May 29, 2013

What Yoga Taught Me: 4 Life Lessons from the Mat.

I always tell people that yoga is in acronym: yoga—you’ve only got attitude.

The attitude I’ve cultivated on my mat seems to me to be way more important for my health than all of the incredible strength and flexibility benefits.

Here are four life lessons that I’ve learned over my years on my yoga mat:

Lesson 1: Kindness = Happiness

To go deeper in yoga, we have to keep our ego and listen to our bodily sensations. The ego is a part of our mind that is willful or that ignores how our own bodies feel.

In yoga, we learn that if we push past this feedback from our bodies there is one option, we get hurt. Muscles will rip, soreness will set in and progress is impeded. It is by tuning into the part of our mind that is sensitive to what our bodies are experiencing and learning the skill of listening that we become not only more flexible, but more kind.

It is the focus to cultivate this sensitivity in all our relationships; with our body and mind, with people close to us, with our communities, in our work and with the planet itself.

Not only are we happier with this mindset, but we become a more positive force in the world.

Lesson 2: Relaxation is Power

Relaxation is power, whereas tension limits our power.

What makes someone a master of anything? Skateboarding, sinking a free throw, martial arts, public speaking or solving problems.

While training in martial arts, I learned that by forcing too much, my mind and my muscles actually generated less power. If I was too tense and tried too hard during a punch the punching bag would barely move. If I relaxed in the moment and used my breath, the impact of the punch increased dramatically.

Yoga is the art of learning to use our mind and body to maximize relaxation during challenging times—this is incredible for the mind. When I work with high-level athletes and Olympians who are in high pressure situations, I tell them to breathe and soften areas where their bodies are tense; when the body relaxes the mind follows.

This skill can be applied to anything we do to increase the impact of what we do.

Lesson 3: Don’t dwell, just Gel

I’ve been saying this since I was 16, but I didn’t really master embodying it until after years of yoga.

Happiness and ease are available to us most of the time, but tension blinds us to it. We are easily caught up in past issues that happened to us or worries about the future called stress. Our mind dwells on the same five or six issues all the time.

So much of the stiffness we feel is due to these thoughts—they don’t just occur in our mind, but in our bodies too. The issues are in our tissues.

Even when we tell ourselves to “just let them go,” it is much easier said than done—it is impossible to stop ourselves from dwelling on them.

The great thing is because they are in the body, if we can learn how to twist and stretch and move and breath like we do in yoga, they move through us. Our body state of joy affects our mind.

After about minute number three of a yoga practice, there is a voice inside our heads that says,”I used to be stressed about something today, but I can’t quite remember what it was…”

We move from a dwelling state to gelling with the flow of life.

Lesson 4: Nature knows best

“The best thing we can do for our health is to have an intimate relationship with Nature.”

Yoga slows us down.

We become more aware of the world around us than we are when we are busy. Even though a lot of people think the health benefit is the fitness, the flexibility or stress reduction, the real gift to me is that it puts me in a state of mind where I want to stop and look up at the beauty of the clouds or the light of the stars, even in the middle of massive cities.

When we do this, we are open to awe and wonder. We feel intimately that we are a part of something inconceivably huge and not apart from it.

My yoga is about increasing the amount of time we spend every day cultivating this relationship with nature.

It quadruples the effects of yoga—nothing makes us healthier.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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