“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” - Ernest Hemingway
It's not an overstatement to say that my first Iyengar Yoga class changed the course of my life.
In a job I hated; constantly stressed out and anxious; spending increasing amounts of time home alone - I had no idea the light that yoga was about to shine into my life.
In the last ten minutes of that very first class, we lay in Savasana and began our relaxation. I could feel the emotion building in my body, filling me like a balloon. It pushed and strained, looking for its exit route and I battled to keep it in. But there came a point where its force was so strong and all I could do was give in to it. The emotion poured out of me in heaving waves and the tears trickled silently down my cheeks.
At the time, I didn't know why this was happening or where it was coming from. When I look back now what I understand is that for the first time in perhaps forever, my mind and body were being given the opportunity to slow down. And in slowing down, a new space was created, and all the tension that had been growing inside me during the previous years poured into that space, grateful to have somewhere else to go.
Coming out of that first class, I understood that something in my life had to change.
Not even a year later, I left my job, did a lot of exploring, and started building my business.
Over two years on, life is very different, but yoga continues to teach me powerful lessons about life at the times when I need them most.
1. IT DOESN'T MATTER WHERE YOU ARE
Yoga, like life, is a journey. It doesn't matter where you are on that journey, what matters is that you are on the path. When we spend too much time focusing on our future goals, we forget to enjoy where we are right now. Be okay with wherever you are. Life really is about the journey, and not the destination.
2. RECOGNISE THAT YOU'RE UNIQUE
I'll often look at someone doing a perfect forward bend, their head resting easily on their legs and their hands comfortably behind their feet, and think, "urgh, why can't I do that?", and then I'll return my attention miserably towards my own forward bend - my legs piled high with foam blocks to give my head a chance of resting on something, and a belt in my hands and looped around my feet so that I can, in some messed up way, do something that vaguely resembles the actual asana.
And I think my teacher can see what's going through my mind, because he chooses moments like this to share his wisdom...
"It's important to remember that we're all unique and that we each have our particular strengths. We are always far too busy focusing on what we can't do and what we don't have. Stop comparing yourself to others, and recognise that you are simply unique.
3. WHENEVER YOU FEEL A SENSE OF URGENCY, IT'S TIME TO SLOW DOWN
Whenever you think you don't have time; whenever you find yourself rushing from one thing to the next; whenever you're stressed out because there's too much to get done...
...it's time to slow down. And whilst it might seem counter-intuitive to slow down when you have so much to get done, it truly works. When we slow down, we access wisdom and creativity that will allow us to achieve more, by doing less.
4. LIFE IS NOT A COMPETITION
Practising yoga isn't about getting better than the others in the class. It's about recognising where you are on your own journey and moving forwards on your own path.
When we understand that life isn't a competition with those around us, but a simple question of taking a step forward on our own path each day, we can learn to let the jealousy, frustration, and anger at those who are further ahead of us melt away.