Life Lessons From My Yoga Mat (Part 1)

I've been really busy with work and writing lately, and it's in these busy times that I most appreciate having outlets to take a break from my stress. Outlets like sitting and reading a really good book. Taking a killer dance class and rocking out in the studio. And, the one activity that combines the need to move with the need for quiet and peace: yoga class. My current yoga studio is within walking distance of my apartment, something I'd always wanted (ah, to be able to go to class, come home and shower, and then continue on with my day!). The teachers are thoughtful and encouraging, and the atmosphere is intimate—you can actually get to know the people who usually attend the same classes as you do. On a good week, I'm there at least twice. And I love it.

The point of this post? I've been thinking a lot lately about how regular yoga at a warm, friendly studio has been a huge benefit to my life overall, from my writing career to my dancing to my general well-being. So, without further ado, over the next few (non-book-related) posts I want to share the biggest lessons I've learned (and am still, constantly, always learning) from yoga practice.

Number One: Patience

If you've been reading my blog since January, you know that patience is my theme for 2013. (Read more on that here.) You'd think that writing and revising and pitching a novel would be the most obvious evidence in my life of the need for patience, but for me, yoga has been a constant, hit-over-the-head reminder that progress often only comes with months and months (and months) of hard work and patience.

Case in point: in that post on patience from January, I mentioned that in 2012, one of my New Year's resolutions was to be able to do an unassisted handstand by the end of the year. At the time, I thought that was a more-than-attainable goal. I am only now getting close to accomplishing it. What happened? In early 2012, I took a painful fall practicing handstands at home. Falling didn't just hurt; it also messed with my head. Without the confidence to kick up properly, no way was I going to get up. Then I had a foot injury—on my handstand kick-off and landing foot. Once that healed, I'd lost the coordination. I could hold a handstand, but I couldn't get up on my own. I was incredibly frustrated about it for a while. But I kept trying, kept pushing, and in tiny increments, I got better. Stronger. More consistent. I'm almost there. And I wouldn't have made it if I hadn't eventually let go of my frustration and my arbitrary year-end goal as unproductive and just kept practicing. 

Arm balances still test my patience. I'm close to getting into Crow Pose consistently, after what seems like such a long time, but I'm nowhere near being able to do Side Crow or anything more complicated. But my experience with handstand, and with Crow, reminds me that while they might take patience, and they might take months and months and months, those harder poses are not impossible. They're not out of reach long-term, just because I can't do them now.

So it goes with writing. (And with just about everything else worth doing...) I have to be patient with myself and with my progress, no matter how incremental it seems at the time. I have to trust that with work, improvement will come. Every yoga class, when I do something I couldn't do a year ago, or when I struggle with something new and challenging, I think about being patient. And I hope that even as I grow stronger and can do more advanced poses, that mindfulness never goes away.

Next week: some thoughts on the benefits of being still.

Happy Downward Dogs to everyone!