“Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield
I hadn’t taken a yoga class in a while, and in the midst of my busy schedule I finally gave myself permission to go. Needless to say it had been a few months since I found myself in a downward dog position.
Something was different about my participation in two classes I recently took. I wish I could say I was able to go deeper into the poses, but it was actually challenging because my flexibility is not where it used to be.
What struck me were the many great metaphors that these two women, Michelle and Debbie, were sharing in their yoga instruction.
I confess, I’m a metaphor junky and look for them everywhere. I can probably blame my dad for that since he spoke to me in metaphors while growing up.
What I noticed and appreciated about my instructors was that they were both very passionate about the practice of yoga. They were cognizant in educating us about position names and consistently reminded us to breathe.
I also loved that there were so many other rich messages to be heard, metaphorically of course, being that I was paying attention to them.
There were some gentle reminders that could be related to many different areas of life—career, relationships, wealth and finances, material purchases, and health. As I share them with you, I‘m curious as to how you would relate to them in your own unique way.
Michelle acknowledged how that morning was a chilly day, and how, although we might have felt more flexible the day before, we needed to listen to what our bodies needed then.
Typically most of us just go through the motions of our day not paying much attention to how we feel or what we need in each moment. Our need could be something as simple as a hug from a friend, time spent alone, or the satisfaction of eating a piece of dark chocolate.
How great would it be to pay attention to what it is we need and to then honor ourselves so we can experience fulfillment more often?
Michelle also explained that sometimes instructors ask us to hold a position for up to four or more minutes, for the intention of building strength and stamina.
How often do we allow ourselves to just embrace where we are now?
Most of us are always trying to get somewhere—usually because the grass always seems greener on the other side.
We can reap tremendous benefits from the practice of staying put and seeing what lessons can be learned from right where we are.
While watching Michelle demonstrate how to move from one yoga position to the next, I recognized a grace and ease; it was as if she was dancing. There was this beautiful fluidity in how she shifted her body as she settled into the next pose.
There is this time in between where we are and where we are going, where we are transitioning from one life challenge to the next. When we’re patient and we give ourselves time to get to that next chapter or step in life, there is a lot that can happen that could be meaningful to us.
Take notice and take it slow. It’s not about how fast or slow we approach it; it’s about the preparation for what’s to come.
Debbie went around the room at various times during the class, adjusting each person in certain positions. As a great instructor, she was doing this so we could build up our strength, to stretch in a more comfortable way, and to push ourselves uniquely as far as we could go.
This is a great example of how in yoga there is no competition. We don’t need to worry or strive to be better than anyone else.
We’ve all heard the phrase of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Well, who are they anyway? A made-up ideal or level of perfection that doesn’t exist. It’s great to strive to be better, but from the stand point of what is truly best for you, not because someone else is where you want to be.
You may start to recognize that you sometimes find yourself in a competition without realizing you signed up to actually compete. Where in your life are you doing this unnecessarily, and is it truly to better you or to try and keep up with someone else?
When we finished one of our warrior poses, Michelle then guided us into Child’s Pose to let our bodies rest. I loved when she said that resting in between poses actually builds up our bodies’ ability to handle stress.
That was such a nice reminder that when we keep ourselves in a high intensity state of taking actions, constant thinking and worry, or a state of stress, we can crash and burn.
In between these experiences or even while we are going through them, it’s important to allow ourselves to rest or do something that feels good and enjoyable. Taking a break and giving ourselves permission to have some down time can help us develop the ability to handle stress well.
Debbie taught us about the meaning of yoga as “fusion” or “alignment,” and went on to say that it’s the alignment of the mind, body, and spirit.
How often do you recognize that you did or said something that was out of alignment with you? As a result, you may have thought, “That wasn’t me,” or “That was totally out of character with who I am.”
Sometimes it can be a good thing when you challenge yourself in fun ways. When it doesn’t serve you is when you become disconnected from your values or what is important to you.
You get to choose who you are being in any given moment. Practice being intentional and you’ll maintain that connection with yourself.
The most powerful message I heard was about mastering the level of a yoga pose before moving on to the next. Debbie stated it as level 1, 2, or 3. As I was shaking to hold the pose where my arms and legs were up in the air like a V, she gently suggested that I lower my feet to bend my knees. I stopped shaking and was able to hold the pose with more ease.
I didn’t hear judgment in those levels; they were just levels. One wasn’t better than another.
I learned that I don’t need to force myself to do what isn’t comfortable for me. I just need to focus on mastering where I am now. Otherwise I might feel a lack of confidence, experience feeling shaky and not grounded in what I’m doing, and may even push myself unnecessarily to experience some sort of pain.
When you can master the level of where you are now, you can move with ease into the next challenge or what’s next, knowing that you feel strong and empowered in doing so.
Photo by Lululemon Athletica
Alanna Levenson is a Certified Professional Coach in Los Angeles, CA. She works with Entrepreneurs, Attorneys and High Level Executives to support them in creating a road map to fulfill their purpose with purpose, and the strategies to be successful.
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