What's in Your Yoga Toolbox?

What’s in your toolbox? Hammer. Screwdriver. Wrench. Breath. Courage. Wait, what?

Okay, not your traditional toolbox but your yoga toolbox. What is a yoga toolbox you might ask? It is where you start to collect all the lessons you’ve learned from your time on the mat that you can pull out as needed.

Your yoga practice is hopefully so much more than your one hour on the mat. It is a lifelong practice that teaches you the skills and gives you the tools that you need in challenging times as well.

Little by little, year by year, you build your toolbox from the safety of your yoga mat. Then you have your yoga tools for support when they really matter.

What’s in my toolbox? Here are just a few that I rely on...almost every day.

1. Breath.

Oh it sounds so simple. You do it all day, every day. It is literally your sustaining life force.

Yet at the same time, it can be an utterly unconscious act. You can go days, even weeks, without ever actually paying attention to your breath. Unless you practice yoga.

As a yoga teacher, I begin every class with an invitation to the breath. Notice it. Feel it. Listen to it. How do these simple acts shift your breath?

And why does it matter?

You spend most of your time breathing only into the upper portion of your lungs, and not the full diaphragmatic breath that was natural as a baby. This shallow breathing pattern over time can cause the nervous system to live in the fight-or-flight, or stress, response.

In the long run, this is problematic for your immune system, your adrenal glands, and even your cognitive function.

When you begin to pay attention to your breath on your mat eventually this habit spills over into other areas of your life. Stuck in traffic? Breathe deeply. In line at the grocery store? Feel the breath move to your belly.

Notice the shift. Breath is a powerful tool.

2. Find Strength When I am Weak.

Has your yoga teacher ever held you in Warrior 2 for what seemed like ages? The heat builds. Your leg begins to quiver. You’re not sure you can stay longer, yet you do.

The practice itself often asks us to dig deep...and then deeper. To find the reserves of strength you didn’t know you had.

Some days just making it to your mat requires an amazing amount of strength.

Slowly, you begin to trust that strength. To know it is there when you need it the most. That when the quivering and the shaking is at its peak, you can still be strong.

3. The Courage to Try. To Fall. And to Get Back Up.

When I was first learning arm balances I would use a blanket for a crash pad. Because, yes, I actually fell face first a few times. And you know what? The fear of falling was much worse than the fall itself.

Sometimes you simply need to try, even when it is likely that you’ll fall flat on your face, literally or figuratively.

There is a tendency to imagine the worst. It is easy to come up with a laundry list of reasons not to try. The fear, the worry, the unknown. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of it.

In yoga, you fall all the time. Out of balance poses, onto your backside from side plank, and sometimes feet-over-head from upside-down. And then you laugh a little. Brush yourself off and try again.

The hope is that it gets a little easier each time.

4. Move From Your Center.

We live in a culture that thrives on being busy. The never-ending To-Do List and the constant barrage of technology and social media. It’s easy to get pulled in different directions.

The physical practice of yoga guides us back to center.  It invites us time and time again to come back to the midline and to hug your limbs to center.

It is there that you find stability.

When it feels like life is moving in all different directions, how do you find your way back to center?

5. Get Grounded.

Child’s pose. Pigeon pose. A deep forward fold. There is a simple sweetness about bowing into yourself and touching your forehead to the Earth.

When your monkey mind is spinning how do you move the energy from crown to root?

Hip openers and forward folds are by nature shapes that ground us. They settle the energy and the nervous system. Have you ever noticed the shift after a long hip opening sequence?

The systems of your body have a memory. You might often hear this referred to as “muscle memory” but your nervous system has a memory too. It can learn...and remember.

Your body will do what you train it to. Yoga teaches your nervous system and your mind to settle and ground. You learn how to arrive at this place when all is spinning.

And then you know how to get back there, on or off the mat.

6. Find Balance.

It is a constant negotiation to find center. A little more here, and a little less there. Work vs. play. Activity vs. rest. Yin vs. Yang.

There is no finish line when it comes to achieving balance. Life is constantly shifting and you adjust over and over again.

Have you ever had a practice where you knew from the first pose that balance felt futile? Then there are the days when it seemed you could stay in eagle pose forever.

Balance poses ask us to focus the gaze and steady the mind. To be firm but not rigid. Settle into your foundation but allow for, and respond to, the fluctuations of your body. Where do you need to strengthen and where do you need to soften?

It is a perpetual play between the left and the right, the yin and the yang, the allowing and the engaging.

How does your practice help you to learn where the tipping point is?

7. Let Go.

Do the pose, let go. Do you think all day about a missed cue or a wobbly tree pose in your practice? Not likely. But have you ever ruminated on a mistake at work for days, held a grudge for weeks, months, even years?

It sometimes feels like a moral obligation. How can you let go when you were wronged?

But how can you not let go when it drains you...mentally, physically, and emotionally?

At the end of each practice you lie in Savasana. Yes, it is a lovely rest after your hard work. But more than that, it is the death of your practice. The time to let go of all that you accomplished, and all that you did not. To take in what you need and forget the rest.

Your time is valuable, precious even. Why waste it holding onto what is already gone?

Your yoga toolbox may be very different from mine. And that’s the beauty. There are countless lessons to learn from your practice. You take what you need and leave the rest for now.