17 Life Lessons I Learned From Yoga Practice

Life is stressful and chaotic and scary and it doesn’t come with a handbook. Day-to-day life can get so crazy that it’s hard to remember how beautiful life is. When I moved to New York City for college and life got even crazier, I knew I had to find a way to calm myself down fast. Upon stumbling into yoga practice, I knew I’d found my ticket to sanity. Yoga is more than just exercise — it taught me about 1,000 lessons that go way beyond class and into everyday life. The more I go to yoga class, the more I find myself able to handle the little speed bumps life throws my way. Here some 17 life lessons I learned from yoga practice that might make your hectic day a little easier:

  1. There is no wrong way to do things. This applies both to yoga and to life in general. If you’re hurting yourself, that’s one thing, but beyond that, everyone has their own unique way of doing things and their own path, even they’re headed toward a similar goal.
  2. There is no destination. Keep going forward, even though there is no endpoint. Life is one big journey and the finish line is far from the high point.
  3. Choose love over fear. The love I’m talking about here is the love of the present moment and of the challenges ahead of you, because love is the opposite of fear. Fear is what gets us caught up in our own heads. If your mind is consumed with fear, you’ll find yourself unable to concentrate and convinced that you can’t nail that tough pose.
  4. We all sweat sometimes. Even though Hollywood would like us to think otherwise, when we exercise, we get kinda sweaty and messy and imperfect. That’s totally cool. There is not one person on this Earth who is not occasionally sweaty and messy. Yoga class will prove this to you more than almost anything else. And don’t worry, nobody’s staring, they’re all too preoccupied with doing their own thing.
  5. Life is not symmetrical. The left and right sides of your body are not the same. They are not necessarily equally strong or equally flexible, and that’s quite alright. Things aren’t made to be symmetrical or perfect or within our control, and that’s comforting when life doesn’t always seem to balance out.
  6. It’s great to be vulnerable. Trying intimidating new yoga poses and breaking a sweat in a room full of strangers might sound terrifying. There’s simply no way to keep your guard down when you’re giving 100 percent to bending yourself backwards and holding yourself up in a way that’s so tough it makes your arms shake. And that’s amazing. As much as we like to resist it because of how scary it is, vulnerability is what brings people together and creates bonds. In yoga class, we are taking a crazy journey together.
  7. Be present. What’s coming next doesn’t matter, because in this moment, it doesn’t even exist. We just have right now and it’s so important to focus on this moment.
  8. Leave your ego at the door. “Ego” goes way beyond the know-it-all attitude we often associate with the word. We are all victim to the ego and most of us don’t realize how prevalent it is. It’s every fearful thought we’ve ever had and it’s every subconscious attempt we’ve made to defend our pride by making “comfortable” choices that don’t challenge us to grow. Ego gets us all caught up in our neurotic thoughts and our desire to have control over what happens to us. It stops us from admitting our true feelings to ourselves and following our gut. The second we become aware of this is the second life gets interesting, and the more we practice letting the ego go, the more in tune we become with ourselves and with our bodies.
  9. Every moment is a fresh start. Your past “mistakes” or regrets are never so great that you don’t get to try again in the next moment. Each breath is a new chance to have a different perspective or try a new approach.
  10. Set an intention. What do you plan to make of your experiences when you wake up each morning? We shape our own lives through our actions, little by little, and when we set intentions, we act in accordance with our goals.
  11. Some days are easy, some are hard — and that’s okay. Some days, your practice will feel easy. You’ll feel limber and happy and full of good energy from the great workout you’re getting. Other days, you may feel exhausted and struggle with things that are usually easy for you. Off days happen to everyone, for a whole host of reasons, and that’s perfectly fine.
  12. Doing your best is all that matters. I know it’s cliché, but that’s for a reason! As long as you are being the best you that you can possibly be, you’ve done your job for the day. If a pose isn’t clicking for you one day, then so be it. You tried, and each time you try you are getting one step closer to getting the pose you want.
  13. Take baby steps. Baby steps are how the magic happens: one teeny tiny step at a time. Progress in life can happen so slowly that you can feel completely stagnant day to day despite your best efforts, until suddenly months have passed, and you look up and see how far you’ve come. The biggest changes can happen so slowly and subtly that we barely even notice. That’s why it’s so important that we just show up each day and go from there.
  14. It’s okay to do something just for you. Yoga class is you time, to focus solely on yourself and your feelings and your practice. Prioritizing some time for yourself makes you a better friend, family member, and overall person to be around for everyone else in your life. If you aren’t treating yourself well so you can be at your happiest, then how will you have the energy to show up to support the people you love?
  15. Feel how your body is FEELING things? You’re ALIVE! How great is that!? Whether it’s at work, at school, or even at home, so many of us spend most of our days sitting downs indoors hunch over a desk. It’s easy to make one lose touch with their own pulse. Nothing screams “I’M ALIVE!” more than working your muscles in class and pushing yourself beyond what you previously thought possible. What’s more beautiful than that? I promise that when you walk out of yoga class and back onto the sidewalk, you’ll feel rejuvenated and way more attuned to the details around you and the fact that you are breathing!
  16. Life is what you make of it. Class is what you put into it. No matter how your teacher may help you, only you know if you’re challenging yourself as hard as you can or giving things your best effort. It’s your responsibility to gauge whether you’re giving your all. The more energy you put into class, the more you stand to gain from it. Going through the motions is tempting, and we all have days when that’s all WE can muster. But in the end, however, how much effort we choose to put in directly determines how much we receive in return in the long run. The same can be said for attitude. If class is really challenging today, you have a choice of whether to view it as a horrible experience that will discourage your from yoga forever, or a teaching moment that shows you just how much you are capable of. Just like life, we approach every class with the ability to choose what the experience means for us. It’s your call.
  17. Just breathe! When all else fails, in life and in yoga, just breathe through it. Nothing is as scary as you think.

[Image of woman doing yoga via Shutterstock]