I shouldn’t have been surprised that yoga would give me some powerful life lessons.
It started out innocently enough.
I committed to doing a 30 day yoga challenge at the beginning of the year.
Not challenge in the “how hard can you make it” way – just a commitment to doing 30 consecutive days of yoga practice.
I’m not new to yoga.
My first yoga class was as a teenager back in the 70’s at a community hall with an interesting guy who looked like he had smoked weed with the Beatles and the Maharishi back in the day.
Over the years, yoga became an on again off again practice for me. Some years there was a lot more on and others a little more off. Even when I let my practice slide though, eventually, I always return to the mat.
Well yoga welcomes me into a heart-mind-body connection that never fails to provide a life lesson or two.
Life lessons from yoga
They say the mat always has your back.
I think that’s true.
Whether it’s in a sweaty little vinyasa or in a gentle stretch, yoga gives me a lovely space to show up with whatever I have to bring that day, knowing that at the end, things will be a little bit better than they were at the start.
In the past couple of years, I’ve found it more challenging to get to a studio class, and like many people my home practice was hit or miss.
My mat, rolled up and patiently waiting in the corner, was always willing but I often had so called “better things to do”.
So when January offered an opportunity to commit to 30 days of yoga, it seemed like the universe was giving me a gentle nudge to get my asana together so to speak.
With the delightful guidance of Adriene Mishler and superdog Benji from Yoga with Adriene, Day 1 turned into Day 10 turned into Day 21 and then miraculously there was Day 30.
By that time, I had decided that I was ready for a bigger commitment, and so began 100 days of yoga.
One hundred days of anything is sure to provide some great life lessons, or at least reminders about principles that perhaps need a little re-focus. Sometimes it’s simply the affirmation of beliefs already held.
Here are some of the things I learned from spending 100 days on the mat:
The breath is everything
We all have this amazing tool in our pocket….well not in our pocket but in our chests…that allows us to calm ourselves, find focus, and move with intention.
For years I have taught clients about the power of 3 conscious breaths. Time on the yoga mat has reinforced in me the idea that our breath needs to be at the centre of everything.
Before anything, first breathe.
In yoga the breath is referred to as prana. It’s the same Sanskrit word that is used to mean life energy. The breath is what allows you to flow intentionally from one posture to the next.
In English we refer to the breath in many common sayings:
“I need to catch my breath.”
“Just take a breath.”
“I didn’t have a moment to breathe.”
Yet we often forget that our breath is there to help us in any moment.
Pausing and breathing with mindful attention puts us back into the present moment.
That’s where we can make intentional choices in response to what is happening rather than simply reacting.
Yup – before anything, first breathe.
That’s one of those foundational life lessons whether you practice yoga or not.
Consistency creates change
Doing one small thing over and over again will always get you better results than a big effort once in a while. But you have to trust that process because day to day it is sometimes hard to see the changes happening.
That is until enough days have passed and all of a sudden you notice that you can do something that you couldn’t do before.
Sukhasana, or easy crossed leg pose, was never easy for me. My hips protest loudly about sitting that way for any length of time.
After 100 days of practice, it is a whole lot easier.
Think about anything you want to change in your life.
Focus on a small step, be consistent and trust the process.
Discipline is more important than motivation
There was a point around day 18 when I was happy I hadn’t made a public declaration about taking on the challenge.
It felt like I still had an out if I wanted it. I think my initial enthusiasm had faded and 30 days now seemed like a long time.
Motivation might get you started on something but after a while it tends to wear off.
Discipline is what keeps you moving forward.Motivation might get you started on something but after a while it tends to wear off. Discipline is what keeps you moving forward. Click To Tweet
No matter what we are working on, we always hit a sticking point. There is always a moment when we question why we ever started that project, activity, task or 30 day challenge.
Rather than motivation, discipline instead relies on routine.
Having a structure to our day lets us get in a groove about getting things done, especially when we don’t feel like it.
That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for spontaneity.
It’s just if you use a free for all – anything goes approach to your day, chances are you won’t maintain enough focus to see things through to the end.
Personal habits and daily routines are what allow us to be consistent long enough to create change.
Having a buddy is a good thing
When I first decided to do the 30 day challenge, I asked hubby if he wanted to come along for the ride. He said sure, but I wasn’t convinced that he was going to stick with it.
Yoga isn’t really his thing. But I was happy for a companion on the journey even if he ultimately decided to take a detour.
