While taking a yoga class, there's probably been a handful of times where you experienced both physical and mental challenges. As your thighs tremble during humble warrior, you wonder to yourself, “When will this teacher cue us to come out? I can’t hold this for any longer!” Or perhaps there’s been another time where you’ve attempted to listen to the instructor asking you to clear your mind/listen to your breath and all you can do is replay an argument you just had with a friend or loved one before leaving for class.
We’ve all been there. But with that, we’ve also all likely experienced the moment where the instructor again reminds us to breathe into the pose or clear our mind, and suddenly we just do. Things begin to seem a bit easier, and somehow we are able to withstand whatever experience was just hindering us. That’s the beauty of the practice; overcoming the mind and ultimately learning how to breathe through the challenges life bestows on us.
What’s even more, by practicing how to overcome these physical and mental challenges on the mat, we inevitably prepare ourselves for how to navigate through life’s circumstances off the mat. Yoga is not just a physical practice, it is a way of life. Demonstrating yoga in everyday life is indeed something that takes time and patience, but it can provide a lifetime of positivity and fulfillment.
Below, find some of my favorite aspects from the practice to apply to those life challenges that each day brings:
1. Breathe. Just like your instructor cues in class, allow yourself to deepen your breath when you feel your level of stress or mind chatter elevating. Studies show that deep breathing exercises can help ward off panic attacks, digestive disorders, and even lower blood pressure. Controlled breathing relaxes our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) and calms the mind.
2. Practice compassion and kindness. As you should allow yourself forgiveness with your flexibility, strength, and appearance on the mat, try and practice this concept off your mat. Treat yourself with respect and kindness, and then vouch to also extend that to everyone else around you. Let go of gossip circles, excuse yourself from the name bashing game, and just simply refuse to speak words of hurt. You'll feel much lighter by freeing yourself from that negativity.
3. Practice gratitude & contentment. It can be as simple as being thankful that you have the ability to practice yoga. Focus on the things you already have in your life vs comparing yourself to others and wishing you had other material objects or looked a certain way. It can be helpful to repeat the mantra, “I have everything I need in this moment.”
4. Allow yourself to feel. Often times we hide our feelings or try to pretend we are okay when really we’re not. Allow yourself to become more vulnerable. Own up to how you feel inside, and then sit on it for a while. Acknowledge why you feel this way, and where these feelings are stemming from. Often times, you can repeat #1-3 and move past these feelings, or realize whether you may need to ask for help from an outside source.
5. Respond rather than react. Similar to #4, take the time to sit with your thoughts and feelings after a confrontation rather than reacting right away. Often times we react poorly in a tough situation because we allow judgement, fear, or anxiety to take lead. By taking the time to breathe into a challenging situation and think about potential solutions, we can sometimes avoid putting ourselves through further pain.
6. Smile. The positive vibes emitted after curling up the corners of your lips after a juicy flow works just as much magic off the mat. Do it wherever you go; people will notice and want to spread it.
By practicing these techniques regularly, we learn how to move with the ebb and flow of life rather than resisting. Remember, yoga is not just a practice; it is a way of life.