Yoga is so much more than a workout, so much more than exercise.
For me, it is a spiritual experience. It doesn’t just make my body feel strong and healthy, but my mind and spirit, too.
Given how all-encompassing yoga is for health, my instructors aren’t just coaches or fitness teachers. They are my spiritual leaders. After a class, when I arise from savasana feeling equally exhausted and rejuvenated, I feel endlessly grateful to the person who led me through it all. I tell them “Thank you, thank you,” but I don’t think they really know what I am thanking them for. Their lessons and guidance don’t just impact my yoga experience, but my life, at large.
Thank you for teaching me to be present.
You help me to focus, quiet my mind, and to breathe through difficult and long postures. By being in the moment, I learn more about myself. I hear my wandering mind more clearly, but also feel a source stronger than my mind that tells it to please be quiet.
This practice doesn’t only bring me stillness and self-awareness on my yoga mat, but I carry it with me off the mat, too. The mind is like the body, in that it can be trained. When I feel anxious, overwhelmed, or any other intense emotion, I am better able to take control, and tell my mind to “hush.” I breathe through it, and turn my focus to the present moment.
Thank you for teaching me that every day my balance will be a little different.
If I do yoga everyday for years, my strength, balance, and ability will improve, but there will still be days when I lose balance. I will shake. I will stumble. When my instructor reminds me this is normal, I feel a sense of self-acceptance. I might fall out of a pose, but I keep a light heart, and just get back into it again. In life, I am reminded to do the same. I fall, but I get back up without shame.
Thank you for teaching me to set an intention.
Many of my instructors have invited me to set an intention before beginning. It helps me bring a focus, a guiding force, into the physical challenges that will be endured during class. There have been times I experienced anxiety, and I would think the word “peace” throughout my practice. In times of weakness, I thought the word “strength.”
This act is also powerful off the mat, and invites whatever value I want to focus on in my life. When life is hard, and decisions are tough, my intention guides me. I focus on love, trust, strength, and gratitude. It is a form of goal setting, and helps me live in a conscious way.
Thank you for teaching me that counter-poses are important.
After a back bend, one should do a forward fold. After an energizing pose, one should do a cooling pose. Counter-poses center the body, and make one more comfortable. This principle can also be applied in life outside of the studio. After work, one should rest. After a feast, one should fast. After sun, rain will come. It is all about maintaining equilibrium.
Thank you for teaching me that 100 percent effort results in 100 percent benefit.
Although many people would love to try yoga, some are deterred because they think they must have a certain level of flexibility, strength, or fitness. In reality, anyone can start right where she is at. Off the mat, it reminds me that I don’t need to be the best at anything. All I need to do is give it my all, whatever that may be in the moment.
Thank you for talking so often about non-judgement.
You don’t negatively judge me for where I am at, and it helps me to not judge myself or compete with others. Consequently, off the mat, I am more understanding of the limitations and imperfections of myself and others. I try not to think of what people should be, or what they should do. Everyone is on their own divine journey.
Thank you for reminding me of the principles I want to live my life by.
One of my favorite yoga instructors would always end class by saying a Sanskrit poem, “Om lakah samastah sukhino bhavantu,” which translates to, “May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way, to that happiness, and to that freedom for all.” I can’t count how many times I thought these words off the mat. Carrying it in my heart ensures that I live life in a kind and compassionate way.
Author: Amanda Elder
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Dave Rosenblum/Flickr