Lessons from The Mat: What I’ve Learned In Instructor Training

I’m in the process of becoming a certified yoga instructor and I can’t help but laugh at the universe and its ability to serve up the lessons we need and not necessarily the lessons we want.

 My love affair with yoga began twelve years ago while I was pregnant with my son. To feel my body grow and expand without pain was a blissful surprise. I promised myself I’d keep at it after he was born, but as anyone with a newborn can tell you, that’s easier said than done. 

 In reality, my practice since then has been sporadic at best, but I feel a constant emotional pull towards the mat.

 After some serious nudges from the cosmos I decided to enroll in a 200 hour instructor training course to improve my own practice. I assumed that I would learn how to perfect my postures, correct my alignment and finally (fingers crossed) get my heels to touch the ground on down dog.

I thought that’s what yoga was: postures. 

My practice, and my life, are gradually being changed by the realization that yoga is so much more than that. I have been seduced by the philosophy and ancient teachings. I’ve found comfort in the journey and I’ve learned lessons, like those that follow, that are extending my practice far beyond the mat.

Yoga is unity. It is uniting breath with movement, action with attention. If you’re struggling to get into a pose such that your breath is not aligned with your movement, then you aren’t doing yoga. If your posture is perfect, but your attention is still at work, then you aren’t doing yoga. Unity is a simple concept, but much more difficult in practice as it requires focus and a quiet mind. Oh the hours I’ve toiled away on my mat not doing yoga.

 Yoga is not a competitive sport. This was (is) so hard for me because I am a competitive person. I’m not over the top, but I like to win and I sure don’t like to fall behind. So, for years I would force myself into postures and I would feel disappointed when I was the only one who needed props. In fact, I would try so hard that I often wasn’t able to breathe at all, let alone align my breath with movement. In short, my ego caused me to miss the entire frickin’ point - to surrender to the moment and allow my body to guide me.

Yoga is the counter balance to everything we do. Sit at a desk all day? Yoga is for you. Training for a marathon? Yoga is for you. Feeling scattered? Yoga is for you. It is a beautiful way to give our body what it needs to live life fully. It is not merely for the lithe, flexible and utterly stylish, no, yoga is for all of us to create balance in an unbalanced world.

Just because yoga is gentle, doesn’t mean it’s easy. I was talking with my instructor during our last mentoring call and explained that I was putting together a gentle class for my final project. I told her I was worried that people might be disappointed with it, that it would be too easy. Her response, “Just because it’s gentle, doesn’t mean it’s easy.” Yes! Sometimes the hardest part of any practice is showing up, getting on the mat and staying present in the moment. Moreover, what feels easy to one person can feel difficult to another.

Which brings us full circle. The universe, the mat, they offer us a chance to learn what we need, not necessarily what we want or expect. I am forever grateful for this opportunity to deepen the way I experience yoga. I can only hope that one day I will help my students do the same.

Tanya Wheeless is a coach, speaker, avid traveler and the founder of Happy Grace, a company committed to helping busy women live with balance, joy and soul. She’s also a wife and mother to Jake, age 11, and the cavalier fur brothers, Flash and Bolt. Say hello and check out her freebies at www.happygrace.com.



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