Lessons for a Yoga Newbie from Yoga Girl

Swedish native Rachel Brathen is a world-renowned yoga instructor who teaches workshops, leads yoga retreats, and gives lectures around the globe. Find her on Instagram @Yoga_Girl and online at YogaGirlBook.com.

We live in a society that continuously harps on everything that we should change in our lives. We need to improve, do better, look better, feel better. We should lose weight, gain muscle, eat healthier, get better jobs, buy nicer clothes, get shinier hair, earn more money. Only rarely are we told that we are good enough just the way we are.

There is a big difference between genuinely wanting to change something about our way of life and feeling that we need to change because we have to alter who we are in order to be accepted and fit in. Where do you live on that spectrum? And what is it you are looking to change? If you are like most people, there are probably many things you’d like to see different in your life. My question is why. Throughout your life, who has told you that you are not good enough? Where did you get the idea? Most of the time the judgments we feel come from no one other than ourselves. No one judges you the way you do. When it comes to creating a happy, healthy life, we need to start from the right place. No matter what you want to change in your life—lose weight, de-stress, build a career—it needs to come from a place of genuine intention.

We can make changes in our lives based on love or on fear. Do you want to lose ten pounds because you know it would be good for your heart and you’d feel so much better? Or do you want to lose ten pounds so you’ll fit into your skinny jeans and look better in a bikini? Maybe the answer is all of the above, but there is a very real difference between them. True, lasting, effortless change comes from taking action from a place of love. From the heart. Does your heart give a damn about what you look like in a bikini? I highly doubt that. However, it probably does cares about your ability to move freely, to be strong, and to feel healthy.

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Yoga Girl

by Rachel Brathen

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Caring for our well-being has to start from within, and this is also one of the most important foundations of the yoga practice. We need to direct our attention inward and connect to the breath. Focusing on our breath keeps us present, calms the mind, and allows us to develop the awareness of the body we need to practice with care and compassion. If we are not fully present, we are no longer practicing yoga but are simply doing exercises and stretches on a yoga mat. Cultivating this awareness begins with the breath and is what eventually turns our chattering minds into quiet places for contemplation and acceptance.

This might sound complicated, but it’s not. Actually, it’s so simple our minds like to make it complex! Our minds do this, by the way. The ego likes to take what’s simple and make it into a problem to solve so that it stays busy. A question I get all the time is “How could I ever become a yogi? I can’t sit still!” or “I can’t do yoga, I like to eat meat!”

If you believe practicing yoga means you need to get up at four every morning, eat only rice and vegetables, and spend most of the day sitting in the lotus position while humming “Om,” think again. (However, if you practice long enough, you may find that sitting for a long time in lotus position can be quite rewarding. But you’ll also learn that the poses practiced are not the be-all and end-all of why we do what we do.)

As yogis, we simply strive for balance—in body, mind, and soul. Note the word strive, meaning that we continuously work and aim for balance. Balance is not something that shows up one day and is suddenly here to stay; it’s the result of creating moments of mindfulness and gratitude throughout our day. That’s why it’s called a practice—it never ends.

You don’t need to change anything about who you are to start a yoga practice. Adding yoga to your life does not mean you need to change everything about your daily life. You can be a yogi and still enjoy wine with dinner. You can practice yoga and work a corporate job. You can do yoga and forget to recycle when your day gets too busy. The definition of a real yogi is not someone who greets every person with a smile and a bow, but someone who goes with the flow of life and takes each moment as it comes. A real yogi has ups and downs just like anyone else. A real yogi does his or her best to greet each person with a smile, yes, but a real yogi also respects the roller coaster that is this life and allows emotions to arise when needed. Real yogis are simply those who live well, doing their best with what they have. On and off the yoga mat.

Balance is key in everything you do. So dance all night long and practice yoga the next day. Drink wine, but don’t forget your green juice. Eat chocolate when your heart wants it and kale salad when your body needs it. Wear high heels on Saturday and walk barefoot on Sunday. Go shopping at the mall and then sit down and meditate in your bedroom. Live high and low. Move and stay still. Embrace all sides of who you are and live your authentic truth! Be brave and bold and spontaneous and loud, and let that complement your ability to find silence and patience and modesty and peace. Aim for balance. Make your own rules and don’t let others tell you how to live according to theirs.

Take time either right before or right after your practice to sit in silence for a few moments.

Set your intentions for the day, breathe deeply, and take a minute to extend gratitude to all of the beautiful things you have in your life. Bow your head to the earth. This is a small gesture of reverence and gratitude that helps us look within and direct our attention toward the happiness we have in life.

After my practice I always drink a big green smoothie or a large green juice before heading out to embrace whatever life has in store for me that day.

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