7 Simple Lessons From the Mat

Even if you are not a yogi or yogini, there will be something for you in this post. Last summer I participated in a local yoga challenge and completed 65 classes in 50 days. Dedicating that time to my yoga practice helped me learn and re-learn some powerful lessons.


1. My thoughts limit my actions.
When a challenging pose is being demonstrated, my go to reaction is, “not in this lifetime.” And with that, my brain takes over and reminds my body that my hamstrings are too tight or my arms are too short or that the pose will hurt my knees/shoulders/insert other body part here.

We dismiss opportunities everyday by reminding ourselves that we can’t do it. It’s good to think things through, but go with your gut and your heart and trust yourself to try new things. Always challenge your never and ask for help.

2. I can’t do everything today.
Some days on the mat are a breeze. My mind is naturally quiet and my body flows effortlessly from pose to pose. Other times, I am so wrapped up in my own thoughts that it’s a struggle just to relax my jaw. I used to feel defeated going into class with a busy mind, low energy or a tweaked knee because I wouldn’t be able to do every pose. Then I remembered that it is ok to do what I can and what is best for my body.

Much like yoga class, our days are full of options and opportunity. We don’t have to do it all. We can’t do it all. We are better for it when we don’t try to do it all.

3. We all need permission to exhale.
Heavy sighs often represent exhaustion or dissatisfaction, but several times throughout a yoga class, the teacher invites us to take a deep breath in through the nose and to let it all out with a big sigh. It feels so good to let it all go. In class we might be releasing energy from a high paced sequence and helping the heart rate come down, but think of the benefits a big exhale can have in your day-to-day life.

Take a deep breath in through your nose and then release it with a big sigh the next time you are in traffic, running late, frustrated, excited, stressed, anxious. Try it.

4. There is a place between ease and strain.
When I practice balance poses, I weave and wobble if there isn’t enough tension in my body. Likewise, if my jaw is clenched, eyebrows furrowed and gaze locked, I can’t find stillness and fall out of the pose. If I push or back off just a tiny bit, I find that magical place between ease and strain called steadiness.

Hard work isn’t always a sign of good work. Steadiness can improve relationships, foster creativity and improve health.

5. Action kills fear.
In certain yoga poses, I am afraid that I will literally fall right on my face and break my nose. It’s very unlikely, but the fear is there. When I am creating something or putting myself out there in life, I am equally afraid of falling on my face and breaking my heart.

I have fallen in both yoga and life, but my nose is relatively straight and my heart is strong. Fear is ok and action will always shut it down.

6. Keep your eyes on your own mat.
My yoga pose doesn’t have to look like yours to be magnificent. Each pose is an individual expression that represents our abilities, emotions, what we had for breakfast and so many other things.

There is no benefit in comparison in yoga or in life.

7. Everyone deserves yoga.
Regardless of financial means or ability, everyone interested truly deserves yoga. Many studios offer reduced rates for students, free first time classes, and other options if you can’t pay. Yoga is also for all ages and abilities or disabilities.

When I think about making yoga more accessible, I wonder what else we can make more accessible. Everyone deserves food, shelter, love and warmth too. How can you make other things you enjoy in life more accessible to people who go without?

The beauty of your pose, how close your heels get to the floor or if your fingers touch your toes doesn’t really matter. Bringing lessons from the mat into life is the true heart of yoga.

What lessons have you learned from practicing yoga? If you’ve never taken a class, what are you waiting for?





  1. JulieB/Julie Spahn says

    These are wonderful, but #4 is a revelation to me. I have struggled with balance poses since my c-section 18+ years ago, and I find that I get anxious just knowing it’s time to try again. And this parallels what I”m struggling with in life: balance. Just today I interviewed for a new job that looks like more hours and less pay per hour on paper, but when I add up all the work and stress I have at home, I actually think I will be stressing less and working less and overall I’ll be making more. It’s been uncomfortable thinking about making the change, but I am excited.
    And I, too, am afraid of hitting my nose, which is why my upper arm strength hasn’t improved. I’m going to try to embrace your thoughts on #5 as I make changes, and try to re-start yoga. Thank you.

  2. Dominique says

    What a fabulous post! I love, love, love my yoga practice and how it has changed my life and way of thinking so much. One of my favorite yoga instructors will sometimes say when we are in a particularly challenging pose – “can you soften the hardness?” I just love that saying – it can be about the pose you are in but also I find that I use that phrase in my life a lot. Can I soften the hardness? Can I be kinder with myself and others? Can I be more compassionate? Can I soften the hardness in my life? I get more out of a 90 minute yoga session than I have ever gotten out of a therapy session. It’s the best. Namaste, Courtney. :)

  3. rae says

    Courtney, your posts hit home so often! I’m not always conscious of fear, but it is there. I’m going to visit a few family members I haven’t seen in a while and want to just “be” with them, even though I’m nervous. I’m going to remind myself to breathe, move forward even though I’m a little scared, and just let the whole thing unfold. Somehow your yoga post can be applied to all this for me! Thank you very much. Your words help a lot. :)

  4. says

    Loved this post! I have just begun my yoga practice this summer. My biggest lesson so far is learning to be present in the moment. My breath is only for this moment. I can’t survive on my last breath. I can’t borrow from my future breath. I only have my present breath. Noticing my breath has helped me see this moment as sacred. It is such a gift to take time to stop and create a little breathing room in my day. Thank you for sharing!

  5. says

    Agreed on all of these and more. So many benefits to a yoga practice. One of the most valuable to me is the increased ability to stay calm and centered in the midst of discomfort.. until the mind stops labeling it “discomfort.”

  6. Cindy says

    Most people have short breaths. I learned to have deeper and longer breaths as my usual way of breathing (which means less breaths), and overall I feel lighter. It is a great feeling.
    Thank you, I love reading your posts.

  7. Maria says

    …I actually did break my nose when I was 13. For me, it wasn’t as painful as one might think (thank you adrenaline or whatever chemicals were numbing the pain). A doctor straightened it out a week later or so, but it’s still slightly crooked. Most people can’t see it though, and I’m doing alright anyway. :)

  8. Rachel says

    Thanks for these :-) I have an on again off again relationship with yoga and bearing all these points in mind I will now endeavor to spend more “quality” time on the mat, aaaaah exhale…..