For the past few weeks, I’ve been hitting the yoga mat at Willamette Valley Power Yoga. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in a hot yoga studio and I am loving every second.
As a capital Type-A personality, I go to yoga to give myself permission to take it down a notch.
This isn’t a woo-woo, yoga heals everything post. This is a post that distills the lessons I’ve learned from yoga class. I believe these lessons are applicable to life outside the studio and I hope you find some truths that apply to your own life.
Let’s dive in.
Lesson #1: Set Your Intention
In almost every yoga class I’ve attended, the instructor will start by inviting us to set an intention. It could be a physical intention, such as hip mobility, or a mental intention, such as focusing on our breath. By setting an intention, you have a centering thought to return to when other responsibilities and tasks lists seep into your brain. This intention helps you stay mentally and physically on your yoga mat.
Similarly, Brendon Burchard, author of High Performance Habits invites his readers to change how they transition from one activity to the next by releasing tension and setting an intention.
The practice goes like this:
- Close your eyes for a minute or two
- Repeat the word “release” in your head as you let the tension leave your body and mind
- Then, set your intention by thinking about what you want to accomplish and how you want to feel during your next activity
In yoga and in daily life, this practice of releasing stress and setting an intention helps me stay fully present for whatever is coming next.
Lesson #2: Leave Your Expectations at the Door
Another common start to a yoga class is being told to leave your expectations at the door. My favorite instructors will tell the class to forget about whatever we did during our last yoga class and whatever we think we want to do. Leave your expectations and be accepting of your current capabilities.
This may mean your hamstrings scream as you bend down to touch your toes, when only yesterday you reached them with no problem. This is not a time for judgment or self-deprecating thoughts.
This is OK.
For me, the concept of leaving expectations at the door is a lesson to carry into relationships. It reminds me of a Shakespeare quote I love.
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.”
When I expect someone to do a certain thing or act a certain way, I am setting myself up for disappointment. And worse, I am setting them up for failure.
By removing (or at least verbalizing) expectations, I can accept the situation regardless of how it develops.
Life Lesson #3: Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
While holding a pose for an extended period of time, a yoga instructor will likely tell you to breathe into the burn- to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Only when you stay in the pose and cross the barrier of discomfort will you grow and improve.
Physically, I have a high threshold and can mentally block out the building fire. In other areas of life, such as having tough conversations or stretching myself professionally, my tolerance is much lower.
This is a lesson I need to be reminded of daily.
Being afraid of failing at a professional goal or avoiding an awkward interaction may give some short-term relief, but in the long-term, it’s a lost opportunity. In essence, it is saying no to learning and growing.
To truly thrive, I challenge myself to do at least one thing a day I’d rather avoid.
Life Lesson #4: Breathe for Your Neighbors
At first, the concept of breathing for my neighbors confused me and I chalked it up to some yogi mumbo jumbo. But, the more I hear it, the more it resonates.
Depending on the style of yoga, an instructor will tell the class to practice ujjayi breathing. This audible breath that sounds like ocean waves is meant to focus your mind and synchronize your breath and movement.
An instructor might encourage the class to breathe a little louder (not obnoxiously loud) for their neighbor to metaphorically spread strength throughout the room. By audibly breathing, you invite your neighbor to get deeper into their own breath and movement. You’re contributing to a welcoming and communal space.
When an entire class is practicing ujjayi breathing, the atmosphere is charged with energy.
While I don’t think we should all be walking around breathing like white noise machines, there is a larger life lesson here. I think the lesson is to support our community and allow our community to support us when we need it.
Glennon Doyle calls this sistering.
Let’s breathe for each other and be sister joists.
Lesson #5: Don’t Look Back, You’ll Fall
I heard this cue for the first time last week and it stuck. As we were prompted into crow pose (one I have yet to master), the instructor told us not to look back at our feet and if we did we’d fall. No wonder! All the times I’ve attempted to turn into an ugly bird I’ve focused my eyes on my toenails.
This time, I looked a few inches in front of my fingers, peeled my toes off the ground, and felt a suspended sensation I’ve never felt before. It didn’t last for longer than three seconds, but it was the closest I’ve ever come to resembling a crow.
In life, by dwelling on past mistakes or wrongdoings I activate an inner dialogue full of self-doubt and unkindness.
This eats away at my happiness.
A friend recently reached out because she’d made some sloppy mistakes (her words, not mine) at a highly visible job. I told her to not dwell. Learn. Change. Move On.
This isn’t advice I can give because I’ve mastered it. It’s advice I also need to take. Constantly.
I think this lesson also applies to looking back at the good old days. If we dwell on what was, how wonderful things used to be, we cheat ourselves out of the present. We’re actually disconnecting from the present.
Learning from and being grateful for past experiences is a good thing. Staying in the past, or idolizing it, can be harmful.
Remember—don’t look back, you’ll fall.
Yoga Life Lessons: From the Mat to the Real World
I may think about a lesson all day, but then fail to put it into practice. I notice myself staying with what is known and comfortable. I hold expectations, only to be let down.
Acting on these lessons while on my yoga mat feels safe. Acting them out in the real world is a different game.
My hope is that by sharing these lessons you’ll hold me accountable. I also hope they’ll encourage you to step out on a limb, to support your neighbor, and to release your tension and set an intention.
And, to end in yoga fashion, namaste. The light in me honors the light in you.