I remember during my yoga teacher training one of the teachers said, "How you do yoga is how you do life". In the moment, I was confused. What does that even mean? But the more I thought about it, the more I explored the idea in my own practice, the more I realized how true it is. I also realized what an incredible tool for personal growth it can be. Even if you are not at all interested in the more spiritual side of yoga (for instance, the phrase "balance the chakras" makes your eyes roll), paying attention to your habits in a physical yoga class can offer amazing insights to unconscious habits we have in life.
If you've practiced yoga for any length of time, you might have noticed some unconscious habits. Maybe you habitually clench your jaw or hike your shoulders towards your ears, even when you're in a pose that allows the shoulders to relax. Maybe you notice you always come in to pigeon pose in a certain way. We all have little ticks and habits in the way we move our bodies. In the same way, we accumulate habitual beliefs and patterns in our lives off the mat.
Here is my own experience as an example. When I started to pay attention to my practice, I noticed I tended to go to classes that focused more on flexibility than strength. This is neither good or bad but flexibility is something that came quite natural to me and something I felt "good" at. Generally in life, I noticed that I was really afraid of feeling "not good enough". If I wasn't immediately great at something, I stopped because I didn't want to feel like a failure. Strength didn't come to me as easily and so I avoided it so I wouldn't trigger that failure feeling. On my yoga mat is also where I first noticed how self critical I was. I would constantly compare what I was doing to what other people were doing and always try to "out yoga" them. I slowly became more aware that I moved through the rest of my life in the same way.
So this leads me to the reason this exploration, in my opinion, is invaluable. Our unconscious habits, on and off the mat, can have profound effects on our practice and our lives. My focus on flexibility and tendency to ignore what my body said led to a hamstring injury that halted my practice altogether for several months. My fear of feeling like a failure kept me in a very small box where I could not grow. Can you imagine how happy and fulfilled I may have felt constantly comparing and judging myself? (The answer is not at all.)
The best part about all this is that the yoga practice is a perfect place to practice adjusting these habits. The mat is a safe place to explore, to fail, to start again, and this practice naturally ripples out in to life. I could approach strength-based postures in a new way. I could practice them, rather than feeling like my worth was in conquering them. I could fall and "fail" and it wasn't really failure at all but growth. As I became more comfortable in the paradigm of practice, I found it naturally easier to do things in life I wasn't immediately good at and I could grow. As I practiced self care on the mat, I could drop down to child's pose and replace the judgemental voices with the sweet experience of honoring myself. It naturally became easier for me to take care of myself in life. I could say no to things I didn't really want to do and rest when I needed to rest and eat food that made me feel good. I became healthier, happier, more at peace and more confident.
So here is my invitation to you. Next time you are in a class or practicing at home, put your explorer's cap on. You know, the non-judgemental one. As you move through your practice, do you notice any habits? Do you push yourself beyond your edge or do you shy away from exploring it? Do you resist props because, to you, they mean you can't do the pose "properly"? Do you find yourself cold or uncomfortable in savasana but unable to ask the teacher for a blanket? (These are all from personal experience by the way.) Do any of the habits you notice resonate in the rest of your life? Do you feel like you have to push yourself beyond your limit or feel weak or unworthy? Do you resist support because you "should" be able to do it all yourself? Do you find it difficult to ask for what you need?
If you notice a habit and you'd like to change it, think about practicing it the next time your on the mat. Practice dropping in to child's pose or holding that plank for one more breath (with a smile!). Grab those blocks or ask the teacher for a blanket. Notice how it feels in your body to do that. Let the habitual mind chatter soften as you focus on the actual sensation of your practice. Say something sweet and congratulatory to yourself. You may not be able to do it every single time but every time you do, you are offering yourself a new habit. You'll feel the effects of it in your body and be able to tell if it's the right thing for you to do. This is your practice. I promise no one, not the teacher, not the other students, no one is keeping score. Strengthening your ability on the mat to take care of yourself means you strengthen your ability to take care of yourself always. After all, you don't lose the strength you build in those planks as soon as you leave the studio do you? It accumulates over time as long as you show up.
And remember, the choice is always yours. You don't have to do anything. You don't have to change anything. All I ask is that you notice the effect. You've read this far so I think I can safely assume that you are interested in living your best life as your best self. With compassionate awareness, you will know what direction serves you most.
I hope you play with this and find it useful! Please, if the spirit moves you, share what you find or your own experiences with this idea down below in the comments section. We all benefit so much from each others stories! Thank you so much for being here and giving this your attention. Until the next time, I deeply honor you. Namaste.