Reflections from the yoga mat.
I was inspired by Kate Bartolotta’s recent post, So What Do Gomukhasana and Joseph Campbell Have in Common? This post got me thinking about what it is that I get from stepping onto my yoga mat almost every day.
Here’s what I came up with:
1. Unapologetic “me” time. My yoga practice requires me to step inside of my own skin and focus on myself. At so many other points throughout my day, I’m needed by my toddler. There are definitely times when I’ve wondered if my daily practice is selfish, but I come to the same conclusion over and over again. I am a better mother to her because I have this space for myself.
2. Health. I’ll be the first to admit that I came to my yoga practice for my body. Yet I don’t think I ever expected my physical self to ultimately be the last thing I hop onto my mat for. Still, there’s no denying that I love the body that my yoga practice has made—and I love the health and invigoration I feel both during my mat and during the rest of my daily life.
3. Self-growth. I have absolutely grown as a person because of my yoga practice. It’s forced me to confront my ego, my needs for control and perfection, and my deeply ingrained type-A personality—and I can’t believe how much of these self-defining qualities no longer define me because of my practice.
4. Patience. I’m certainly not a patient person, but I’m more patient than I used to be. I think part of this comes from simply working on poses that literally took me years to get into the full posture (or I’m still working on). My practice has also taught me to enjoy those poses between poses—better known as life.
5. Take time to be still. Some of my best practices involve me sitting in the same place on my mat; focusing on my breath or getting deeply into one posture and then holding it. I’ve taken this stillness out into my daily life, and for a hyperactive ADD person, this is a huge accomplishment, no medication required.
6. I’m not the same person every day, and that’s okay. I can be a really moody lady, and my mat has let me come to terms with this. During my yoga practice, I feel out how my body and my moods are shifting all the time—and I’ve learned that my life is often most successful when I acknowledge and accept my current situations rather than always swimming upstream.
7. Happiness is my responsibility. Sure, other people can affect our moods—but they don’t get credit for causing them. Your happiness is your responsibility, period. My yoga practice gets the credit for this realization because I learned how much power and control I have over myself from my mat time. Example: if I’m distracted during a balance pose, it’s not the fault of the girl in front of me in class, it’s mine. Another example: during my home practice, I can really take the time to reflect on how I feel in the present moment physically, emotionally, and mentally; and I’ve experienced the power in letting these feelings fall away as I just focus on flowing from pose to pose. Many times, all that ends up being left afterwards is ease and a deep sensation of tranquility.
8. My body is beautiful. No, I didn’t reach this conclusion because of the physical body that my practice sculpts. Rather, I’ve been able to find an appreciation for myself on a much deeper level and this has forced me to accept that quite often, the level of satisfaction we have with our outer bodies is directly connected to the level of satisfaction we have with ourselves internally.
9. Yoga exists off the mat. Ironically, having a regular practice of asanas has taught me to see the yoga that I practice constantly, when I’m no where near my mat.
10. Be open. A lot of Kate’s blog revolved around the need to open ourselves up. For me, this is probably the most impacting thing I’ve learned from my mat time. Through poses I thought I’d never access and then did, I’ve learned to be open to final outcomes that you never expected or even dreamed of. I’ve also learned that opening your heart to other people, and to your own self, is scary and vulnerable—but it’s necessary to live your existence to its fullest. Open your heart, even when it hurts; because otherwise you will not experience the full range of joy that life has to offer either.
Let me say that these are the most life-impacting things I’ve learned from my regular yoga practice. Are these going to be the same important things you gain from your mat time? Probably not, because you and I are not the same; and I think I could make that number 11—to get the most from your yoga practice you have to tune in and experience it yourself.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the best aspects of life cannot be taught—they have to be lived and experienced by you alone.
I do hope, however, that this list of lessons from my own personal experience has inspired you to figure out exactly what it is that you get from your own practice. Why, exactly, do you step on your mat?
Once you answer that, find more questions.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta