“Who you are on your [yoga] mat is who you are in your life…”
I remember the first time I heard that quote (in my yoga teacher training course), I didn’t really appreciate how deep it really ran. It’s only after years of hindsight that I fully recognize the implications of this quote – and the power behind it.
First, let’s break the quote down a bit to make sure we understand it. “Who you are on the mat is who you are in your life.” What this is saying is; how you show up and progress through a yoga class is pretty indicative of how you approach life more broadly. For those of you who may not be too familiar with yoga, the concept follows the same principle of a similar quote “How you do anything is how you do everything” and can definitely be applied beyond yoga. For me, I like using yoga because your “stuff” shows up on the yoga mat as clear as day. I think this is because yoga challenges you physically mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and quite often you don’t have earbuds in to distract your focus – so you have the presence of mind to truly feel burn and fatigue across each dimension.
Looking back, it’s almost funny how this has shown up for me…
- What I’ve done: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve caught myself in the middle of a yoga class seething because my instructor won’t stop with the damn leg work when I just did squats yesterday. I’d start to rationalize in my head how wrong they are and how “they clearly have no idea what they are doing, this sequence is borderline dangerous and someone is going to get hurt.”
- What it tells me: This indicates an “it’s my world and you all just live in it” mentality. For me to knock a teachers class because my legs are sore (for reasons that have nothing to do with the teacher) is just plain self-centered, full stop.
- What I’ve done: I’ve been blessed with strength and balance which I’ve continued to cultivate over time. This enables me to pull off some difficult press-ups and hand balances. At the same time, my hip flexibility needs a ton of work which makes things like sitting comfortably in a cross-legged position feel more daunting than wrestling a bear. Because of this, I’d often dread parts of the class, such as centering, and love the parts of class where we could pop handstands. I’ve also caught myself “recovering” from a pose that is challenging for me by getting into a pose that is challenging for most others.
- What it tells me: Ego and insecurity. There was clearly a desire to “be good at yoga” and when I was unable to do that, rather than recognize it’s a personal practice and that I have my whole life to continue to work and improve – instead I would feel uncomfortable/vulnerable because others can see my flaws – and would need to validate it by doing something that made me feel secure.
- What I’ve done: Sometimes, if I was running a bit late (I’m talking a matter of minutes where I still had a chance to arrive on time), if I was stressing about something, or if my shoulders felt a bit tired when I woke up, I would skip class altogether.
- What it tells me: I had a tendency to want things to be perfect before I began and didn’t want to give up control of the situation. My mentality was “if my shoulders are sore, I might not nail my handstand” and “I’m going to be thinking about this presentation throughout class and I’m never going to get into the right headspace today, so what’s the point?” Instead, it should have been “Man, I am stressed. I especially need yoga today” or “Since my shoulders are tired, I can focus on hip mobility today.”
I put these examples in past tense because after years of working on them, I’m proud to say that I have swapped out many of these shitty automatic responses for better ones. But it didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t always easy and sometimes, when I am not being mindful, these ugly reactions will still show up every once in a while. For the most part however, it’s no longer my norm. Don’t worry though, I have plenty of other stuff I still need to work on – on and off the mat.
So, what is it for you?
- Are you courageous/carefree enough to try and pop that handstand in a yoga class even though you haven’t mastered it yet? Or do you go home and practice it in secret, waiting until it’s perfect before finally unveil your masterpiece?
- Do you start mentally cussing out your yoga teacher when they hold you in your least favorite pose for 10 seconds? Or do you step into the discomfort with a smile because you know you will be stronger for it in the end?
What does your practice tell you about yourself?
For you non-yogi’s… you’re not getting off that easy…what’s your yoga?
- Maybe it’s the gym, and you’re so regimented in your current program that you bash the new guy who’s taking up “your squat rack” – when in reality, he’s just following his program and happened to beat you to the rack today.
- Maybe it’s your club basketball team where the rest of your team “doesn’t know wtf they are doing” and they are cramping your game – when in reality, you haven’t hit a shot all day and the team you are facing is objectively better than you. It happens.
- Think about it…is it really your team that’s messing you up? Or should you go and work on your shot? Is that guy/girl really an ass for taking your squat rack? Or should you relax and go do some damn lunges instead of criticizing their form or the amount of weight they are using?
As amusing (or alarming) as these discoveries may be, think of them as opportunities that can be used to diagnose your current-state tendencies and, more importantly, can be used as levers to make broader change across your life.
Using this as a tool to change your life
These moments are gifts – they aren’t just moments of physical challenge, they are telling you something more and bringing up things you may need to work on in your life beyond just yoga. Whether it’s your ego, teaming skills, fear, or insecurities, these moments of adversity can become your training ground to improve yourself.
- What if the next time you feel yourself getting frustrated during a difficult pose, you force yourself to dig in an smile because you acknowledge that “this too shall pass.”
- Or the next time you go through your vinyasa flow, you silence your inner-cynic and pop up into that handstand because the worst thing that can happens is that you fall on your face – I’ve done it 1000 times and I’m still breathing 🙂 (Pro tip: set yourself up for success and grab a spot in the front or back corner of the room so when the time comes, you can’t use the “I don’t want to hit my neighbor excuse”)
At the end of the day, you can’t control the stimulus (aka you can’t control what happens to you), but you can control how you respond. When you notice your triggers and consciously choose to transcend them, you are literally rewiring your brain patterns – which means that overtime you can change your natural response to these triggers!
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor captured the essence of this so beautifully:
“Between stimulus and response there is space.
In that space is our power to choose our response.
In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
So, the next time you are faced with one of those triggers – be it in the yoga studio or workplace – remember that you have a choice for how you will respond and each time, an opportunity to take control of your life and become closer to the person you want to be.
Pretty dope if you ask me…
Stay up fam!
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