If Younger Me Only Had a Yoga Mat: 3 Lessons I've Learned
I didn’t always love yoga the way I do now, and I didn’t always love myself the way I do now either. Before I started getting on my own yoga mat, I thought yoga was a static, barely moving thing that people did to relax. Honestly, I thought that the people who practiced yoga were kind of bizarre, and I was fine to stick to my sporadic running and gym routine. The first time I stepped on the mat I loved it. There was something about this powerful, moving practice that instantly connected me to my body. I have always been an “in my head” kind of person: constantly planning, carefully considering and consistently analyzing. When I was breathing, and I was moving, all of that faded away. My yoga mat quickly became my home. A place for me to connect with myself. A place for me to remember who I was before all the chatter came into my mind.
I would say that if I ever time traveled back in time, I would tell younger me these lessons. But younger me would be very skeptical of someone telling her they time travelled, and younger me also was kind of set in her own ways, so I’m not sure she would take advice. Maybe I would just leave younger me a yoga mat and hope she found yoga on her own. :)
Breathe. Seriously, it’s that simple. Breathe. I know, it sounds ridiculous. I knew how important breathing was to calming down before I started teaching yoga, I am a therapist and all. But, honestly, I never believed in it fully. I thought it was kind of hokey. I thought that there was no way that breathing could have so much power on us. But then, I started practicing consciously breathing in my yoga practice, and I learned how calming and grounding the breath can be. I bring my attention to my breathing countless times a day now, and I am positive that countless times a day it helps me get through something. It helps me calm my nerves, or stop from saying something I don’t really want to say. It helps me ground myself in this moment, or it helps me take a short break. It is amazing how we have such a powerful tool with us everywhere we go, and yoga helped me believe in that tool.
You don’t have to be perfect, and actually, life becomes a lot more fun when you accept that you’re not. When you practice enough, you realize, there is no such thing as perfection. One day, you’re on your balancing game, standing like a tall proud Eagle with little wobbling at all. The very next day, you can wobble to stay standing up in a pose with both feet on the floor. And just the next day, you find yourself balancing on your hands in a new way you never managed before. Yoga taught me that there is no such thing as perfect. Yoga taught me that only person who thinks I have to be perfect is me, and that everything is easier when you’re gentler on yourself. It also taught me that everything is more enjoyable when you accept yourself just a little bit more.
You have to take care of yourself first. Yoga taught me to take care of myself in ways that nothing else every really did. When I found yoga, I was in a really chaotic place: mentally, professionally and physically. When I learned how healing and powerful being on the yoga mat was, I knew that I needed to keep practicing. It became one of my top priorities to practice yoga, and therefore taking care of myself became a top priority. When I started to take care of myself on my mat, I started to take care of myself off the mat. Vices dropped off with little resistance. It became easier to sleep. It became easier to cut out the toxic people and ideas in my life. I started to find power to set boundaries, power to strive for me, and power to take care of me. This change in my outlook, putting myself first, was one of the most important things I had done for myself, and it allowed me to become a better person, a better friend, a better therapist, and it led me to become a yoga instructor. Now, I preach self-care. And I truly, from the bottom of my yogi heart, believe that taking care of ourselves is essential to being a decent human to others.
There are so many lessons that yoga has taught me, and I am grateful for the journey that led me to them when it did, but one of the reasons that I teach yoga to kids and teens is because I truly believe that if we all learned the lessons yoga can teach a little bit earlier in life, we would all be better off. Yoga is a gift, and sharing that gift with our young people can help them realize how much power they have inside of themselves, how to take care of themselves and how to love themselves just a little bit (or a lot of bit) more. What a wonderful gift we get to share.