Learning from Life Lessons

I’ve been reading The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. He is a poet and a teacher. His book shares simple truths and life lessons. The entry for September 23 titled Repetition is not failure really resonated with me.

It begins with:

“There is no expected pace for inner learning. What we need to learn comes when we need it, no matter how old or young, no matter how many times we have to start over, no matter how many times we have to learn the same lesson.”

How true is that! Finding and having patience is the best tool for learning. I set goals about what I want to change in my life; different goals throughout the years such as better control over my emotions, a greater sense of calm, or effectively communicating. These inner learnings all take time and usually “aha” moments come when I least expect them. I think I’m making great progress, but then inevitably some sort of trigger happens. Life lessons become cyclical. Learning from them moves on an upward trajectory, plateaus for a while, hits a trigger and maybe reverts back a little, but from the trigger the cycle restarts.

The entry continues with four specific examples of inner learning:

“We fall down as many times as we need to, to learn how to fall and get up.”

“We fall in love as many times as we need to, to learn how to hold and be held.”

“We misunderstand the many voices of truth as many times as we need to, to truly hear the choir of diversity that surrounds us.”

“We suffer our pain as often as is necessary for us to learn how to break and how to heal.”

It starts with the general idea of falling down and then highlights love, truth and pain. My life has included literally physically falling down and metaphorically falling down. I’ve hit low points that often surround love, truth or pain. I remember first loving on my own, selfish terms. I heard other people’s truth, but often reacted with judgement. I’ve had pain enter my life unexpectedly, challenging my status quo.

Patience and repetition in the end have helped me learn to grow from life lessons. As I’ve experienced life and relationships with others, I’ve learned to love myself and others unconditionally. My truth is my truth and it can cause bias, but every person has their own truth. One of the great lessons in life is to learn to respect everyone’s truth and not judge it as right or wrong. With pain, the lesson is to learn that pain is part of life. Pain will come, but more importantly it will pass.

The passage ends with:

“No one really likes this, of course, but we deal with our dislike in the same way, again and again, until we learn what we need to know about the humility of acceptance.”

This passage is about the essence of life. We will have highs and lows, but it’s about approaching our life with curiosity. As long as we’re always open to learning from our experiences we will not succumb to the lows, but grow from them.

Life lessons

Breath: The ultimate theme of yoga

I find that teaching yoga gives me the same benefits as practicing yoga. It relieves stress, restores energy, and builds strength physically and mentally. Whether people realize it or not, I teach them to find these through one theme that is included in every class: breath.

Breath: Relieves Stress

In yoga, the present moment is stress free. In life, stopping and just breathing is stress free. I teach people to observe their breath. Is it rapid or slow? Is it shallow or deep? By teaching people to observe their inhales and exhales, I help them temporary forget about earlier events and not worry about future tasks. I teach them to focus on the present moment.

As people practice this in yoga they find that it starts to become a habit. Breathing becomes a tool that they use in other aspects of their life.

Breath: Builds physical and mental strength

Students flow through poses with their breath. It creates a rhythm that allows movements to become easier. I instruct students to inhale and lengthen and exhale to fold. In addition to linking movement to breathing, I have students find their breath in static poses. Inhaling and exhaling to deepen a pose. Inhaling and exhaling to stay in a pose for a longer amount of time.

Repetition of movements builds strength. Breath allows students to successfully manage the repetition. Mental strength builds from both holding poses and continuing to flow when starting to feel worn down. When yoga starts to feel hard breathing brings focus and builds mental strength.

Breath: Restores energy

Yoga uses all of the muscles in the body. It expends energy. Poses are then taught to restore energy. I give students time to stay in restorative poses and do nothing but breathe. I have them inhale through their nose and exhale sighing out of their mouth. I’ll ask them to deepen their inhales, which in turn deepens their exhales. I have them come back to observing their breath. This practice naturally begins to slow the rate of breathing and restore energy.

Breath

If we’re not breathing, then we’re not functioning. Our breath not only gives us life, but restores our energy so that we can continue to function when we feel that we’ve reached our limits.

Be open. Receive. Live for today

“Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It’s openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox.”

Living for today can be a challenge. We’re always asked what we want to be when we grow up, which encourages us to focus on our future. And being told by others “those were the best years of my live” referring to the past. How often do we hear people say “Today is a great day” or “I love my life,” two references to the present moment?

I think there are two key qualities towards living for today: openness and receiving.

Live

Openness

In order to focus on the present, I am open to anything and everything. I find that I can’t have preconceived notions about everything. Rather, I go with the flow and every day brings new experiences. As I teach yoga classes, I meet new people. As I move to new cities, I find new local places to hangout. I am living for today. However, I could not be open. Other people might teach yoga and not bother to meet their students. They might move to a new location, but consistently find themselves visiting the same types of restaurants.

