71 inches long, 26 wide, less than .15 thick.
That’s the size of my yoga mat.
It cost roughly $40 after tax and a $20 gift card from one of my favorite instructors. A pretty small, cost efficient piece of real estate when you think about it. It’s hot pink (obvs), has some scuffs from not pulling my leg up enough to come through to low lunge, some plaster from an unfortunate free weight incident, purple spots from hair dye, and usually the imprint of my sweaty body. When I purchased this little space I thought I was getting something to keep my hands from slipping in down dog because, again, sweaty. I didn’t know I was actually investing in the space that would be the epicenter of extensive personal growth.
Epicenter of extensive personal growth? Really? Isn’t that a smidge dramatic? A week ago I would have said yes, then I read a piece from mindbodygreen on taking your practice off your mat. That’s when it clicked. Changing how I function on my mat has changed how I functioned off of my little hot pink rectangle. A few months ago I had a yoga related meltdown. I’m talking straight up ugly cry on the drive home from class. Also a considerable overreaction, I know. Believe me, there’s a reason the term “Dreamatic” was coined. I had been practicing consistently but wasn’t ‘improving’ as fast as I thought I should or could. In moments like this I turn to my people to ground myself. Explaining how I’m feeling to someone outside of but close to the situation always gives me perspective. I was talked down from the ledge and realized I was approaching my practice all wrong. I was approaching yoga how I was approaching life and both were resulting in an incredibly unnecessary amount of anxiety. Taking the lessons I learn on my mat can fundamentally change how I approach everything coming at me off my mat.
What I figured out and what mbg enhanced is:
It isn’t a competition - focusing on the person one mat over doesn’t help, it distracts. Focus inward, on what is happening in the moment. All I can do is be the best me on that day. “Best” might be different day to day. Growth isn’t linear; there are steps forward and back, sometimes it’s staying in one place and getting stronger there. Knowing success looks different for different people helps me focus on my own growth at my own pace, not keeping up with people around me.
Breathe through the hard stuff - “Without the breath yoga is just fancy stretching.” Using breath to move and to push through places of difficulty is not my forte. It is something I have to do mindfully. Holding my breath increases the struggle. Breathing through the hard stuff, like a new tattoo or an incredibly frustrating situation, reminds me to control what I can and to not let external stimuli change how I function.
Find your edge, then step back - Always pushing doesn’t make things better, faster. It’s the easiest way to get overwhelmed and ultimately burn out or get injured. Finding a point of challenge and growth that still feels like success is key. I have to remind myself to push for growth consistently but reasonably, to give myself permission to not go full speed ahead at all times.
Set an intention - This can take on a few forms. Some days I choose what I’ll focus on during my practice: breath, alignment, testing my edge. Some days I focus on how I’ll practice: with love, with humility, with joy. I can’t do everything always, deciding on a singular focus helps everything else fall into place. Similarly, picking an intention or focus keeps me from trying to do all the things, always. Each week I set a theme to focus on, each morning I decide three things I want to accomplish, each day on my mat I pick one intention. When I decide what matters, where I want to devote my energy, I can do those things more completely.
Great things to focus on during your practice but as fabulous yogi Christen Bakken once said, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Yoga is not simply practicing a series of postures. It is the combination of physical movement with breath, intent, and focus. What and how I practice on my mat, when practically applied to how I live off of it, changes everything.