What Comes Up in the Mat

What comes up in the mat: Using the yoga mat as a tool for self discovery

Boy has life been busy for many of us this past week! As a teacher, the first couple of weeks in September are crazy busy, somewhat challenging, and also a lot of fun. New students, new projects for the old ones, new materials and inspiration, new books and lots of last minute lesson planning and changes to be made. These past couple of weeks have also marked the post Summer re-opening of the little school of Anusara yoga I go to. This has meant plenty of sore muscles (in spite of the fact I practiced at home the entire Summer, and you know how I am about my running!). It has also meant new challenges and lots of excitement as there’s nothing like going to a long yoga class surrounded by other yogis and my two amazing teachers.

During the last few classes, as I’ve been bending and twisting and looking at everything upside down, I’ve been thinking about the other benefits of yoga, the ones people hardly ever mention when they talk about their practice. You bet you can go to a yoga class to get a pair of rockin’ triceps and a flat tummy, not to mention the soothing effects of a class and the wonders it can do to your stress and anxiety levels and the perks to your immune system. The wonders of yoga are endless, at least in my eyes, but today I wanted to talk to you about having a different relationship with your yoga mat and what can come out of this newfound relationship. How about this, instead of only seeing it as the wonderful resting, toning and invigorating place that it is, could we also try to see it as a place for self discovery?

Here’s the biggest gift I’ve found in my practice. When I started listening to what my mind was doing while I shifted from one pose to the next, and from one class to the next, I started realizing patterns of thought and of being that were actually present in every aspect of my life. The desire to do poses as best as I could, pushing myself to the limit, and the biggest one for me, the fear and anticipation of possibly having a class with an inverted posture, not to mention the anticipation of my asana nemesis “the wheel”. Since then I’ve seen the poses not only as a way to get strong, but as a way of getting to know myself better, to understanding some of the automatic thoughts that come when something needs to be done. Whether it’s crow pose or a job interview, it turns out our brain and our emotions work things out in a similar way. Here’s the real difference though, a lot of other things plague our train of thought when we’re facing the interview, but when it comes to you and your mat, there are no excuses, you’re present and alone with your thoughts, your body and whatever it is you have to make it do. There are no distractions, no chit chat in the conference room while you wait your turn. No excuses to actually listen to what’s going on inside you, possibly every single time you face a challenge.

Mine might be anticipation and fear and having to face them regardless of whether I want to or not, but yours might be quite different. Perhaps they’re critical thoughts towards yourself when you can’t do a pose just right, worrying about what the teacher will think of you, constantly looking over to see what others are doing and comparing yourself to them, being competitive, not pushing yourself because you’re convinced you can’t do it yet, or pushing yourself too hard because you have to get there NOW! How about not being able to calm your mind and making lists in your head as it hangs in Uttanasana? Being impatient? Getting frustrated? When you’re in an inverted posture are you clearing your mind and focusing on breathing or are you wondering if your hair is messed up or your tummy is showing? Do you worry about your performance when the teacher corrects your posture or on the other hand, do you worry you didn’t do it right when he or she congratulates another student? These thoughts and worries might seem trivial to you, but what I’ve found, in almost every single situation, is that they are the same issues that accompany us when we face day to day challenges.

If the yoga mat is ideal for observing these forces of habit, wouldn’t it be great to use the mat to work on them as well? Yoga gives you such a safe haven for this kind of soul searching that I can’t think of a better place!

Not all is lost of course, some of our habits and thoughts on the mat might be perfectly attuned with our personal growth. Being able to quiet your mind, trying difficult things in spite of fear, enjoying the present moment in spite of knowing you’ll be working harder and harder each minute. How about being able to take it easy and respecting your body and its limits (a.k.a. using those blocks when we need them!), or trying something new even if you think you can’t do it. If these are the things that are coming up in your mat, why not take them to the workplace, to our cars while we sit in traffic, to family get togethers or to our lives with our partners and kids? These should be celebrated when they come up in the mat!

This morning I had no doubt in my mind that our bodies are amazing teaching grounds for us and that something as simple as a yoga pose can lead us to a better understanding of ourselves and especially to change. While I was having my breakfast and getting ready to write this post, I noticed a friend had sent me the video I’m about to share with you. Talk about meant to be! This is Amy Cuddy talking about body language and how movement and our posture can teach us a lot about our personality and believe it or not, can actually help us change the way we are and react to certain situations.

The next time you step on your mat, clear your mind as much as possible, and try to observe the mundane thoughts that pop up in relation to your postures or the class and its environment. It’s become my favorite little social experiment nowadays. Watch what happens without putting yourself down, take in the good and the bad, and don’t roll it in with the mat once the class is over, take it with you!

What comes up in the mat: Using the yoga mat as a tool for self discovery

Has anything come up in your practice that you’ve noticed is also present in your everyday life? Feel free to share it with us in the comments! Any fellow Sirsasana fearfuls out there?!


The incredible first photo you see in this post was of a yoga class in a park in Portland, Oregon and was taken by Randy Kashka.

The second photo was of a yoga class in beautiful Bryant Park in New York City and was taken by Asterix611.

(Both photos are shared through Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial – No Derivatives 2.0 Generic).







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