Turns out that having a buddy to keep you on track was a key to returning to the mat day after day – for me and for him.
When I was feeling less enthusiastic, he was the one to say, “Let’s just do it”. When he was waffling, I could return the favour.
Having someone to hold you accountable, to cheer you on or give you a boost, is critical to achieving any goals in life. It takes a village, or at least a buddy.
And go figure – at the end of the 30 days, hubby jumped on board to keep going too.
What feels hard depends on the day
Some days being on the mat is a breeze.
Other days everything about it seems hard.
That has a lot to do with how my body might be feeling, whether I got enough sleep, ate well or had too many things on my to-do list. The degree to which I think “poor me” also influences how hard it all seems.
Some days off the mat are a breeze.
Other days everything about life seems hard.
For all the same reasons.
Meet yourself where you are.
Then pay attention to how you might be making life harder and make some adjustments.
A good foundation keeps you steady
In yoga it starts with the breath.
Then it’s all about the feet.
And then the core.
It turns out that you need a good foundation if you want stability in any yoga pose.
One of my favourite postures is tadasana or mountain pose. It allows me to feel grounded – rooted to the earth. From there just about anything seems possible.
A good foundation of guiding principles and practices lets us stay grounded in life, particularly when times are chaotic.
If we don’t have a place of inner stability to draw on, then anything can shove us off balance.
That’s why understanding our core values, translating them into actionable principles and building daily routines that reinforce them are cornerstones in our personal resilience.
Balance is a dynamic state
Years ago, someone told me that balance is a fitness component. You need both strength and flexibility to keep your balance.
True but the other important thing to remember is that balance is not a steady state.
Just try standing in vrksasana or tree pose. If you are like me, you keep the shape for a while, fall out of it and then you try again.
It’s no different with life balance.
We move in and out of a state of perceived balance in our lives depending upon the circumstances we find ourselves in.
We need a certain amount of strength from our core values to hold ourselves in place when things are trying to pull us off centre.
And we need to be flexible to move with the demands of the day.
Here’s an important life lesson to remember:
Just like in tree pose or any other balancing posture, it’s not about never falling.
It’s about regaining your focus and balance with ease.
There is no one right way
Variations and modifications – those are music to my ears in yoga practice. To be honest I’d love to be able to move into a picture perfect version of any yoga asana.
The truth is I sometimes need a prop to help me. My hamstrings are not as flexible as I would like them to be. That doesn’t mean I can’t do paschimottanasana or seated forward fold. It’s more about making the posture fit me rather than the other way around.
In life, just like yoga, there are many ways to get to the same place.
Focus on doing what works for you.
Change things up.
Make it your own.
Your mind can mess with you
While focusing on your breath in yoga can help you flow from one posture to the next, it’s also a helpful tool to distract from the endless conversation in your head.
Let’s be honest.
Left to its own devices, your mind can really mess with you.
It’s counterproductive to be connecting body and spirit on the mat and also having one’s mind nag you about this or that.
Yoga invites you into a kinder and gentler conversation with yourself. Whether you take it up on the offer is up to you.
Every single person is having a continual internal conversation.
You are having one right now.
It would be great if we were all repeating some positive affirmation or giving ourselves mental high fives.
More likely we are being pretty nasty when we talk to ourselves – unrealistic, cranky and judgmental.
Kindness and compassion start within.
Try to catch that negative inner chatter and replace it with something a little more uplifting.
Just show up and do your best
After 100 days of yoga I think the best lesson I’ve learned is to just show up on the mat and bring the best that I have that day.
To not worry about what yesterday looked like or what might unfold tomorrow.
Yesterday I might have rocked Utkatasana or chair pose and today I just want to sit in one.
Showing up is the first hurdle in life.
It’s deciding that you will participate – take the challenge – require a little more of yourself.
The second hurdle is giving yourself permission to accept what you have to offer on any day.
Do your best with the skills, knowledge and resources you have today.
It’s not a finite thing – it’s fluid.
Today’s best and yesterday’s best might look completely different.
And that’s okay.
We are human after all.
A lovely dance can be created between our willingness to push ourselves while also embracing where we are right now. We can be aspirational while also accepting what is.
So what happened after the 100 days of yoga?
I’m trying to lean into the life lessons that yoga has provided.
I’m still counting.
365 seems like a very cool number.