Life lessons learned on the mat that changed my life
Yoga teaches us many precious life lessons. But how do we apply them once we step off the mat and into the world?
We practice these lessons on our mat, when we are in the safe studio with less distractions than our daily life. However, we tend to forget them when we get back into the swirl of our busy lives.
The good news is, the more we practice on our mats, the easier it becomes to apply these lessons in the real world.
I have learned many life lessons through the years. Here are a few that have helped me through some challenging times.
1) From contentment comes joy
This is one of Patanjali’s Sutras (2.42). It reminds me that when times are tough, if I can just find contentment, then joy will grow from there.
Trying to ‘just be happy or positive’ when life crashes down on you is not natural and it isn’t authentic. Furthermore, happiness is a fleeting state and dependent on external circumstances. The state of contentment comes from within and it is always available (I know that can be hard to believe!). It’s sustainable and un-shattered by our life’s events.
Thus, finding contentment becomes much more accessible because it is always within us. If you can find contentment then joy will come. How powerful is that?
For example, when I was diagnosed with brain cancer my world shattered. Of course, I felt all the emotions; sadness, shock, fear, guilt (had I caused this in some way?), confusion, grief… the list goes on and on.
As I went through the resulting brain surgery, radiation and chemotherapy I continued to circle through these emotions. I thought, will I ever feel happy again?
One day I came upon this Sutra about joy springing from contentment. And realized that I may not be able to find happiness but I might be able to find contentment. That felt much more attainable. So I continued with my yoga practice, meditation and pranayama, and I continued to read the sutras.
I focused on settling into contentment through my practice. Everyday I would focus just being content with things as they were.
Then one day, sitting in front of my alter with the sun shining on my face it happened….. I felt joy. Unabating, miraculous joy. I literally could not believe it. That amongst all the suffering I could still find, feel, and embrace joy! It amazes me to this day.
2) Self-knowledge of how I react in the face of challenge
How do you react when you’re trying a handstand or challenging arm balance and fall? What are your deepest thoughts in that moment?
This is a great opportunity for you to notice your natural tendencies towards challenges. On one hand, you can see losing your balance as an opportunity to grow, as something funny and an invitation to continue. Trying to find contentment in the journey. I believe this to be a healthy, constructive and kind way of reacting. For me, learning how to face challenges with grace is profoundly empowering and wonderful.
However, you might notice there is a lot of negative self-talk; “I’m not good enough” or “I never do anything right.” Or maybe you want to run away; “I am a failure, I’m never coming to this class again.” When you notice these reactions in the safe container of your mat then can work on that lesson and learn how to react in a healthier, more beneficial way.
What Yoga poses do you choose to practice on as your next challenge?
3) Releasing judgement
Yoga teaches us to change what we can and accept what we can’t.
It also teaches us that there is no right or wrong. Everybody is different. We coming from different backgrounds, all with different strengths and limitations, different needs and wants, different opportunities and life context. Judging others and ourselves only creates separation, thus suffering. Releasing judgement equals freedom, peace, unity and joy.
When you can’t go as deep into your butterfly pose or when you can hold plank longer than the Yogi beside you, it doesn’t mean one of you is better than the other. It just means you are different.
Remember that your body is built differently.
Remember that your history with Yoga and otherwise, is different.
Remember that your day was different, which reflects in your practice.
Remember that your goals with the class are different.
It is important that we accept each other, and ourselves, just as we are in order to live together in peace and joy.
In your next Yoga class, try to bring awareness to what judgement comes up for you, towards yourself, another student or the teacher. When that happens, reflect on the above reminders and notice the shift in how you feel.
Which life lesson resonates with you most? Reflect on it during your next of Yoga practice.
I hope to see you on the mat soon and we can explore these life lessons together!