The following article has been adapted from Soulful Simplicity: How Living With Less Can Lead to So Much More, in which author Courtney Carver teaches us how to embrace a practical, minimalist lifestyle in order to attain inner and outer peace and invite more love into our lives.

Yoga changed me inside and out and it wasn’t easy or slow. Within a week or two of my first class, I started taking private sessions at 5 a.m. a few times a week. I wanted to develop a practice I could take anywhere.

That decision has served me again and again over the years. When Yoga studios close, my favorite teachers move on, or I’m travelling or don’t get to the studio for a while, I can always unroll my mat and practice.

Even after many years of practice, I don’t do handstands or some of the more challenging poses, but I move my body, put my hands on my heart, and listen for the lessons, the answers and the truth. Yoga has been a big part of making me and continues to teach me new things about myself and the world.

Here are just a few of my lessons from the mat. They’ve informed my work, my relationships, and how I move through every day.

My thoughts limit my actions

When a challenging pose is being demonstrated, my go-to reaction is “not in this lifetime.” And with that, my brain takes over and reminds my body that my hamstrings are too tight or my arms are too short or the pose will hurt my knees/shoulders/insert other body parts here. We dismiss opportunities every day by telling ourselves we can’t do it. We give in to fear. It’s good to think things through, but trust yourself to try new things too.

I can’t do everything today

Some days on the mat are a breeze. My mind is naturally quiet and my body flows effortlessly from pose to pose. Other times, I’m so wrapped up in my own thoughts that it’s a struggle just to relax my jaw. I used to feel defeated when going into class with a busy mind, low energy or a tweaked knee, because I wouldn’t be able to do every pose. Then I learned that it’s OK to do what I can today.

We all need permission to exhale

Heavy sighs often represent exhaustion or dissatisfaction, but several times throughout a Yoga class, the teacher invites us to take a deep breath in through the nose and let it all out with a big sigh. It feels so good to let it all go.

In class, we might be releasing energy from a high-paced sequence and helping the heart rate come down, but think of the benefits a big exhale can have in your day-to-day life. In Learning to Breathe: My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life, author Priscilla Warner says SIGH stands for Sitting In God’s Hands. There you go … permission to sigh, to take a seat in God’s hands.

There’s a place between ease and strain

When I practice balance poses, I weave and wobble if there isn’t enough tension in my body. Likewise, if my jaw is clenched, eyebrows furrowed and gaze locked, I can’t find stillness and I fall out of the pose. If I push or back off just a tiny bit, I find that magical place between ease and strain called steadiness. Hard work isn’t always a sign of good work. Steadiness can improve relationships, foster creativity and improve health.

Action kills fear

In certain Yoga poses, I’m afraid that I’ll literally fall right on my face and break my nose. It’s very unlikely, but the fear is there. When I’m creating something or putting myself out there in life, I’m equally afraid of falling on my face and breaking my heart.

Fear is OK and action will always shut it down.

Keep your eyes on your own mat

Woman doing tree pose on Yoga mat on roof of building - Lessons from the matMy Yoga pose doesn’t have to look like yours to be magnificent. Each pose is an individual expression that represents our abilities, emotions, what we had for breakfast and so many other things. There’s no benefit in comparison in Yoga or in life.

Outward actions are directly connected to internal reactions

The final pose of a Yoga class is called Savasana or corpse pose. It’s the place where you release everything. You stop controlling your breath and holding your body in poses that may be challenging. You’re finally invited to completely let go.

Letting go is the hardest pose of all, and not just on the Yoga mat.

It’s there I learned that letting go is the hardest pose of all, and not just on the Yoga mat. We work so hard to make everyone happy, stay caught up, be everywhere, appear like we have it all figured out and do it all with a smile.

Even when we’re doing things we love, we sometimes push too much or hold on too tight. It’s as if we think that with sheer will, we can bend the universe and magically design a desirable outcome.

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Courtney Carver launched her blog “Be More with Less” in 2010, and is one of the top bloggers in the world on the subject of minimalism. She has been featured in countless articles, podcasts and interviews on simplicity, and is the creator of the minimalist fashion challenge Project 333, which was featured in O Magazine and Real Simple. Courtney is the author of Soulful Simplicity: How Living With Less Can Lead to So Much More.

Front cover of Soulful Simplicity book - Lessons from the matAdapted from SOULFUL SIMPLICITY: How Living With Less Can Lead to So Much More by Courtney Carver with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright(c) 2017 by Courtney Carver.

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