked extensively about our training for an upcoming race. I mentioned that all the running I was doing was making me feel really stiff, and she mentioned that she had started taking yoga classes recently to aid in her recovery time between runs. I always wanted to try yoga, but never knew where to go for a class, and with all the running I was doing, it seemed hard to fit it into my schedule. I was curious though, so I found time to fit in a yoga class the very next day.
On the night of Tuesday, January 18, 2011, I walked into Dana Hot Yoga to practice yoga for the very first time. About half way through class, I remember feeling incredibly challenged. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, it was blazing hot, and I wasn’t as flexible or strong as I had once thought I was. In summary: I was getting my ass totally handed to me!
Needless to say, I was absolutely hooked. I was determined to show up to class again and “conquer” the practice of yoga. Of course, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. How does one conquer the practice of yoga, anyway? I approached yoga as a way to challenge my body and didn’t initially understand the other benefits of the practice. All I knew was that I felt really great after every class.
After about a year and a half of practicing yoga, I decided that I needed to learn EVERYTHING. That’s basically how I approach all things in my life, by the way. I’m either all in or all out; I don’t do well with dabbling. Anyway, in May 2012, I registered for the fall teacher training program at my home studio, Dana Hot Yoga.
When I first registered for teacher training, I wasn’t actually sure that I wanted to be a yoga teacher. I just wanted to dive a bit deeper into my practice. I was curious about the history and philosphy of yoga. I wanted to understand the anatomy and how to better approach some the advanced poses that I was so eager to learn in a way that was safe for my body. In the midst of my teaching training program, I decided with certainty that I wanted to be a yoga teacher. I completed my training in December 2012 and have been teaching yoga ever since.
Although teaching yoga, as you might imagine, is incredibly important to me, my yoga practice always comes first. One of my teachers always says, “you cannot be a great teacher if you are not first a great student.”
When I first began my yoga practice, I loved fitness yoga. Loud popular music, fast paced movement, no breath, no mindfulness. I loved hot yoga, excessive sweating, and I had a huge ego which pushed my body to the point of injury on several occasions.
Today my approach to practicing yoga is entirely different. I’m much happier when I practice yoga in a non-heated space; a warm room is my preference. Surprisingly, I love to practice yoga at home by myself and without music. My yoga practice is no longer just asana (poses); I also practice meditation and pranayama (breathing). My yoga practice is no longer confined to my mat. I am constantly working on practicing all eight limbs of yoga every day, on and off of my mat (learn more about the eight limbs of yoga here).
The practice of yoga has completely changed my life, and I honestly can’t say for sure what my life would be like had I never found the practice. Yoga is my career and it is my favorite hobby. Yoga is where I have met some of my greatest friends. Yoga is how I maintain a healthy and happy body and mind. Yoga has taught me how to love myself.
Over the past six years, I constantly reflect on my practice, noting things that practicing (and teaching) yoga has taught me -- and the list has gotten pretty long! Yoga continues to change my life for the better on a daily basis. Below, I’ve listed the top six life lessons that yoga has taught me. I hope this list inspires you to give yoga a try, or to continue with your practice if you’re already practicing.
All is coming, my friends. All is coming.
Ah, patience. Why are we always in such a rush? Hurry up and wait! Always so anxious to skip ahead to the end. Looking to learn the lesson without having the experience.
Before I began my yoga practice, I considered myself a pretty patient person. Although I was always comparing myself to friends and family with less patience than me, so it seemed pretty valid.
To be honest, I am a long term sufferer of anxiety, always worrying about the future and wishing for things to move faster so I can see if everything turns out exactly as I planned in my head. It’s a really exhausting way to live. I have a type A personality and am a total control freak about certain aspects of my life. If I make a plan about something, I want it to happen as soon as possible. I get so excited planning details, and immediate results really excite me! All of these qualities leave me feeling not so patient.
