treeI got into yoga when my life was a little bit upside down.  I started by practicing once a week and before long, that wasn’t nearly enough.  Just like that, I was spending at least an hour a day on my mat at least 6 days a week, and now yoga is a vital part of my daily routine.  When I fall away from that routine, I miss it intensely until I’m back to it.

Going back to that first class, I was a little frustrated as I kept falling out of postures while everyone stood fierce and focused around me. Even so, I left the class feeling more energized than when I walked in.  I was hooked. I realized that yoga, while sometimes having a stigma as an obnoxious, main-streamed way of trying to be spiritual is, at its core, a very powerful tool that allows us to tap into our inner self and physical potential.

Although the original yoga sutras were developed 2,000 years ago, what many people don’t realize is that, until 100 years ago, yoga was mainly about focusing on breath and meditation.  The postures developed in yoga in recent centuries (the “asana” or physical practice of yoga is only one of the eight limbs of yoga) were designed to prepare the body to be able to sit in stillness for extended periods of time in meditation.

Here are some of my biggest takeaways from yoga, thus far (because I’m not done learning yet):

  1. Release to receive: In yoga postures, you often breathe into a pose. The more you lean into the pose head on, the easier the pose becomes in the long run.  It creates more space, it releases tension, and it makes you feel as if you let something go. In life, sometimes we are unable to live to our fullest because we hold on to something that no longer serves us or brings us happiness.  While this isn’t easy and absolutely takes time, it goes with the idea “The shell must break before the bird can fly”.
  1. You have to love yourself if you expect others to love you: We are often hard on ourselves, placing so many mental and physical demands on our bodies and then beating ourselves up for not being productive enough or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person at the wrong time. Yoga helped me see that the only life over which I have direct control is my own. The person I spend the most time with is me. I should be kind to myself and love myself in order to be able to love other people to the best of my ability.
  1. All the space, flexibility and strength you need is inside of you, waiting to be used: When making excuses about why they could never do yoga, people often say “I’m not flexible enough” or “I could never do a headstand; I would be the worst person in the class.” My yoga practice is continually evolving, sometimes faster than other times. Even if that wasn’t the case, yoga isn’t about being “good enough” or naturally flexible or mastering the awesome-looking poses; it is just about being committed to showing up every day and challenging yourself to the best of your ability.
  1. Disconnect to reconnect: We can often get lost on the screens, constantly checking our phones for updates with a subconscious desire to feel needed by and connected with others.  Having at least one hour a day when I turn my phone off and focus on the physical reminds me that life is what we feel, not emails or Facebook statuses suspended in an intangible cyber-space.
  1. Live life’s transitions gracefully so you’re not knocked off your center-point: In learning a new balancing pose or in being thrown into a completely new environment, it is natural to want to hold back or not fully commit as to not risk falling or being rejected. Doing balancing poses reminds me that I can’t just shoot to the “full expression” of the pose on day one, but it will come gradually if I slowly and gracefully push myself each day. It also reminds me that sometimes, the only way to learn how to hold a posture comes after countless times of falling from trying to commit fully.  Falling out of a posture is only a problem if you don’t try to get back into it again. What I love most of all about balancing poses, however, is the 100% committed focus you must have to succeed.
  1. Just breathe: Little things, like focusing on deep breaths throughout class reminds me that I should never take for granted the fact that I can walk on my mat and do all kinds of poses. It’s a powerful feeling.
  1. Positive Vibes: The energy we put out not only affects us, but also those around us. It is important to think about how our actions and vibes can alter those of others. Most classes end with the expression of “Namaste” which in Sanskrit roughly means, “I bow to the divine in you.” It’s the idea that the goodness in me is also somewhere within you. Rather than seeing each other’s flaws, we should strive to find the connecting thread of goodness and of humanity that ties all of us together.

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