5 Things I Learned from Yoga & Use in Difficult Times

The Universe has a way of tricking us. We believe we have it figured out, then life sneaks up from behind and teaches us a major earned lesson. In the past two years, it showed me that everything can change in a blink of an eye. My grandfather died, after his leg was amputated, my father was diagnosed with cancer, and as such I followed closely the ups and downs of his disease and his subsequent death.

Yoga has been with me through it all. The good thing about yoga is that it can be with us all the time; it is not limited to a yoga mat. In fact, by learning how to cope with hard poses on the yoga mat, we have the opportunity to carry that same knowledge off the mat. That is no easy task.

Here are five aspects I learned in my mat and how I try to integrate them to help me deal with my life, particularly when things don't go the way I plan.

1. Breathe. When something is difficult, when we are being pushed beyond our limits, we hold a breath or two. I know I do. I never actually came close to suffocating, mind you, but I did skip a few breaths along with my heart beat skipping tendency. In a yoga class, we are always reminded to breathe. Breathe into the pose. I took that lesson a step further and kept reminding myself to check my breathing as a general rule. It took me a while to understand that stopping my breath was only increasing my levels of anxiety. But once I realized that, I started to breathe more mindfully and, particularly, I exhaled and let my breath flow.

2. Release. When there is tension, there is no point in pushing harder. We should always try to find a comfort zone within the hardships. Sometimes that comfort zone comes when we take a step back. If one pose is hurting my knee, how about if I use a block to support my leg? Same thing happens in life. I am not defending the absence of all tension; sometimes tension helps us to move forward. The magic happens when we understand when to stop and when to keep going. I'm still working on this one.

3. Share. Kula, or community. It is the place where we choose to place our hearts. We often help each other in yoga class; we encourage our colleagues, and sometimes we actually help them, by partnering up. There is no need to go through life alone and keep everything to ourselves. We should all learn to accept help, to ease the burden. When I talked to friends about my dad, I sometimes ended up crying. This was good, I was letting go of all that pain and suffering. I even cried once in yoga class. It was one of the best classes of my life.

4. Accept. Some things just happen. Some days it is just harder to reach our toes. Accept that it is what it is and be with it. Learn from it. The only control we have is over our (re)actions. The belief that we control our life is merely an illusion. I don't mean to imply that we should just accept whatever comes and eventually stagnate. I believe one of the best things we need to accept is that we are good enough. We are worthy of whatever it is that we want.

5. Live. Life should always come first. If what I'm doing is not contributing in any way to my life, then why do I keep doing it? Wouldn't I rather be doing activities that actually have meaning for me? The best way to honor those who are gone is by living the most, by living the life that we want for ourselves. I try to enjoy what I do, enjoy my practice, enjoy every pose, for I only do that one pose once in my life. And if I am not present for it, it might just pass me by. I'm still working on this one too. I try to choose life every day.

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