My yoga practice has given me the tools I need to slow down my mind, to give me a chance to quiet my tireless thoughts, and to live in the present moment. I made the decision in December 2013 to leave my job and pursue a career as a yoga teacher…but not actually quit until June 2014. I knew I was going to leave my job for six months before I actually gave my resignation! This was a time in my life where I really needed to be patient.
I suppose those six months were similar to a person late in their career who is just a few years away from retirement. It was pretty tough to wake up every morning and continue going to a job that I was planning to leave behind very soon. With the patience of my yoga practice, I waited. Even though I was tempted on several occasions to leave my job earlier than my plan, I knew my plan was perfect.
Each time I got onto my mat to practice and my mind wandered to the fantasy land that I live in, the one where I quit tomorrow instead of in six months, I talked myself into sticking with my plan. I closed my eyes and visualized my future. I set intentions for success. I reminded myself that patience is usually the biggest key to success, along with hard work, dedication, commitment, and practice.
Without the practice of yoga, I may have impulsively left my job too soon, and the great life I am currently living may not have turned out the same. Patience was then, and still is, my greatest friend during stressful times.
2. Love thy self
Relationships are really tough. And I don’t just mean romantic ones. Friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships…they all have their moments of complications or drama. As complicated as those relationships can be, the relationship I struggle with the most is the relationship I have with myself. I feel like it’s a big deal for me to even write about this here. It feels very vulnerable and vulnerability makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps, this confession is the explanation to the complications in all of my relationships. Excuse me while I take a moment to honor this mental health break through...
Loving myself has been an ongoing battle for me. Some days it doesn’t feel like quite a struggle, but other days I am my own worst enemy. If 100 friends give you their thoughts, and of those 100 friends 99 friends say something positive and 1 friend says something negative, our brains have the ability to remember word for word whatever negative thing was said, but could barely summarize the long list of positive things. Why are we, as humans, so self deprecating? Isn’t it really quite sad?
My yoga practice has helped me to quiet those negative thoughts. The ones that are always creeping in to tell me that I’m not good enough. My yoga practice has helped to quiet the negativity in my mind surrounding my body image. My yoga practice has taught me that if I don’t love myself, how can I expect anyone else to love me? My therapist always says that people always treat you exactly how you want to be treated. You set the example and everyone else follows suit.
“I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me, “I love you”. There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked man offers you a shirt.” - Maya Angelou
My yoga practice is a commitment of self love. It's a commitment to get on my mat and be good to my body and my mind. It' a commitment of self respect.
Communication is a lesson that I learned from both practicing and teaching yoga, and it might be the most important lesson. I’m not a great communicator. I’m a little bit passive aggressive. I don’t deal well with confrontation. The communication style that I learned from my family is to not share your feelings at all, especially if you are angry. I’ve been seeing a therapist for more than five years, and most of our sessions are conversations regarding how I can do a better job with communicating my feelings.
Teaching yoga has been especially wonderful for improving my communication skills. When you address a room full of students, you have to be really clear and direct with what you want. The type of yoga I teach does not usually involve any demonstration, which means I have to be so specific with my words that my students are able to follow along in class without looking at me or anyone else. Of course, demonstration can be a really wonderful and helpful tool for communication, but teaching with only words is quite powerful.
Taking that lesson out of the yoga studio, I encourage myself to communicate the exact same way with other people in my life. Not everyone responds well to this type of direct communication so it’s been an interesting learning experience for me. I find that I am more honest about my feelings. A friend might ask to make plans with me, and if I am not interested, I just say so. It’s refreshing! When communicating honest and direct feelings, combined with a bit of kindness, great things are possible.
Improving my communication skills has made me deal with confrontation a little bit easier, although it’s still not my favorite interaction. I’m also learning what it means to apologize. This might sound silly, but there was a long period of time in my life where it was very uncomfortable for me to say, “I messed up, and I am really sorry. Please tell me what I can do to make this better. I hope you can forgive me.”
