3 Things My Yoga Practice Has Taught Me About Life

photo by Ali Kaukas

photo by Ali Kaukas

I recently heard Judith Lasater say, "You can't do yoga. You are yoga." This perfectly encapsulates the potential of our yoga practice. Practicing in the studio or at home on our mat is a chance to play with the elements that will likely meet us in 'real' life. 

The true gift of yoga is received in each moment we are living our yoga during our day-to-day, off the mat. The more I teach yoga, the more I become a student of the tradition. Through self-study [asana practice, reading yoga texts, studying philosophy, talking to students who are hurting and want to know how their yoga practice can ease the pain] I've felt the tremendous healing powers of this practice.

I've glimpsed at how the language of this practice translates in our life. There are three things my yoga practice teaches me - constantly - about life.


1. Don't skip over or rush through it.

I am a huge fan of moving slowly on the mat. It lets me feel each part of the posture or transition. Slowness leaves space for breath to remain abundant and full. And, with time, it creates a practice with more control. I used to not like moving slowly. I wanted to move quickly so I could fast forward through the uncomfortable or challenging parts; so I could skip over those parts I knew would cause my muscles to quiver.

Funny how we do that same thing in life. We want to brush past uncomfortable emotions, like sadness or pain, instead of staying with them and seeing them clearly. We fast forward through them by turning our attention elsewhere or distracting ourselves. It's easy to stay with (and even get stuck) in comfortable feelings.

But what builds strength and vulnerability at once, what allows us to reveal the entirety of our experience so that our potential is seduced to the surface, is staying.

Move slowly and gently through the discomfort. Try to soften rather than harden around it. Watch it eventually unravel and transmute into growth, strength, flexibility and a more open heart. Observe how staying illuminates your capacity to love. 

When we are mindful with our movements and linger within them, we find more control. When we are mindful with our emotions and give them all fair recognition, we find more control over how much they influence our thoughts, actions, and interactions with Self & world. 

2. There is an unending melody as well as transient notes.

The unending melody, which is the deepest layer of sound that plays on the entire song, is our breath. Those transient notes and changing sounds that swirl and mingle and layer on top of the base beat of breath? Emotions, judgments and reactions about our practice. 

"She's over there touching her feet to her head. I'm not bendy enough for that." 

"She's balancing on her hands. I'm not strong enough to ever do that."

We've all been there. I'm assuming that because we are all humans and have egos.

Those are the elements of the practice that change, that separate us and diminish connection. When we remember that we are all practicing together, breathing, living, and trying, we reestablish that precious human connection and find more appreciation for our capabilities and limitations because we know, with practice, they will shift. One day we step on the mat and can balance in Warrior 3 like a rockstar. We can step onto the mat the very next day and wonder why we can barely balance on one leg. 

Regardless of that, what's always waiting there to support and ground us is our breath and our presence. We can take this into our lives when we faced with both challenge and accomplishment, ups and downs. These too will eventually change but what won't is your ability to choose how these external circumstances influence your inner world.

Let breath & mindfulness coach you through it.

3. Contraction & Expansion

Other ways to say this: introverted & extroverted, individual & universal, self-care & service.

They all boil down to the two pulsations in life: contraction and expansion. We can easily witness this in our breath. On the inhale, we expand from our core and on the exhale we contract toward our core. Like a star, we continually pulsate, creating and emitting our own luminosity.

We are lucky there are so many different styles of yoga that meet us where we are.

If I'm feeling introverted and quiet, I can practice soothing restorative yoga. If I am feeling extroverted and fiery, I can practice a heat-building vinyasa yoga. Both are perfect and beautiful and inspire self-inquiry as well as provide nourishment.

This teaches me that it's okay to be quiet on some days; to crawl up under the covers or slip into a bath surrounded by candles and a good book. Some days what fills me up most is being alone and connecting with this body, this woman, this heart. Other days, fulfillment comes from grabbing drinks with my girlfriends or going on a date with my man. Both are valuable and it is important to dance with both of these pulsations in order to find a sweet balance in our lives.