My Biggest Yoga Lesson of 2017
Happy 2018 yogis! This time of year always puts me in deep reflection about where I’ve come from and where I’m headed. When I look back at my past year in yoga, I can see that I grew in many ways. My understanding of the postures and the tristana method deepened. I improved many of the asanas that were difficult for me, and progressed from the Primary Series into the Second. However, the most important lesson I learned has very little to do with the physical practice.
Far and away, my greatest takeaway from yoga in 2017 was the importance of paying close, continual attention to my mental processes and patterns.
Throughout the year, I made an effort to monitor my thoughts during practice. These typically ranged from thinking about the breath to the positioning of certain body parts, to wondering what my teacher or fellow classmates were doing, and of course, occasional intrusions of “life stuff:”
What’s on my to-do list today?
How do I solve this problem that’s weighing on me?
How do I feel about being on my mat today?
Am I too busy/unfocused/tired/unwell/grumpy to practice?
A yogi’s goal is a one-pointed mind, but just like in meditation, I realized how often other thoughts come barging in during practice. At first, I felt bummed out about what seemed to be a lack of mind control. But this resistance only lead to more citta vrttis (or mental disturbances, as in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 1.2), mostly in the form of negative self-talk. So instead of beating myself up for not being a good yogi, I learned to observe my mind in an unattached, dispassionate way. And sure enough, this helped the distracting thoughts to pass more quickly, making way for the deeper yoga experience to happen.
Interestingly, the ability to monitor my thoughts started showing up in my daily life, transforming the way I interact with others. I began noticing the times in conversation I was being reactive instead of receptive. I realized my reactivity was almost always an expression of fear due to some past trauma or negative conditioning--similar to the concept of samskaras in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
When I recognize a negative samskara in play, it’s easier to set aside my biases and truly hear what the other person has to say. And I can be more patient when someone else is being reactive because I understand how often it happens to me, too.
This new understanding has been invaluable. It’s made me feel closer with my husband, my family, and my friends. It’s humbled me back to a place of wonder and possibility, where I’m reassessing my passions, purposes, and drives.
In fact, it’s improved my life so much that for the first time in years, I feel overwhelmingly positive about the New Year.
I’m not expecting that I’ve magically evolved into a higher place where my relationships will be nothing but bliss and I’ll never fall back into old, unconscious ways of being. I’m human after all, bound to “mess up” at some point. But my practice has taught to be okay with imperfection, and not hold onto anything too tightly—not my ever-changing thoughts, not my samskaras, not even the new understandings I think I gained in 2017.
I'm feeling good and strong. I can't wait to see what 2018 has to bring :)
Have you taken the time to reflect on your yoga practice over the past year? What were the biggest lessons you learned? Where would you like to go in your practice for 2018? Leave a comment and let us know! <3