I’m going to tell it to you straight: Some days in yoga class, whatever the teacher is spouting off can sound like complete mumbo jumbo, despite their best intentions. Honestly, I still have no idea what exactly my third eye is. The teacher might be saying something brilliant and comprehendable, but if I’m not in the right headspace, I’ll tune it out and focus on whatever I’ve decided is more important at the time, whether a rundown of my to-do list or any of the million different ways I could have handled a project better.
But then there are times when I am completely attuned to my practice and what the instructor is trying to share. When the teacher says exactly what I need to hear at exactly the right time I need to hear it, the stars seem to be aligned and I feel those things you’re supposed to in a meditative practice—namely peace, understanding, and acceptance.
These are the moments when my yoga practice enables the kind of transcendence I desire when I roll out my mat. And they’re the lessons I continue to carry with me years later.
The 10 Most Life-Changing Things Yoga Teachers Have Said to Me
1. Reach higher. It will steady you.
One day in class, many of us were struggling with our balance in Vrksasana (Tree Pose) and falling out of the pose. The teacher said simply to reach higher. In the context of that moment, she meant to push just a little further and harder than what seemed immediately accessible and that would help steady us. She was right. Now, whenever I’m struggling with work or having a particularly bad week, I remind myself to reach beyond what’s immediately in front of me. Inevitably, little things start to line up and make the situation easier.
2. Open your palms up if you want answers from the universe. Place your palms down if you want answers from within yourself.
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 the act of recognizing that there is a distinction between these two choices changed the way I approach most problems. This sentiment helped me understand that sometimes I don’t have all the answers—and that I am allowed to let the universe show me what is needed as I let life unfold.
3. Notice when you are being selfish. Replace it with gratitude.
Sometimes when I’m experiencing a stressful day, I’ll think it’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone. Maybe I forgot my laptop or an article I’m writing won’t turn out how I want. The moment this teacher said this, it reminded me that obsessing over tiny inconveniences leads to unhappiness. I find that how I show up to the world is better—and healthier—when I’m less self-obsessed and try to focus on gratitude. I have a working laptop; I get to write stories for a living.
4. Speak kindly to yourself.
I am the queen of smack-talking myself. Sometimes I need to be reminded that telling myself I’m stupid for not getting something 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
5. I had a bad day today. But it’s OK to have a bad day.
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 sharing yoga with us helped her. She didn’t chastise herself for having a bad day—she simply accepted it and moved along. I try to channel that sentiment every time my days seem bad. Acknowledging that it’s okay to have a bad day sometimes feels like a revelation.
6. Decide what your body is capable of, not what the next person on the mat over from you is doing.
I can be competitive—even during yoga class when I’m supposed to be focused on myself and my practice, not whether my Wild Thing is looking fierce. Being reminded that the only place I need to focus my attention is my own mind and body is a tremendous help. Of course, it applies not just in yoga class but at work, on Instagram, and with my friends. When I pay attention to my own capabilities and simply do my best, I’m so much happier and way more productive than when I’m constantly comparing myself to everyone else.
7. If something in your life isn’t serving you, quietly thank it for the lesson—and let that sh-t go.
Some days, you just need someone to tell it like it is, without frills, preferably with a sense of humor. I often drag myself down because I’m holding onto something for too long, whether it’s a relationship, an argument, or something I’m trying to force at work. This yoga teacher reminded me that it’s actually okay to let “that sh-t” go (and that it’s also okay to laugh when a teacher drops a well-placed swear 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.
I’m always pushing myself—in life, at work, and yes, when I practice yoga—so it’s taken me a very long time to understand this concept. 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 like a revelation to me. The lesson that choosing something more restorative and less complicated can actually help you feel more powerful has stayed with me since that day.
9. “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.”
A teacher read this Stephen Hawking quote at a time when I was doubting some changes and choices and generally feeling lost and adrift. It struck a deep chord with me. If nothing is perfect (and that’s a scientific fact!), then it’s okay if my path isn’t perfect. 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.
10. Be like a tree. Stay connected to the earth. Everything that separates us from being peaceful will dissolve when we are rooted.
This one could drift into the confusing realm of Zen, rather than yoga, sayings. But it made profound sense to me in the moment. When I feel my roots—including my family, my friends who have known me for years, the things I love to do—I always come back to a feeling of peace. On days when I experience moments of doubt and insecurity, I try to come back to being connected to the earth, to my roots, to who I am.