Health, Philosophy

Better than Touching the Floor: 3 Lessons I Learned on the Yoga Mat

Tight hips and inner bliss are not mutually exclusive!

This week brings with it a very happy anniversary for me. Monday will mark my fifth year of practicing at Moonlight Yoga. (You can find the story of my yoga journey here.)

As the date of my “yoga-versary” was getting closer, I noticed that I was getting very frustrated with myself in class. It’s been almost five years, I told myself, and I still almost never touch the floor. I still need to modify almost every pose I do. That normally doesn’t bother me at all, but somehow, the number “five” was giving me a case of the “should have’s.”

For those of you who aren’t as familiar with yoga, the physical practice is only one of the eight limbs. Over the past five years my mind has also improved its flexibility, so I knew that I needed to redefine my thought pattern. I could stop thinking about my limitations and challenges and start counting all of the blessings that my practice has brought me.

Triangle is one of my favorites, and I do it my way!

I don’t always touch the floor…but I can almost run 10 minute miles.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to love my body.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have lost 60 pounds.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have given up drinking.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have learned to see my value.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found my dream job.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I am a part of a tight-knit community.

I don’t always touch the floor…but I have found friends who challenge me to be the best me possible.

I could go on and on with this list. Yoga has enabled every major life change that I have made over the past five years. And in the grand scheme of things, it really does not matter if I touch the floor!

So today, I wanted to share some of the unexpected lessons that I have gained from my yoga practice:

My teacher and mentor, Cass

1. Everybody isn’t watching.

When I first started practicing yoga, I set up my mat in the back of the room. I hoped that nobody would see my overweight body attempting the poses with a ton of modifications. When nobody ever said anything about how I looked–or how anyone else looked, for that matter–I got brave and moved closer to the front of the room.

What has surprised me over the years, is that a lot of people (in class!) seem to assume that I am very flexible, because I have been practicing for so long. Which means that they absolutely have not been watching me! The truth is that everybody is focused on their own practice, so they don’t notice (or care) what I am doing.

This translates to life off of the mat as well. So many times I have worried about what people would say when they noticed choices that I had made in my life. I held off on giving up alcohol, because I thought it would be awkward to explain during a party. But once again, nobody noticed or cared what was in my glass.

2. Growth is not a straight line.

When I first started practicing yoga, I noticed significant improvements in my flexibility, right away. It wasn’t long until I was touching my ankles on forward bends and coming closer and closer to touching the floor.

Then, unexpectedly, my hands could only reach my knees.

Over time, I learned that my flexibility corresponded with my emotional state, stress level, and degree to which I was caring for myself, among other things. Sometimes it still feels like two steps forward and one step back. But that means that I am still moving forward.

At the beginning of almost every class, my teacher, Cass, says, “Anything you can do today, is good enough.”

I have found this to be true with any major change that I have tried to make in my habits. My weight loss, for example, has been all over the place. I started out on fire, and lost 10 pounds easily. Then I gained 3 back. And so it went. At one point I lost 20 pounds and regained 10.

Currently I have lost 60 and regained 14. But the journey continues. It’s easy to take and all-or-nothing mindset and declare failure at the first setback. But that is a recipe for never succeeding.

Pyramid always makes my legs happy!

3. Listen to your inner voice.

When I first started practicing yoga, Cass stayed near me through most of the class, so that she could discretely show me how to modify the poses and use props in order to get the most out of my physical practice. As time went on, I became more independent and learned to do what I needed to do in order to feel the right stretch, no matter how it looked.

There were a few times when I would stay after class and ask for suggestions on how to modify a pose. Cass never told me what to do in these cases. In fact, she had to say very little! As I demonstrated how the pose looked when I did it, I would modify it on my own. All she had to do was reassure me that it was perfectly fine for me to do it that way.

Through yoga, I learned that I am the expert on my own body, and that if I listen, I will know what it needs. Of course, the same has proven to be the case with my mind and with my life choices.

Like most people, I have a lot of well-meaning friends who like to give advice. And like most people, I have made bad situations worse, through following that advice. I know that the people giving the advice meant me no harm, but the truth is that I know myself better than anyone else. If I listen to my inner voice, I will know what I need to do.

So here I am, getting ready for my five year yoga-versary on Monday! I am looking forward to many, many more years of joy and lessons–both on the mat and off!

You can check out Cass’s yoga classes on Moonlight Yoga’s Facebook page. She posts a live streamed class for a donation every Tuesday and Thursday morning. You can also see her previously recorded classes at any time on her page.

15 thoughts on “Better than Touching the Floor: 3 Lessons I Learned on the Yoga Mat”

    1. Hi Cathy! I strongly recommend trying it! Yoga has helped me so much, emotionally and spiritually. And the physical practice is so much kinder and gentler than other forms of exercise. It is never supposed to hurt, and you only push yourself as much as you feel like you need to each day. Yesterday I was full of energy and doing push-ups, but I have also spent classes in child’s pose under a blanket. Both times I got what I needed. โค

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  1. I’ve always wanted to give yoga a try. I hear it’s helpful for those with fibromyalgia. Thanks for dropping by my site and I invite you to check out some of my link parties, 3 are going on right now ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. Hi Dee! Ooh, I will definitely check out your link parties! I get nostalgic of “old school” blogging, but link parties are a new(er) thing that I can really get on board with. Yoga can definitely help with fibromyalgia. I would recommend finding a small studio with a teacher who has a background in yoga therapeutics.

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    1. Hi Amanda! We have had some serious belly laughs before and during class! Yoga can cause you to release pent-up emotion, which can mean laughing or crying. So we often laugh very easily! One time after a bad day, I told my teacher I would buy her a coffee in the morning if she made me laugh, and of course it didn’t take much for her to achieve that!

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  2. Bethany, I love your idea of “we know ourselves” and I too have a couple of those “well meaning friends” one of which I’ve had to “disengage with” because she jumps to wrong conclusions and actually got me far more stressed of late! I’ve never tried yoga but of late I have got in a kind of meditation that helped me far more than “well meaning ideas from others”. And as you have read, thanks for coming by on my blog, finally found myself back to “making art” …

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    1. I love your blog! ๐Ÿ™‚ In my case, a lot of unsolicited advice came from friends and groups on Facebook. It got to the point where I consulted someone on everything, when things would have turned out better if I had just gone with my gut in the first place. Breaking away from social media and getting back to my blog and writing have really helped me a lot. That and my yoga community, where I am not going to get any advice from anyone!

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  3. Hi Bethany! From the looks of it (and I loved the photos by the way!) you are definitely a yogini! Happy 5th. I’ll admit I was addicted for a while but sadly my hips began telling me that my particular teacher wasn’t right so I’ve been taking a break. I still do many of the poses that are best for me so it’s still a part of my life but not formal. And as you say, those three tips are more than enough reason to continue. ~Kathy

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    1. Hi Kathy! Yes, every pose definitely is not for everyone! I have to be careful with my shoulders. I think the important thing is to remember that the physical practice is simply the gateway to the spiritual practice.

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  4. I love love love this post. I have been practicing yoga for 25 years now. God that sounds amazing. And sometimes I can do amazing poses and sometimes I can hardly do any. Thatโ€™s why we call it โ€œyoga practice.โ€ Your points here are so right on. Namaste! ๐Ÿ™

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