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Over the past eight years, my relationship with yoga has changed drastically. At first, I was a lot like a child learning to ride a bicycle. The thought of yoga was exciting, but once I started practicing, it quickly turned frustrating, embarrassing, and even painful.
Through a series of traumatic events — a career change, overcoming eating disorders, drug addictions, and walking away from all the relationships that were bad for me — the one constant was my dedication to yoga. Even though I would return to the mat often during this time, I realize now that I was just going through the motions. I knew yoga was a "feel-good" activity, but I didn't take it too seriously.
It wasn't until recently that I discovered the true transformational benefits of yoga.
My local hot yoga studio initiated a 30-day hot yoga challenge. Thirty days in a row of hot yoga; my out of shape, overstressed body was craving the challenge.
I assumed that taking my practice to the next level would ensure the regular benefits of yoga: a more balanced mind, increased flexibility, weight loss and maybe even more strength. I achieved all of those benefits, but my journey went much deeper. The lessons I learned over the past 30 days extend far past the physical benefits of yoga. Just like in life, in yoga, we receive the energy we put into it.
Here are the five transformational lessons I learned from my 30-day hot yoga challenge.
1. There is no right or wrong.
In yoga, there are many ways to do specific poses. Everybody’s body type is different, though, so what one person can do may look completely different from what you are able to do. Rather than comparing ourselves to others, we can accept that everyone is unique and that there is no right or wrong. The same is true for opinions and points of view. The more we cling to our beliefs and expectations, the harder it becomes to accept other people’s points of view. Just because something is different doesn't make it wrong.
2. Be willing to unlearn things.
Yoga, like life, is a series of changes. Many of us learn information or a way to do something, and unknowingly cling to the information and belief systems beyond their reasonable use. Sometimes we hold on so tightly that it can hinder our ability to grow and accept new opportunities. As my yoga instructor says, "Be willing to unlearn things; how you did something yesterday might not be the best way to do it today."
3. Be good where you are.
So often in life we place high expectations on ourselves and others. We even place expectations on our goals and dreams. When our plans don't work out as we "expected" or in our expected timeframe, we fall victim to anxiety, stress, and even depression. Learning to relax and accept where we are can help us get where we want to be much faster. Yoga encouraged me to connect to the present moment and be ok with wherever I was.
If you're frustrated because you want something to happen that hasn't yet, you can learn to recognize the beauty in the journey. You will get to your destination or goal when you are meant to get there. It just may not be on your expected timeline. With that in mind just relax and enjoy the ride.
4. Making commitments and sticking to them is a sign of self-love.
Focusing on goals is essential to achieving new levels of success and happiness. For me, doing yoga every day was a dedication and promise to myself that my health and priorities matter. The challenge becomes honoring those commitments in the face of adversity. As Stephen Covey said, "You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage — pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically — to say 'no' to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger 'yes' burning inside."
5. Perfection doesn't matter.
They call it "yoga practice," not "yoga perfect," because it encourages lifelong commitment. Falling out of poses, or, more significantly, not even being able to do the poses, doesn’t matter. Furthermore, in life it doesn't matter either! The fact that you gained a few pounds, lost some money, ate too much yesterday, or failed a test… whatever the situation is, it doesn't really matter. If you're frustrated and overwhelmed with life, ask yourself, as Richard Carlson would, "Will this matter one year from now?" Chances are it won't make a difference in your big picture life plan, so you can relax and be ok with the situation as it is. You should repeat the mantra, "This too shall pass."
As you can see, yoga has the power to transform your life. How has it changed yours?