Challenging yourself on and off the mat should never end
I live far away from my hometown, in another country. So in order to connect with my parents, I need to use the phone. I speak to them once a week and of course, we tend to talk about our lives. I am an eternal student in life and of life as well as an active volunteer at my children's school. These matters seem to bother my mom quite a bit. "Why do you need to study again? Are you going to get paid for this work?" I am so use to these questions now that it makes me laugh.
Last Sunday, I officially received my certification as a yoga teacher. My path into becoming a yoga teacher started some 11 years ago as I did a few attempts a this in the past. I needed to move country to country twice in the middle of them. However, I was able to get certified as a yoga teacher for children and pregnancy but was still waiting for that opportunity to do my 200 hours Yoga Alliance one. Last year, the time was right.
Last weekend, some of my colleagues were sad to see the end of it, knowing that this safe place we have created together to grow as yoga teachers as well as human beings would not be there next month. To me, it was such a relief to finally make it through. This is probably because of my temperament, but I am already in for the next thing: starting more seriously to build up my business selling certified pure therapeutic grade essential oils as a product consultant. This does not mean that I am done with yoga, quite the contrary. Yoga is part of a bigger picture and I need to add on other skills, nothing more, nothing less. Still, being a yoga teacher as well as so many endeavor in life does not end when you get to your goal. continuing education is a norm nowadays. When a door close others open and I believe that when you close a chapter of your life there is just a new set of pages awaiting you.
I read not so long ago that if you want to stay healthy as you aged, the trick is to always challenge yourself with new things to do, to engage your brain. To me there is a huge difference between surviving and living. Surviving is more like just making do with what you have without having any real passion or interest anymore. Living a buoyant life makes such a difference. It means being engaged with the world and people in a constant learning mode. It means to be open to what life brings.
So how could we cultivate the lifelong learning habit on and off the mat? Here's a few ideas that could be brought when in class or even more in your home or life practice:
Live in the moment and accept life as it is
Have you ever been to a yoga class with that intention to a great workout only to realized there is a new student or a sub teacher and the class rhythm is modified to a slower pace? How do you adapt to it? First, acceptance is key, then, living in the moment is next. These are probably some of the most challenging concepts we have to live with. We can mentally fight ''what is'' during the entire yoga class or we can let go and receive what life is trying to teach us in that particular moment. One thing is sure: you'll never enjoy your class if you get mentally stuck somewhere. Yoga means union and your head needs to yoke with your body and mind. If you are stuck in life with an idea of what should be happening and fight because your reality is not as expected, then you are in for a lot of unnecessary resistance, which can eventually build up into dis-ease. The best way to accept the present for me is to bring my attention to one breath and then the next and keep doing it. Living in the moment can be as simple as that.
Try something new, no matter how small
It can be trying a new main course at your favorite restaurant instead of the usual or just going from point A to point B using a different route. This last idea is a great metaphor on life. Once you change the course of your life, for sure you get to miss things you are used to. You will also get to experience a new scenery that might blow you away and discover something so exquisite that you never thought this could even exists. Then once you are able to change smaller things, you are ready to be bold and move on to challenge yourself with something you find resistance with. This is exactly where the real test resides. On your mat, this can be to try that one pose you try to avoid at any cost or seek the same teacher that tends to bring you to your personal hedge.
Learn a new skill and then teach it
I have always been more committed to something new when I was faced in a situation where I needed to teach it to others. There is no better kick in the pants than to have to share something you are not familiar with. This is where I give my best and double my work to get to know more about it and quick! I can't count how many times this has happened to me when faced with something I wanted to teach in the garden at my children's school. I pretty much created for myself a new skill set on my own just by doing this for over two years now. This had propelled me to get my first job in USA as a garden coordinator, in the recession economy, by sending only one resume! When we are in a position when learning and teaching occurs all at once, we feel this sense of responsibility as well as an immense gratitude for others who are doing just the same profession. Even if you don't intend to become a yoga teacher, helping a friend learning about how to better align himself in a pose or just how to breathe fully can be a rewarding experience.
Bring the eternal student on your mat and in your life
As I get better in my asana practice, it is easy to diminish the importance of certain basic poses like tadasana or mountain. It is so easy I can do this pose my eyes closed, and probably so do you! Then what? Am I going to stop doing it altogether? Of course not! Sometimes, this is where you work the hardest, to keep living the ordinary and make it extraordinary. One should never forget to acknowledge the necessity of a good foundation. For achieving this, one can decide to look at things from different angles:
- How could you guide someone or yourself into this standing pose in three different ways?
- By doing this pose so naturally, have you become so easily distracted to forget about one simple alignment cues, because you've heard it again and again? How can you bring your full attention to every single steps?
- Try tweaking one small thing and observing the pose as if this was the first time you were experiencing it.
This same foundational work applies to a lot of things we do daily because we have no choice but to do them. Making your bed, washing dishes or cooking a meal can all seem so boring because of the repetitive nature of these chores. Focusing your attention on it and use this time as a meditation in action can change your perspective. If living in a community, may it be as a family or with roommates, it can really makes a difference if you execute yourself with an intent of being of service to others. See how this simple act can brings such kindness and consideration to others. What a great gift to accomplish chores for ourselves and others with love!
Sometimes the easiest things are the hardest for us. We are so used to accomplish great things, succeed at complex tasks or reach challenging goals that our real hedge resides in stillness and simplicity. One thing is sure: keeping ourselves active and open to new things is a gateway to health and longevity, but as important as it is, doing this will certainly brings more richness in your life.