Stretching to the edge of discomfort, I shift into Triangle Pose, struggling to keep breathing, hips forward, head turned up, one arm reaching for my toes, the other for the ceiling, all while trying not to over-stretch and go over my edge into pain and possible injury.
Triangle is challenging for me, as is the entire practice of yoga, and every moment presents opportunities to stay present and learn important lessons.
5 Lessons From the Yoga Mat
It seems I can’t practice a physical discipline without finding applications beyond the kinesthetic. Yoga is no exception. And since I entered the world of Bikram Yoga last fall, the instructors seem to be speaking directly to my penchant for connecting physical experiences with daily life. Here are five life lessons I’ve learned on the yoga mat (so far!):
#1) Be a beginner.
It’s been a while since I started a new practice. I began aikido 20 years ago, and it has become a part of my life in ways that are familiar and no longer intimidating. It’s fun to be a beginner again.
#2) Find your edge and explore it.
On the yoga mat, we find the edge: comfort/discomfort; breathing/not breathing; present/checked out. Is this too much/too little? How do I make that call?
Driving away from a recent class, I noticed at the periphery of my awareness a feeling of rushing to get home. I saw this as an edge. I could slip over the edge into that rushing space so easily. Instead I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
In daily life, we’re often faced with choices that involve edges: react/stay present; resist/connect; tighten/relax; see limits/find alternatives. Instead of checking out, stay with that edge and explore it. You’ll increase awareness, power and presence.
#3) Learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.
When I heard the instructor say this, I instantly imagined its daily applications: difficult conversations, conflict, presenting, saying no; the list goes on. When you can stay present under pressure — be comfortable with discomfort — you have a rare and priceless power.
#4) Keep breathing.
— through the difficult, the easy, the edge. An excellent centering practice is to notice when you hold your breath. You’ll be surprised to learn how many times throughout the day you stop breathing. As soon as you notice, however, you can open your throat and start breathing again. This practice will make you more intentional about everything.
#5) Meet the resistance you feel in any posture with the breath.
Ah! When the instructor offered this nugget, I was all ears and imagination. There are many similarities between yoga and aikido, but this is the primary one: transform resistance.
She was referring to our physical and mental resistance to performing the posture. But what if I meet my resistance with my breath:
· Every time I’m asked to try something outside my comfort zone?
· Whenever I’m face to face with a difficult person, conversation, or situation?
· While performing a responsibility that feels like a burden?
· Anytime I don’t like what is currently happening?
A page on the Bikram Yoga Portsmouth Website says: “Enjoy yourself. This is a life-changing practice. It is challenging, important and serious, but can also be a lot of fun.”
Life is challenging, important and serious, too. And, it can also be a lot of fun if we remember we are all beginners learning to meet each new uncomfortable edge with the power of our awareness, breath, and presence.
What physical practice do you learn from, and how have you found ways to apply your lessons to daily life?