Openness is a choice. It’s an adventure. It’s unexpected. Sometimes being open doesn’t end well. I’ll go to an event and find people aren’t really interested in meeting other new people and would rather focus on their current connections. But even when being open doesn’t work out, I still feel full. I know that I am living to my fullest.

Receiving

Pause for a moment and think about how often you give of yourself others. It could be a physical gift or it could be intangible like time. I think that most of us will find that we give a lot. Now think about receiving. It could be receiving a gift from someone else, a favor, or a compliment. Think about how often you receive goodness from others.

Like most people, I find that I give more than I receive and am even to some extent uncomfortable with receiving. Society teaches us that we can’t receive without giving something in return. However, to live in the present moment, we can’t always be giving. We have to be open to receiving the good and the bad that may come our way. As we give our time to others we have to take time for ourselves. In order to fully live and help others we have to have energy to give away.

Live in the present. Be open to new experiences. Receive the goodness that surrounds you.

Live

Remember to breathe

BreatheI focused one of my recent yoga classes on breathing. Prana, our life energy, manifests and we observe it as breath. Our breath matches our mind. When we are calm, and engrossed in a subject we might find that we breathe slowly. When we are excited, angry, or frightened, our breath begins to race.

In yoga, I teach students how to observe their breath by counting inhales and exhales. Asking them to come back to their breath when holding poses, to create focus and slow and calm the mind. But, what I find most interesting about teaching the importance of breathing, is that it’s probably not the first time these adults are being taught how to breathe. Rather, it’s a likely a reteaching of a something they learned as children.

Teaching Children to Breathe

We teach children to breathe. I spent 6 months teaching children how to breathe during my social work internship. I planned and ran anger management sessions at a boy’s group home. We teach them how to breathe in order to control their emotions. It’s a tool for calming down when angry. Specifically, on often tell children to count to 10. In counting to ten they are taking 10 breaths.We teach children to breathe to calm down when crying. We tell children to take a deep breath so that they can begin to find the words to explain what has made them upset.

More recently, when asking my nephew about school, he said “I practiced breathing today.” I didn’t get too many details other than, “we sat there and breathed.” Teachers use breathing to help with anxiety in the classroom. I used it as a teacher combined with positive affirmations. Inhale, “I am ready to take this test.” Exhale, “I practiced these problems each day.” Inhale, “I am going to be successful.” Exhale, “I’m going to be successful.”

Breathe to Connect

When I ask students in a yoga class to focus on their breathing, I am not teaching them how to breathe. Rather, I am helping them recall a lost skill that they once had. I’m helping them remember the importance of their breath. How they can use it to connect their mind with their body. To connect to the present moment. To find calmness and slow down their thoughts in a world that always wants them to be on the go.

I’m reminding them that breath is life. And if they can breathe, they can do yoga.

Awaken your Inner Teacher

As a yoga teacher, I put poses together in a series. I think about what flows well and how certain poses may warm up for harder poses. I offer modifications and variations of the poses allowing students to tailor the class to their level and mood. While I guide students through the class it is really up to each individual to decide how they want to practice that day and find their inner teacher.

I used this quote from Yoga Gems the other day:

No one is ever really taught by another; each of us has to teach himself. The external teacher offers only the suggestions, which arouses the internal teacher, who helps us to understand things. -Swami Vivekananda

I think that we can take this lesson from yoga and use it throughout life. Real learning begins on an individual level. It starts with passion and self-motivation. Any type of learning takes time and often money. Anyone can overcome both of these obstacles and awaken their inner teacher.

Overcoming Time: Linking Passion to Education

When I give up my time to learn something related to my professional career or personal interests, it has to ignite my passion to learn more. It made sense for me to put time into a 200 hour yoga teacher training. The subject interested me. I had some previous experience and background knowledge. I knew that investment would be worth the effort.

When we’re passionate about something, time passes quickly. Minutes turn into hours. We find ourselves engrossed in a topic and hyper-focused. Suddenly, learning isn’t a chore. It becomes an interest and an activity that we look forward to. The time involved becomes obsolete when passion and learning are linked because we enjoy everyone minute of the experience.

Overcoming costs: Learn for Free

While reading books is a low-cost or free option for learning, sometimes I like to change how I learn. While I often read books, more recently I also learn from MOOCs.

MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. They started becoming popular in 2012 and have continued to grow. Many universities have MOOCs (here’s a list of some) and there are platforms, such as Coursera, that partner with universities and organizations to offer courses.

From business, personal development and data science to arts, humanities, and languages the category of courses is comprehensive. Whether you want to learn something new or dive deeper into a topic you already enjoy, the options are available.

Rather than making excuses, awaken your inner teacher. Identify your passion and find options for learning about it.