40 lessons I’ve learned from life, love and yoga … as I turn 40

Happy birthday to me :)
Happy birthday to me :)

So on Monday 2nd February 2015, I turned 40!

Part of me is thinking “blimey, how did that happen?!” Part of me is sticking my fingers in my ears going “la, la, la this isn’t happening, surely I’m still in my 20s?!”

But another part of me – and this is the loudest voice – feels interested about turning 40. Why the angst? It’s just a number. There’s no point railing against it – sulking about your age isn’t going to make you younger or happier!

So, I’m not sulking, I’m embracing turning 40.

I feel the happiest and most fulfilled than I ever have.

After spending much of my 20s and 30s full of angst about what to do with my life, I have now created what for me, at this moment, is a perfect balance. I work part-time and I spend the rest of my time teaching, writing about, practising and studying yoga. I’m living in a lovely part of the world with my soulmate. I have enough time and money to live comfortably.

So, in celebration of my new decade, here are 40 lessons life, love and yoga have taught me.  I hope they inform, amuse and inspire you.

Life

A ripple on the surface of a pond

1. My absolute #1 life lesson is this. Watch what your mind is telling you: your thoughts shape your reality. Your thoughts inform the words you speak; the energy you give off; the actions you take (or don’t take). Whatever crap life is throwing at you – you have the power to decide how you respond. And that response starts in your mind. And, with mindful awareness and compassion, you totally have the power to shape those thoughts.

2. Looking after yourself isn’t selfish. It’s essential for your wellbeing. If you’re constantly putting others’ needs above your own, you will wear yourself out and end up exhausted and resentful. How is that helping anybody? If you’re well, content and happy then you will have the energy to help others too.

3. If there’s something in your life which doesn’t feel right, accept it or change it. The change may be disruptive or challenging. Or maybe you can’t change it so you need to accept it. But if you don’t either accept it or do something about it, it will eat away inside you. In my case it was spending my life in jobs which didn’t ignite my passion and use my creativity. Now I’m doing something I love I’m a much nicer person to be around!

4. Don’t blame others for your life and how you feel. It’s up to you how you deal with life and other people. Saying “x made me angry” or “y makes me happy” is disempowering. YOU and only you have the power to change how you feel and think. It’s your decision. I’ve been in that place of blaming workplaces, managers and other people for feeling crap. You can’t change everyone else to make them do what you want. Change your own approach and attitude and watch that energy ripple out. Make a choice. Loving or fearful? Happy or grumpy? Content or envious? No matter what is happening in your life, you can decide how to deal with it and in turn, this will determine the effect you have on all those around you.

5. Life’s too short to worry about wearing your best shoes out in the rain. So, I have a lot of shoes. But I found myself not wearing many of them for fear they might get spoiled. An interesting lesson in pointless attachment to material objects. What’s the point of buying lovely shoes if they sit in a box? Enjoy life. So what if the shoes wear out? Joy at being alive never wears out!

6. Forget swearing, “should” is the most offensive word in the English language. It’s a mean little word. It comes with an implied judgement that what you’re doing is wrong or not good enough – whether we use it to ourselves or other people. Remove the word “should” or “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary and give everyone a break from not feeling good enough.

7. All life is change. Nothing stands still or stays the same. Your body is constantly renewing its cells. Your breath is always moving. Trying to grab hold of things and not wanting them to change only leads to suffering. Learn to go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

8. If you want peace of mind don’t watch or read the news. It stokes fear, worries and anxiety and disempowers us. We may begin to think the entire world and all humanity is bad. We get angry with venal politicians. We think we can do nothing about it. Not a good headspace to be in. Who and what can you help in your locality? Make connections. Support each other.

9. We are all creative. Too many of us think we’re not. It’s in the interest of  people trying to flog us things to tell us we’re not creative so we buy their products instead to fill the yearning for self-expression. Make your own art, your own music. Sing, dance, draw, colour in, write, paint. It’s not about the end product it’s about enjoying the process.

10. Beauty surrounds us. Open your eyes and notice it. It’s in the shape and colour of the clouds. It’s in the wind rustling the leaves. It’s in the dust motes shimmering in a ray of sunlight. It’s in your smile. Where can you see beauty?

Love

Listen to your heart and learn to love yourself(Photo credit: Stella Tomlinson)11. There’s one person you really must learn to love for peace of mind and happiness. Love yourself.

