When I started yoga I knew I would learn a thing or two in the studio, but I never realized how much yoga would apply to life off the mat. To this day I am constantly learning life lessons while practicing yoga, and I am constantly challenging myself to explore how these lessons can be used in all aspects of my life. Upon reflection, I’ve noticed five big life lessons that I’ve taken from my mat and have applied to my day-to-day life.

1. Fear can be our biggest barrier

It was week two of my month-long teacher training and the time to practice handstand was upon us. Even with the wall there to catch me I couldn’t do it. I was strong enough, but I was terrified.

Eventually I identified this fear and with the support of my classmates I managed to push past it and into my first handstand. I started to cry. When I came down I was shaking, but I had broken through my wall of fear.

Fear can be one of our greatest obstacles. It keeps us from applying for that promotion, taking that trip, or falling in love. When we let fear run our lives we limit ourselves. It is only by acknowledging, accepting, and moving past fear that we can reach heights we never knew we were capable of.

2. Flexibility and strength go hand in hand

I walked into my first yoga class convinced I was already a pro because I could touch my toes. During class the teacher came over to me while I was in pigeon and instructed me to come out of the pose a bit. She said, “You’ve gone too deep. You need to work on strength and stability.”  

On the other hand, there are body builders who put all of their energy into strengthening their muscles, and they forgo flexibility entirely. A healthy body needs a balance of flexibility and strength. This balance goes beyond the yoga mat.

We could all benefit from a bit of flexibility in our lives. Learning to go with the flow and adapt to the circumstances is key to any healthy lifestyle. We also need to find strength: strength in trusting the flow and strength in our values and our beliefs.

3. Know your limits

Yogis constantly harp on the importance of knowing our limits. And for good reason. Through yoga we learn to listen to our bodies. We learn not to go deeper when our bodies say no. We learn to take child’s pose if our breath is short or embrace modifications if needed.

This same respect for our limits is important off the mat. If your workload is overwhelming and you are feeling stressed, respect your limits by saying no to more tasks. When you feel depleted allow yourself to say no to your friend’s invitation to go out.

Just as yoga taught me it’s okay to say no if an asana or a practice lies beyond my limits, it taught me that I am allowed the same freedom and self-respect regarding my limits off the mat.

4. It’s okay to take a break

For awhile I became obsessive about my yoga practice. I made a vow to practice six days a week and got angry when I missed a day…until I realized my strict practice was causing me more harm than good.

Now I practice when it feels right. Sometimes I feel sick. Other days I’m just not in the mood. The important thing is I listen to my body and take a break when I need it.

I practice the same philosophy in life. I don’t go out with my friends every weekend; sometimes I need a break. Whether it’s a whole day of relaxation or a moment during a traffic jam to focus on your breath, remember that it is okay—necessary—to take breaks.

5. We’re all in this together

After a few years of practicing I stopped going to yoga class. I was strapped for cash, and a home practice was much more affordable.

While I treasure my home practice, practicing inches away from complete strangers in a studio class is powerful. Our attitudes and energies support each other. We all get more from the class thanks to what each person brings to the group.

It’s easy to lose sight of this interconnectedness when you are in the trenches of day-to-day life. We get lost in our minds and start to believe we have to do everything on our own. But we are all in this together and the only way to get through life is to look for support in those around you and trust that they will be there.

What lessons have you learned on your yoga mat?