Yoga has been getting a lot of attention this year, what with John Friend making headlines, and that article published in the New York Times about yoga “wrecking your body.” Unfortunately, yoga (like veganism!) has garnered a reputation as being a hobby for PBR guzzling hipsters and/or suburbanite housewives. But when done mindfully, yoga is one of the best possible ways to synergize your mind and body. I know because I used to be a non believer.
Passions are often sparked by a terrific teacher. While I am horrendously uncoordinated, I am a bit of an adrenaline junky, and my favorite natural high comes from a good sweat session. Give me an hour or two on a cool, clear day and I am happy to pound my sneakers against the road like it stood me up for dinner. So I used to think that if I’m not sweating, I’m not working. As a result, yoga frustrated and bored me. Blah blah blah wiggle around on a mat. Breathe in and out. Booohring.
In college I signed up for a yoga class to snag a few extra credits with ease. My teacher was a petite, graceful woman in her 40s with the most soothing voice I had ever heard and a frisky feline sense of humor that pounces when you’re least expecting it. The first day of class she announced that at some point in the semester, somebody would fart, and we should all be prepared for it. It was love at first fart-joke. I followed her home one day and never left—emotionally, at least. She is now one of my closest friends.
When a new job moved me 8 hours away from her—and the steady yoga practice I had picked up—I was stressed about finding a new teacher because I knew no one would really be able to replace Donna in teaching talent or just all around ooey-gooey awesomeness. However, in a small studio in Fairfield County I met Robert, who reminded me of Donna right away with his habit of infusing his classes with his own humor and wisdom. I never mind waking up early to get to a class to hear snippets like “you don’t only brush the teeth that people see when you smile, do you!?”
So in two years I went from someone who avoided the yoga mat like an ex-boyfriend at a Christmas party, to someone who believes whole heartedly that what you do on the mat affects your life in every possible way. It truly has changed me as a person, and I know it sounds super crunchy and hippie-dippie, and you’re probably rolling your eyes already. But bear with me as I tell you the top 6 non-yogic life lessons yoga has taught me.
1. F*ck your ego. Preferably on a lonely sunday evening with a hand mirror so you can learn about your anatomy and stages of sexual response. No no no. That’s not what I mean at all. The first thing I learned from yoga, and what really made me love it, is that I have a thing called an Ego and it disrupts my life on the reg. The ego is that pesky little bitch that says “But you must touch your chin to your knee!!!” and “if you don’t squeeze two more hours of work into your day you’re a failure. You have failed. You suck.” The ego is what builds expectations and leads to let down. The ego flares up around your insecurities, which is often why people with big egos are actually the most self conscious deep down. Don’t let your ego run your life, or your yoga practice, or you will end up with less friends and a torn hamstring (but my chin made it to my knee! And now I can’t walk!). One day, while struggling through a tree pose that was being held longer than I would prefer for 8 am, Robert said “every time you get frustrated doing this, remember you’re a human pretending to be a tree.” Eat me, Ego!
2. Less is more. Jamming a zillion things into my day will only leave me strung out. Pushing my body past its comfort zone will do just that—make me uncomfortable. Robert once quipped “would you rather get your foot behind your head or breathe?!” Touche! Focus on priorities and essentials. Simplify. Everything will unfold as it should.
3. Learn from your breath. Breathing is actually the hardest part of yoga. Sounds like snobby guru bullshit, but it is. I still have issues maintaining constant, steady breathing throughout a practice. But I HAVE noticed that by paying attention to my breath I can pinpoint where I am struggling, on and off the mat. If I’m talking about a tense subject with my boyfriend I notice I’m holding my breath. Irritated at work? My breathing is short and quick. To destress, I take five to ten long, deep breaths. It clears my head and calms me down. When that doesn’t work, I cuddle the crap out of my cat. You can’t be mad with 5 pounds of purring puss on your face.
4. Practice patience. This speaks for itself. I’m an impatient person. I’m from a high-strung part of the country where everything is GO GO GO. Pepper that with my generation’s acclimation to getting what they want when they want it and, well, I was born into an environment of multitasking and immediate gratification. But impatience does nothing but cause anxiety and stress. Stink-eyeing the car in front of me will not make it move any faster. So chill out and enjoy the ride.
5. Pay attention to weakness. The stuff that sucks the most is usually the stuff we need to work on. As far as my body goes, I have really open hips. Made for baby makin! Thanks, Ma! So I love getting in a position like pigeon, because it’s easy for me. I hate anything that involves back strength, because I have a weak lower back. I noticed because poses that work my lower back are hard, but also because I never want to do them. This makes me think about the things I put off when I’m off the mat. I don’t like letting people down, so I am terrible at saying “no” to anything. I will put off saying “no” as long as humanly possible, which usually makes people angry when I tell them I can’t do something at the very last minute. When you procrastinate, notice what you’re putting off—there is probably a reason for it. Next time, do those things first.
6. Lead with your heart. Sounds corny, but it’s true. In yoga, they say “lead with your heart” to help open up your chest, physically speaking. But listening to your own heart off the mat means following your intuition, and your intuition is usually right. Guy at the bar seem like he spends hours in his basement with RedTube? You’re probably right. Does something tell you your girlfriend is actin’ like a shady lady? You’re probably right. I know I often feel pressure from my pesky brain—and my nasty, manipulative ego—to go against my instincts, but by trying to remind myself to do what feels right instead of analyzing everything, I usually come out on top.