Lessons from the Yoga Mat

Five years ago, I bought a discounted pack of five hot yoga classes at the studio in my neighborhood. I wasn’t really in it for the yoga; I’d taken a handful of classes in college and it had never really “stuck.” I was in it for the heat. A 95-degree room sounded amazing in the midst of an especially cold Midwestern winter.

The yoga stuck, and has changed me in powerful if incremental ways. It has taught me mindfulness, increased my strength and flexibility, and given me hard lessons about humility. When I started, I couldn’t touch my toes or focus my attention on my breath to save my life. And now, after hundreds of classes and the successful completion of my studio’s training program, I am embarking on a new journey as a certified yoga teacher.

This vocation was entirely unforeseen, though I do have a tendency to end up at the front of the room—first the church sanctuary, then the writing workshop, and now the yoga studio. When I love something, I want to go deeper in my own experience and invite others to do the same.

In addition to joining the studio staff, I’ve been weaving yoga into my ministry at church, teaching Faith & Flow classes that integrate Christian spirituality with yoga practice. It’s incredibly meaningful work…and it all started with an impulse Groupon buy.

The classic definition of yoga is that it means “union”—of mind and body, of self and spirit. But the yoga teacher T. K. V. Desikachar offered this secondary interpretation: yoga is to “attain what was previously unattainable…there is something that we are today unable to do; when we find the means for bringing that desire into action, that step is yoga.”

I have this tendency to believe that I will never be able to accomplish The Thing—whatever The Thing happens to be at the moment. School assignments were always impossible, work projects insurmountable, parenting conundrums an exercise in futility. I for sure convinced myself, several times, that teacher training was too hard and that I would never be able to actually lead a class.

Yoga is teaching me that to touch my toes, I have to reach for them—and nonjudgmentally accept where my fingertips land. Class after class, week after week, until the day I finally made contact. On the other hand, just this morning in the midst of cueing a difficult pose, my teacher noted that if your arms aren’t long enough, you’ll never attain the full expression.

Truth bomb: no amount of yoga will make your arms grow longer. It is a lesson in acceptance that echoes the Serenity Prayer: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

I suspect I’ll always tremble a bit in the face of hard things; much as my arms aren’t going to grow, I’m unlikely to develop an optimistic disposition overnight. But my deep hope is that all the yoga I practice on the mat is making me stronger and bendier in body, mind, and spirit for all the difficult poses life asks of me off the mat.

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