The Greatest Yoga Lesson

I came to yoga out of curiosity. I was one of those five-day-a-week step class women in the mid 90s. My gym offered a few yoga classes as a tester-to see if the community would take to yoga.

Now, this is weird. Even though I’d never taken a yoga class, I’d thought for years that being a yoga teacher would be an amazing job. Little did I know that winter day in 94 that it would only be 5 years till I taught my first class.

The first time I pressed up into downward dog felt like coming home. I was instantly at comfortable in the practice and it’s whe

re I’ve stayed for almost 20 years. To this day being on the mat is where I’m most Melissa.

I loved the way I felt while I practiced yoga. I loved the buzz of energy combined with the grounded, centered feeling that I got after class. I loved how the effects lasted and lasted. I got to a place where yoga deeply changed me. If I thought about skipping a class my husband would push me out  the door with a kiss because he liked the person I was when I practiced consistently. I did too.

Over the years the lessons deepened and expanded. The practice was about so much more than physical or even mental. I learned to be open to myself. The practice helped me quiet the self-critical loop that ran through my head. I slept better, had less worrisome thoughts, but most importantly I learned a tiny bit of acceptance. I learned to accept who Melissa really is, not who I thought she should be. I learned to accept my limitations. I learned to stay on my own mat and accept my own pace as 

acceptancebeing exactly how fast I was supposed to be progressing. I learned that it’s not all about progressing and that staying in exactly the same place is okay, even good sometimes.

My real lessons began when I became a teacher. I saw my students struggles and their humanity was beautiful to me.  I aspired to be like them; vulnerable, fearless, willing to learn and to try new things. When they relaxed into restorative poses I marveled at their beauty. I felt connected. I felt connected because I accepted them completely and wholeheartedly. And it began to open my heart just a tiny bit more to me.

Over the years I’ve watched my students with awe and love.  I notice that they consistently learn acceptance faster than any other lesson in yoga. They are okay with not being strong enough to do an arm balance the first time, they learn to celebrate a stranger’s victory, they revel in their own successes. Because it’s about being on your own mat. It’s about not comparing yourself, or even caring what’s happening in any other part of the studio. “Yoga is a gift you give yourself.” my teacher used to say as we lay in savasana heavy and empty like a corpse.

I learned that acceptance isn’t about not caring. It’s not about giving up. It’s about letting go of results. It’s about detaching from the endgame.

My practice taught me to let go. It taught me to honor my own experiences. And it taught me not to have expectations about my experience or about my healing or about anything.

And I learned to trust. If I can just be open and willing to be vulnerable the work on the mat always gets me somewhere. If I keep working on headstand, I will eventually get there. If I keep practicing my headstand it will get more solid and I will get the full benefits. If I allow myself to relax into my headstand I will learn that letting go always makes the pose more enjoyable and I will one day get to a place where I can’t imagine not being able to do a headstand.

The key is acceptance. Acceptance makes the work doable. It makes the trust reasonable. It makes the practice enjoyable no matter what happens that day.

The funniest thing about acceptance is that you never graduate. The beauty of acceptance is that it keeps growing and shifting and allowing you to be more and better. It opens you in ways that you never imagine. It’s not easy work. It’s hard to let go of our expectations and our plans and our ideas about the future.

The pay off is huge. Learning to accept puts you right here in the now. It allows you to deal with life on life terms. It allows you to live with your whole heart. Today, that’s the journey.

I’ve been writing a lot about opening the heart and focusing on living with your whole heart. A Yogi Kitchen  has more about heart opening poses and meditations and more about acceptance.

Slowly, ever slowly yoga is teaching my heart to be more whole. One day I’ll learn to use all of it.

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