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From Cute Clothes to Mental Toughness

When I started doing yoga over 11 years ago, I was drawn to it for many different reasons. The clothes were cute, the poses seemed fun, and the promise of a “toned, lean” body was pretty attractive.

Seven years later, my yoga wardrobe is pretty minimalistic and I still can’t do a sweet headstand or advanced backbend to save my life. (Heck, there are days where my muscles are so stiff that I barely get down to my toes.)

In the superficial sense, I guess it’d be a pretty fair statement to say that I’ve failed to master yoga in any appreciable way.

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But, as is true with anything worth committing to, the things that have happened below the surface are actually infinitely more powerful.

Let me explain.

There’s a lesson in yoga that really resonated with me unexpectedly from the beginning and it has permeated nearly every aspect of my life. It is a statement that is said during the challenging poses in yoga and here’s what it is:

“If I can stay calm through this, I can stay calm through anything.”

I think an example would be good.

When I’m doing a more challenging pose in yoga, like warrior three (my balance is a particarly weak area for me), my brain automatically reverts to a pre-populated script that I’ve inadvertently created over the course of my life. “This is too hard.” “I can’t do this.” “Why don’t you practice this everyday?”

Here’s the funny thing: these statements are even sort of true. But they sure as all get out don’t help me do the pose any better.

The idea of learning to stay calm and breathing through the poses in yoga–a controlled environment–is an incredibly powerful idea because it can train me to similarly stay calm in other situations.

The body and brain love routine. So once I’ve spent a considerable time over-riding my negative mental scripts in yoga, I find myself going to a better mental space any time a similar scenario happens in life.

This isn’t some woo-woo zen concept. Neuronal connections in the brain respond to repetition by becoming more robust. If you’ve ever driven home from your local grocery store and got home to realize that you don’t even remember going through the motions, you’ve seen this concept in action.

So when I’m faced with difficult situations in my daily life, like a traffic jam when I’m already running late to work or when a patient is screaming at me about something that happened when I wasn’t even around, I find this concept popping into my head without much effort on my part.  My brain just goes there and it helps me negotiate the sticky situation with at least some grace and composure.

In the end, this is a yoga lesson that I can’t show off on Instagram and it has no bearing on my BMI.  But I like to think that the effects it has on my relationships, my reactions to external forces, and my belief in myself peaks through in everything else I do in life.

PS: Yoga germs are gross and so are the typical wipes used to clean them.  I use this cleaning solution instead.