We've all seen them--the gorgeous sunset backdrops with a fit yoga body in a pretzel pose in the foreground. Bright multi-colored pants. Cropped top. Legs for days. Abs... you know the picture.
It was inevitable that yoga would become trendy and commercialized. Where there is greatness, somebody's going to capitalize on it. I can't even hate (that would go against yogic philosophy). Yet, amidst the fancy-pants and complicated arm balance poses, there is a lot that happens on the mat that goes unmentioned.
5 Truths from The Yoga Mat
1. The struggle, is real. The yoga mat is a microcosm of everything that happens in your life. (Your relationship with yourself, with fear, pushing past your limits, meeting your edges, and also with comparison.) All the while you're trying to tame the chatter of our ego mind so you can conjure enough focus to hold that standing pose. Legs burning, breath thinning, sweat running from your brow. Know that even when it's not a physical struggle, you can still have a lot going on mentally.
2. The comparison game. It's one thing to see these beautiful yoga bodies on Instagram, but what happens when you're surrounded by a room full of them? It can be harder to claim your center. Comparison takes different forms. However it shows up, it's your job to tame while on the mat:
a. Who does it better (or worse)? Physically, you've made it into the standing splits. Mentally, you're bargaining with yourself because you desperately want to come out of the pose. "I'll just stay in one second longer than this guy next to me. If he can do it, I should be able to, come on."
There are also the cases where the person next to you gives up on a pose, which you somehow take as giving you permission not to stay in it yourself. "Oh, she just came out of it. Must be a hard one. I'll just take a sip of water and wait for the next direction."
Yoga is a discipline--mentally and physically--one of the biggest challenges it presents is keeping your eyes and your mind on your mat. When you tune into your body you're able to find your edge, or the sweet spot that lets you stay in a pose amidst a room full of labored breathers.
b. Competing with yourself--this one can be flagged by the thought: "what's wrong with me? I could do this pose last week," accompanied by feelings of frustration. We compete with ourselves. Whether our mat neighbor is looking or not, we're trying to create a consistent performance. Consistency in yoga is a myth. Your yoga practice is influenced by a multitude of internal and internal factors. It's a total mixed bag. Try entering each pose as if it's your first time. Expect to show up on your mat and welcome what comes up that day.
3. Happiness is optional. One of the goals of yoga is to move stored energy. Emotions from all of our experiences--the good and the bad--are stored in our bodies. We step on our mats to stir them up. So when you find yourself having mental flashbacks in say, supported fish pose, know that you're not alone, and this is how it's supposed to be.
Sometimes yoga stirs up the good stuff and brings that love energy to the surface. Other times It can feel like you're practicing in a storm cloud of negative thoughts, memories you hoped to forget, and feelings you thought you'd dealt with (they definitely didn't tell you this). When this happens, there is nothing mid-summer sunset about it. You won't want to make small talk after class. Grab your sweat towel and wipe those tears before the lights come on after savasana. Then get to your journal, stat.
4. It's about being on the mat, but not about what's happening on the mat--did I lose you? There is a reason we call yoga a practice. It's because what happens on your mat is your training for being out in the world. Take your deep breathing with you in the car, at the office, and use it to wind down at night in bed. When you practice regularly, you'll find your ability to deal with off-the-mat situations is enhanced. So when your toddler fakes having to go potty for the 5th time in one night (way, way past their bedtime), you'll be better able to stay calm (deep inhale) and witness your emotions, and choose to deal with them appropriately (long exhale).
5. It's not even about the poses--really and truly, it isn't. I was explaining to a friend just yesterday, that yoga is about uniting your body and mind. Breath and movement help facilitate this process. Even the simplest of yoga poses (like a long held forward fold) can instigate this union and, with your belly breath, move waves of energy through you. So it's not really about the complexity of the pose. Sometimes the most basic postures liberate us the most. When we're truly in our bodies we're able to read the subtle cues and really experience the difference.
Yoga can't be blissful all the time. You just need to make the commitment to step on your mat and see it through, no matter what comes up. Being on your mat is an invitation. It's you saying "ok self/Universe, I'm here, what needs to be cleared today?"
Have any on-the-mat experiences you'd like to share? Maybe you've seen the benefits of yoga in other areas of your life, let's hear it in the comments.