6 Important Life Lessons Yogis Know
When I was training to become a yoga instructor, one of the teachers asked us what the definition of yoga was. It was obviously a trick question and I'm not a dummy, so I shifted in my seat and waited for his climactic response. "Yoga is everything," he said as he wagged his finger. He then continued onward with a three-hour lecture about how yoga transforms people's lives for the better.
I'm here to disagree. Yoga is not everything. There's a whole lot more to life, like sleeping, watching Empire, and the burnt layer of rice at the bottom of the pot that nobody likes but I happen to love. However, I will level with my yoga teacher on one thing: the meditative and physically challenging practice of yoga really does do amazing things for people, and its benefits last long after you've gotten up from your final Savasana.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have recently discovered that yoga may lower your risk for heart disease. They've done previous studies showing that the practice also improves your self-esteem and body image, helps you eat more mindfully, and significantly reduces the stress and anxiety that hovers over us on a daily basis. However, there are ways in which yoga can improve your life that aren't quantifiable by science, too.
Bustle spoke with Riji Suh, a New York based yoga instructor and model, who has been teaching for more than 10 years around the world, about the impact of yoga. "The state of our body, mind, heart, and even subtle consciousness, in movement and in stillness, are all directly influenced by the state and quality of our breath," Suh says. In other words, the way you move and breathe in a yoga class informs how you exist off the mat.
Here are six life lessons all yogis know.
1. Everything Is Temporary, Even The Good Stuff
I'm an advocate for making sure yoga always includes a healthy dose of cynicism. Notice I could have said, "Everything is temporary, even the bad stuff," but you've heard that enough. Besides, reminding ourselves that the good eventually fades away is just as important to keep in mind — and it's something we work on in yoga.
Acting without expecting is a principle many yogis live by, especially when we're stuck in a difficult posture for 60 seconds and our first instinct is to run away. Instead of becoming attached to a certain feeling in any situation, whether it's the delight in nailing an arm balance or the positive rush from buying a new shade of lipstick, yoga teaches you how to acknowledge the sensation and enjoy it, but not let it consume you. Because no matter how great or how crappy you feel at any given moment, it's going to morph into something else sooner or later. Like the Buddha always said, nothing is permanent.
2. We Have The Power To Transform Our Own Thoughts
On Season 1 of HBO's Girls, Hannah Horvath once said, "Any mean thing someone's gonna think of to say about me I've already said to me, about me, probably in the last half hour!" We all laughed — because it was true. We're our own worst critics, and half the time we don't even realize it. It's like there's always something new about ourselves we can find fault with.
A regular yoga practice can help you break through those negative habits. Like Harvard said, yoga boosts your self-confidence, but it also gives you the tools to recognize when you're starting to fall into that self-loathing pattern and pull yourself out before you get too deep. You can use the meditative practice you've got under your belt to knock out the nasty things you say to yourself. Riji says that we have the power to change our own minds. "Breathe how you want to feel," she says, and convince yourself that you're rad and worthy of everyone's time.
3. It's All About Finding Balance
I have to be honest, this one takes the cake for most cliche piece of advice you hear in a yoga studio. I mean, every teacher says it, right? So does the person behind the front desk. Even the people who set up their mats next to you whisper about striking the "right balance." Well, they're all talking about it because they've know that, cheesiness aside, balance really does keep you sane.
I'm not talking about physically balancing on one foot (although you will master that eventually in yoga and it feels pretty badass). Rather, it's about taking a step back and reassessing your habits. Are you working too much? Do you give enough time to the people you care most about? Yogis know the importance of finding the sweet spot that allows you to enjoy everything you've got.
4. Always Listen To How You're Truly Feeling
I've seen people get injured in a yoga class before, although it's not common. A number of factors contributed to these unfortunate events, the primary one being that they weren't tuned into what was going on in their body. It's easy to stretch or bend too far if you're not listening to the internal cues. So, as yoga teachers, we do our best to instill this value into our students from the very beginning. Pay attention to yourself. If you're feeling super stiff, take it easy. If you're exhausted, chill out for a second.
These concepts apply to the rest of your life, too. People who have been doing yoga for a long time build up spidey senses and they understand the importance of honoring yourself, no matter what kind of crap external forces try to push on you. Riji says she encourages her students to believe that everything they need to make an important decision in their life is simply within themselves.
5. You're Going To Fall, But You'll Just Pick Yourself Back Up
Ring the cliche bell! We're back with another one. Even my skeptical mind wholeheartedly believes this, though, and I teach it to my students all the time. Whether in yoga, your social life, or your career, you're going to screw up at one point. Or you'll face some really tough sh*t that knocks you on your butt. Either way, you'll end up on the floor and it'll probably feel awful, but don't for a second believe that you have to stay down there.
Think about it. When you fall out of a handstand, you're the one who picks yourself back up. Someone might come offer help, but at the end of the day, it's you who makes the recovery. These values follow yogis into everyday life, so they're stronger and better equipped to handle any stumbles that may come along.
6. Sometimes It Pays To Just Chill & Let Things Play Out
A lot of Type A folks gain a lot from a consistent yoga practice because it teaches you how to chill out, even if only briefly. Riji says yoga can help with the concept of letting go, giving you the serenity you need to sit back and watch things chaotically move around you while remaining unperturbed. Even the most anxious, tightly-wound people have found release in the practice, which allows them to stay calm when stressful situations arise that they have no control over.
Personally, learning to chill the eff out has been the most valuable takeaway from all my bending and stretching. I now know that some of the drama in my social life isn't my own, so all I have to do is sit back and watch it unfold. And it can actually be pretty entertaining.
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