I am a yoga instructor, but before I was an instructor, I was a student. I was always fascinated with yogis even from a young age, even though they weren’t nearly as plentiful as they are now. They always looked so healthy, so calm, so happy, so … hipster.
When my yoga journey began, I didn’t know what I was hoping to find, but 13 years later, with a 200-hour teaching certification under my belt, I have found much much more than I ever imagined. And it has nothing to do with being able to stand on my head or touch my toes.
One of the greatest lessons of yoga is present awareness, mental and physical. While in poses, you are encouraged to feel your body–where you’re tensing, where you can release. But here’s the kicker: you’re encouraged to do this in a loving, non-judgmental way. So “I’ll never be able to touch my toes. I’m so inflexible,” becomes “I can lean forward to here. That’s where my body is today.” And it’s all OKAY.
In a yoga practice, it’s all about the here and now—present moment stuff. How is my breath? How is my right side different from my left? How does this pose feel today as opposed to last week’s class? What emotions come up when I can’t hold a pose? Or when I can? Grounding. Not evaluating. Just noticing. Being fully present.
Most of us have some pretty harsh inner critics. And we don’t need a yoga class to bring them out. But it is a perfect environment to experiment with your critics. How do you talk to yourself when you fall trying to balance in tree pose? Is it the same when you lose balance in other areas of your life? The mat becomes a training ground for life. We practice. We listen. We become a witness to our thoughts and our bodies.
And as we become more aware, we recognize our patterns, and are provided with a safe place to explore them. And little by little, we can become more loving, compassionate individuals. And by recognizing our own sufferings, we become more a part of the human experience. We all suffer. We are all connected.
At the end of every class, instructors offer the blessing of “Namaste.” Namaste roughly translates into “I recognize and honor the light in you which is also in me” or “My soul honors your soul.” What a beautiful sentiment in times when kindness and connection often feels distant.
Present awareness. Loving kindness towards ourselves. Welcoming our inner critic. And compassion for all who are sharing this life journey. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to touch your toes (but it’s okay if you don’t).