Life

The 10 Most Life-Changing Things Yoga Teachers Have Ever Said to Me

Sometimes, your yoga teacher gets it completely right.

I’m going to tell it to you straight: Some days in yoga class, whatever the instructor is spouting off can sound like complete mumbo jumbo, despite his or her best intentions (for example, I still have no idea what my third eye center is). Other times, my teacher might be telling me something brilliant, but I’m not in the right headspace—and I tune it out and focus on whatever I’ve decided is more important at the time (like a run down of my to-do list, or the million ways I could have done a project better).

But then there are times when not only am I completely attuned to my practice, but also to what the instructor is trying to share. And sometimes, the teacher says exactly what I need to hear, at exactly the right time for me to hear it. The stars are aligned, and I feel that thing you’re supposed to feel when you’re seeking out a meditative practice: peace, understanding, and acceptance. These are the moments when it really does feel like my yoga practice allows the kind of transcendence I crave when I roll out my mat. 

Looking for inspiration? Here are the 10 most powerful, life-changing things yoga teachers have ever said to me. 

See also Slideshow: Yoga Photographer Robert Sturman Celebrates Earth Day Around the World

The 10 Most Life-Changing Things Yoga Teachers Have Ever Said to Me

1. Reach higher. It will steady you.

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One day in class, many of us were struggling with Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and falling out of it. A teacher said to simply reach higher. Of course, she meant to push just a little further and harder than was immediately accessible, and it would make the rest of the pose work. She was right. Now, whenever I’m struggling with work, or having a particularly bad week, I remind myself to reach higher and further than what’s immediately in front of me. And inevitably, little things start to line up.

See also Colleen Saidman Yee’s 7 Poses for Enoughness

2. Open up your palms if you want answers from the universe. Put your palms face down if you want answers from within yourself.

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This is something a teacher said when we were seated in Sukhasana (Easy Pose) at the end of a class. It felt incredibly profound to be able to choose, and recognizing that there is a distinction between these two choices changed the way I approach problems. This sentiment made me realize that sometimes I don’t have all the answers, and that I can let the universe show me and let life unravel.

See also Everything You Need to Know About Meditation Posture

3. Notice when you are being selfish. Replace it with gratitude.

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Sometimes I’ll have a stressful morning (I’ll forget my laptop at home and have to turn around and go back, or a story I’m writing won’t work out how I want it to), and I’ll think it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone. This teacher reminded me that obsessing over tiny inconveniences is not only foolish, but selfish, and also leads to unhappiness. It’s better—and healthier—to be less self-obsessed, and try to focus on gratitude instead: I have a working laptop; I get to write stories for a living. 

See also 7 Yin Yoga Poses to Cultivate Gratitude

4. Speak kindly to yourself.

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I am the queen of smack-talking myself. The sentiment behind not doing that is simple, but sometimes I need to be reminded of this: Telling myself I’m stupid for not getting that thing done that I wanted to get done is not helping anyone. The simple practice of catching myself being unkind, and then changing that to kindness, is incredibly redemptive.

See also Unfriend These Two Kinds of Self-Talk to Take Back Your Feelings

5. I had a bad day today. But it’s OK to have a bad day.

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In one 6 a.m. class, my yoga teacher told us right from the outset that she was having a bad day. Her leg was hurting, she was running late to teach the class, and it was raining to boot. But, she still showed up. And, she said, focusing on teaching the class and helping us ultimately helped her. She didn’t chastise herself for having a bad day—she just accepted it and moved right along. I try to channel that now every time my days are bad, too. Saying it’s OK to have a bad day sometimes feels like a revelation.

See also A Detoxifying Holistic Yoga Flow for Spring

6. Decide what your body is capable of, not what the next person on the mat over from you is doing.

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I can be competitive—even during yoga class when I’m supposed to be mentally focused on myself and my practice, not whether my Wild Thing is looking fierce. Being reminded that the only place I need to focus is my own mat and on my own mind and body is a huge help. Of course, it applies not just in yoga class, but at work, with my friends, and on Instagram. If I just pay attention to my own capabilities and do my best, I’m so much happier and way more productive than if I’m constantly comparing myself to everyone else.

See also Tips from Social Media’s Top Yogis on How to Handle Haters and Trolls

7. If something in your life isn’t serving you, quietly thank it for the lesson—and let that sh-t go.

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Some days, you just need someone to tell it like it is, without frills, and with a sense of humor. I often get hurt just because I’m holding onto something for too long—a relationship, an argument, or trying to force something to happen or work. This yoga teacher reminded me that it’s actually OK to let “that sh-t” go (and that it’s also OK to laugh at a teacher dropping a well-timed cuss word during yoga practice).

See also 4 Poses to Build Confidence (and a Sense of Humor)

8. Sometimes you just need to do Legs-Up-the-Wall. Why? Because sometimes less is more.

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I’m always pushing myself—in life, at work, and yes, when I practice yoga—so I have a very hard time understanding this concept. So when a yoga teacher said this before instructing us to do the restorative, Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose) rather than Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand) or Sirsasana (Headstand), it felt huge to me. I think being reminded that choosing something more restorative and less complicated can actually help you feel more powerful, and that lesson has stayed with me every day since. 

See also Restorative Yoga 101: How to Release Chronic Psoas Tension for Deeper Relaxation

9. Be like a tree. Stay connected to the earth. Everything that separates us from being peaceful will dissolve when we are rooted.

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This one could drift into the confusing realm of Zen sayings, but it actually made profound sense to me in the moment. When I feel my roots—my family, my friends that have known me for years, the things I love to do in my heart and not just on paper—I always come back to a feeling of peace. Now, when I’m feeling moments of doubt and insecurity, I try to come back to being connected to the earth, to my roots, to who I am. 

See also Elena Brower’s Sequence to Find Your Foundation in Your Feet

10. “One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.”

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A teacher read this Stephen Hawking quote to me at a time when I was doubting career changes and choices, and feeling generally lost and adrift. Even though it was a quote rather than an original statement, it struck a deep chord with me. If nothing is perfect (and that’s a scientific fact!), then it’s OK if my path isn’t perfect, either. If nothing is perfect, then I will probably never know exactly what I’m doing. And if nothing is perfect, then that’s exactly the way the universe is supposed to be.

See also 17 Poses for Finding Fulfillment