The ego is a funny thing. When you can learn to tame it, you never know what it possible.
4. Sit down and shut up
I was catching up with my friend, Kate, recently and she was telling me about her experience with meditation. She said that lately, her practice has been very little asana and almost exclusively mediation. She goes on to tell me that her mediation practice has made her very curious about religion. When I think of meditation, I don’t necessarily think of any religion, and mostly because mediation is generally not considered religious. However, most religions encourage or sometimes even require mediation.
Kate told me that as she’s begun to research different religions, the most common denominator is mediation. It may be called something else, like prayer, but the general idea is to sit down and be completely quiet and still. Some religious texts or religious authority figures tell you that you should do this, and do it often, in order to connect with god. With meditation in yoga, we learn to sit quietly in order to connect with ourselves. We learn that our true teacher is within.
For some, the “true teacher” is something external. Sometimes it’s easier to believe in something or someone other than ourselves. For others, the “true teacher” is within ourselves. It is you or me. I’d like to think that all theories could be true.
Try your best not to confuse the vehicle (religion) with the destination (connection to god/universe/yourself).
It might surprise you to learn that I am an introvert. I love alone time. I like quiet spaces. I like intelligent conversations in small groups of people or one-on-one. Too much socializing for me, especially in really large groups or in loud spaces, results in what I like to call an “introvert hangover” a.k.a. too much socializing and not enough alone time.
I’m friendly and can small talk with strangers in the super market, which is why most people wouldn’t identify me an introvert. Introverts have a reputation to be shy and quiet while extroverts are known to be friendly, social, and bubbly. However, being an introvert or an extrovert has everything to do with how you recharge your energy. Are you drained by a long night of socializing or does it invigorate you? Is spending time alone your worst nightmare or is that when you feel most peaceful?
Sure, yoga has taught me how to balance on one foot, or even on my hands, but my yoga practice (and my teaching) has taught me that it’s really important to balance my time alone with my time socializing with others. In other words, I have to find balance in the distribution and rejuvenation of my energy levels. In order to feel like I have the energy to teach or practice, I have to make sure that I am well rested and not burned out from a long day of a social activity.
I also know what my teaching limit is — which means that I am aware that I can’t teach too many times in one day or my last class will be absolutely awful. I know not to make plans to go out on a Friday night with friends because I wake up at 5am on Friday mornings to practice, followed by teaching three classes, and usually don’t have time to take a nap. I know not to schedule a private client on certain afternoons because I won’t have enough energy to teach my evening class.
Balancing my energy is just one example of how my yoga practice has taught me to find more balance in my life, but it’s the most important “balancing lesson” I have learned to date. Now that you know my introvert “secret”, I hope you’ll understand if my energy doesn’t always seem bubbly or peppy, especially if you run into me at the end of the day.
6. I don’t know anything
If practicing yoga and teaching yoga has taught me anything, it has taught me that I don’t know anything about yoga. The more I know, the more I realize what I don’t know. Before I completed my yoga teacher training, I thought yoga was just exercise, or just a sequence of poses. The poses, or asanas, are just one-eighth of the practice of yoga. I had no idea what else the practice of yoga really entailed.
The practice of yoga is a tool that allows us to connect with ourselves, which as a result, allows us to connect better with others. The practice of yoga actually has very little to do with the circus tricks and body contortions, and has everything to do with deepening your awareness and letting go of your ego.
One of my favorite yoga quotes is by Sharath Jois, who is the grandson of Guruji and the current leader of the Ashtanga Yoga lineage. He says, “I am not impressed by your ability to come to India and practice advanced asanas. However, I am very impressed by your ability to be a good person."
What I have learned from yoga, the one thing I am certain of, is that I want to be a good person. I am striving every single day to be a better version of myself. I am striving to surround myself with others who share this same goal of self improvement so we can constantly encourage one another to evolve in a positive way. When you spend your time with good people, it feels easy to be a good person.