As a 20-something yoga student, instructor, and enthusiast, a recent college graduate, and soon-to-be graduate student, I can confidently say I still have much to learn about yoga and life. However, I am proud to say I think I have finally understood what yoga has been trying to teach me all these years. Of course, these are just the lessons I have been ignoring since I first stepped onto my yoga mat impatiently waiting for my innate ability to stand on my head to show itself after all its years of hibernation. These are just the tip of a very, very large iceberg.
1) It doesn't matter what you wear.
When I first began practicing yoga, I was very jealous of the students clad in the most expensive yoga clothing money can buy, practicing on a mat that cost five times as much as the one I had bought at Dick’s Sporting Goods. I admit: I do still get jealous of everyone’s matching tank and yoga pant combos, but then I remember: you don’t have to be rich to be happy, healthy, or practice yoga. Those people in my first yoga classes I took? They could barely hold a downward-facing dog for five breaths. If anything, all those expensive outfits did was make every beginner feel uncomfortable because they could barely afford the classes, now they had to go out and buy $300 worth of yoga-related gear and accessories? No, thank you.
Luckily, upon further inspection, it isn’t written in the Yoga Sutras that we are required to wear Brand X to practice happily and healthfully. Your yoga practice and your life is what you make it; don’t complicate it by coveting the latest trends that will not enhance your practice or your life.*
2) Squaring your hips, opening your chest, extending through the crown of your head, smile: little things in yoga and in life make a big difference.
Physically, I know the difference between a Warrior II with the shoulders hugged up to the ears and one with relaxed shoulders. I know that engaging the core can change a Crescent Lunge entirely. However, there are those little things emotionally and mentally that make a difference, too. This goes back to age-old advice and I think it goes something like this: “Always smile at strangers. You never know what they are going through.”
I’ve noticed over the years that I take pleasure in the littlest things. Just yesterday I was talking to someone about how I really love spreadable butter. The way it just melts over toast so effortlessly; it makes me really, really happy. Seems silly, but it’s true. I have seen these little bits of happiness surface more and more as I delve deeper into my yoga practice. I am so pleased when I am walking to class and someone waves at me across the street instead of revving their engine and playing chicken against me and my yoga mat. I take pleasure in going out of my way to open the door for people, comment on their new ability to sit in Crow Pose so effortlessly, and yes, just smile at them on the street and have them smile back.
3) Being uncomfortable isn’t an option in a yoga class, let alone in your life!
Why twist and torque yourself into poses when in the end you know your body is just not quite ready? Why force yourself into situations that you know aren’t right for you? Yes, we are all uncomfortable in the first moments of Pigeon or at a party where we might not know too many people. That’s different than forcing yourself into careers, religions, or more importantly relationships. Life is too short to be uncomfortable and forced. If you don’t like a situation, change it. Our bodies physically lean toward and away from things we like or dislike. Use that to inspire confidence and change in your life and in your yoga practice.
4) Underwear is optional.
5) It’s only yoga.
Yeah, I said it. There is no reason to get your underwear (if you’re wearing any) in a twist when you can’t magically, creatively, and elegantly float into Handstand. Yoga isn’t about getting to the next place; it’s about enjoying the journey of each pose no matter what variation you are in. We can’t enjoy our lives if we are so busy figuring out what we need to accomplish next and how can we get there the quickest. We need to take pleasure in each action we create and each goal we accomplish, so when we look back on our lives we can vividly describe each moment of importance and truth to others and ourselves.
*More power to you if you can afford that expensive stuff, because you do look great.