3 Life Lessons From Your Mat

I always tell my students that all our life lessons can be found on our mat. I’ve been practicing yoga for over twenty years and I know this to be true. It sounds very simplistic; however, truth is not complicated.

Lessons #1: Be Present

When you come to your mat, that rectangle (or circle) is your space. It is an area where you can focus on your Self. As a teacher I help bring your attention to your breath, your body, your energy and your Being. When you become aware and connected to different aspects of your Self, you are present. One of the most important cues I give is to notice without judgement. In order to be present, you must release your attachment to judging thoughts. You must learn to simple notice.

Daily Life:  Next time you are in a crowded place or an overwhelming situation, practice being present. Use your awareness to simple notice without judgement. You may discover that the situation is not worth your energy. It adds up to having more energy to give to positive situations in your life.

Lesson #2: Just Breathe

Exhale, Inhale is the phrase I use most. I start all my classes with breathing. I have a few breathing techniques I like to work with throughout the class.  Breathing helps to focus the mind, calm the nervous system and brings large amounts of oxygen into our body.

Daily Life: Next time you are stress out, exhale, inhale!  Take five to ten deep breathes, using your favorite technique. It will calm you down. It’s one of reasons people are instructed to breathe into a bag during a panic attack.  If you feeling overwhelmed, breathing will help you focus on the task at hand. Lastly bringing in lots of oxygen will help you with endurance, especially if you must work those extra couple of hours to get the job done! Just breathe!

Lesson #3: Let Go

This is perhaps the hardest part of the practice for many. Letting go of ego, letting go of tension, letting go of limiting thoughts. I like to give people permission to listen to their body and work at their level. I remind them it is not a competition, not even with your Self.  We let go of limiting thoughts like should or could and replace them with kindness and gratitude. Savasana is a great time to let go, however for many it is difficult to relax and rest. Sometime it is associate with lack of productivity and self-worth. Our mat helps us understand the we must recharge our bodies in order to be productive.

Daily life: Let go of the competition with others and with your Self. Give yourself permission to listen to your body and your state of being. Treat your body with loving kindness and become aware of limiting thoughts that start with should of, could of. Replace them with positive thoughts of gratitude. Even the hardest trials are opportunities for personal growth and wisdom.  Letting go creates space for more worthwhile endeavors. Remember, we are worthy simply because we exist.

It Starts with Each One of Us

Recently I was having a conversation with a friend about the current state of affairs. She lamented that even with the great injustice of racism, the looting that came after was inexcusable. I agreed.
She said  “…we haven’t had a Gandhi or Martin Luther King in so long.” I could tell in her voice the anguish of not having a savoir, a living model of non-violence, to protest injustice in a peaceful way.
Years ago when I started my yoga journey, the school I attend had these words on the wall “Heal Yourself, Heal the World”.  I struggled to understand its meaning, but they stayed with me. Periodically I would reflect back on them, researching, trying to understand its deeper meaning.
Fast forward to my current training, after years of teaching and studying I have come to fully understand its meaning.
Our teacher, on the second to last day of our class, addressed the violence that had recently taken place prior to our meeting. She shared her feelings and ended with this realization “…that it starts with each one of us.”  In other words, we are responsible for our own spiritual development and personal growth. On the last day, Dr. Dugliss, the creator of Heart-Based Meditation concluded with  “…as we raise our own vibration, we raise the vibration of the world”, thus heal yourself, heal the world. 
 The essence of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jesus and Buddha is present in all of us. Our guru lives within as Ram Dass discovered. It takes discipline to practice non-violence. In yoga, Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, in the eight-limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Yama is the limb of self-restraints, and Ahimsa is the practice of nonviolence. It is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself. It includes not only physical violence, but hurtful thoughts, deeds, actions and words. We are more powerful than we understand. 
 I recently listened to Gandhi’s autobiography “My Experiments with Truth”. It was one of the most amazing and inspirational stories I have ever listened to. His every thought, word, deed and action was guided by Ahimsa. Even in those times that his life depended on it. Many may think “yeah and see where it got him, he was gunned down.” His accomplishments were unprecedented, he inspired the whole world and still to this day his work is revered.  As the example of my friend​s’​ lament “we have not had a Gandhi in a long time” shows us. The concept of Ahimsa is not exclusive to yogic spiritual principles, it has also been an important part of Christianity and Buddhism.
 It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed by the state of the world at any given time. However we can do our part by making sure we’re doing the necessary internal (spiritual) work, so our thoughts, our actions, and our deeds are not contributing to the mayhem that negativity and violence create​s​.
Let us be co-creators of the world we would like to live in. Gandhi said “be the change you want to see“, it’s the same as heal yourself, heal the world. And it is never too late to start.