12. You won’t find true contentment and acceptance by relying on the love of another. You find that in loving yourself.

13. You are loveable. No matter what your mind or other people may tell you.

14. If the person you thought you loved doesn’t love you, walk away. It’s painful. But not as painful as remaining in a relationship without that mutual love and connection.

15. Maybe the person for you is just a few metres away – trust that the universe will find a way of bringing you together. I joined the Guardian Soulmates internet dating site – and met my beloved. It turned out he was in the same university where I was working … just a few doors down the road. What’s meant to be will be!

16. If your other half leaves the toilet seat up (or whatever irksome habit he/she may have) so what? Is it really worth creating arguments over it? If you love someone – love their, ahem, charming little foibles too.

17.  Perhaps you find it difficult to tell someone you love them. Send them thoughts of love then. It’s a good place to start.

18. Send love out to the world with your intentions. Approach all that you do with openness, integrity and authenticity. Start from a good place in all you do.

19. Cultivate an attitude of loving-kindness to all (even those who frustrate you, people you think you can’t stand or those who do things you can’t begin to comprehend). Yes it’s challenging but you will feel better for it.  And that loving energy will affect others around you.  Imagine what the world would be like if we all cultivated such an attitude?

20. Love WILL change the world – see points 18 & 19 above. Listen to Ghandhi and be the change that you wish to see in the world. You want a more loving and peaceful world? That starts with you, with me, with each of us.

Mountain Pose - Living Yoga with StellaYoga

(And by “yoga” I mean all aspects, including philosophy, breath awareness, relaxation, concentration and meditation – not just the stuff we do with our body on a mat…)

21. Yoga is stilling the thought waves of the mind. That’s what brought me to yoga and that’s what keeps me practising every day. Acceptance of the mind and, through acceptance, liberation from the mundane ramblings which pull us this way and that is why I practise yoga.

22. Yoga can help you however you feel. Roll out your mat or simply sit in stillness and breathe. Ignore whatever reason your mind is telling you why you shouldn’t practise yoga today. However you’re feeling, whatever your body is experiencing, no matter how much or little time you have. Yoga will always help you. Stretch, breathe, release.

23. Beyond safe alignment, there is no right or wrong way to practise yoga Asanas (yoga poses). Everyone’s body has a different lived experience. Everyone’s mind is in a different place. This will affect deeply how your body moves. However you can move today is the right place for you at this moment.

24. Yoga is there to serve you. You are not there to serve yoga. That’s why I passionately believe #23. It’s not about doing it “right” or pushing yourself into poses which your body/mind isn’t ready for.

25. Yoga will reveal to you deep understanding of yourself but you have to be willing to practise, listen and watch.

26. The mind and body are interconnected. If you tell yourself you’ll never touch your toes, you won’t. Give yourself the space to see if you can and your body will respond and release.

27. I am not my mind. I am not the ramblings, judgements and jumping around. I am the silent observer. The stillness within. The quiet smile of amusement and joy. I am connection and love.

28. You can reinvent your brain. The concept of neuroplasticity is a beautiful fact. Our brain adapts. When we do new things, or think new thoughts, new neural pathways are created. Each time we repeat an action or thought these neural pathways get stronger and more clearly defined. This links directly to the yoga concept of Samskaras (imprints left on the mind by experience). Change your actions and your thoughts; change your brain. And change your life.

29. The breath is the most powerful tool we have. A few, deep mindful breaths can change the way your body, mind and spirit feel.

30. Neti-neti: not this, not that. We can swing through the ups and downs in life being pulled one way or the other. If we stand in the middle and watch the pendulum swinging we will find much more peace of mind.

31. There are many different approaches to yoga out there. Finding your yoga is a little like meeting a soulmate. When I discovered Dru Yoga I knew straight away it was the one for me.

32. These three yogic principles are important in yoga and in life. Svadhyaya, Tapas and Ishvara Pranidhana. OK, I’ll translate! Self-study, discipline and surrender. Self-study to become aware of your physical, emotional and mental habits. Discipline to change what you can usefully change. Surrender to and let go of what you can’t. A very useful approach to life too.

33. I’ve never done a headstand and to be perfectly honest I don’t care if I never do. Choose your goals. If you want to aim for a headstand {or whatever yoga or life goal you have} great, use Tapas (see above) to work for it. But don’t worry about what’s not important to you.

34. Yoga isn’t just what we do with our bodies on a mat. That’s just one element. Yoga can be a way of life. If you recognize and study this, yoga will bring you such riches of understanding and learning.

35. The yoga poses you don’t like are the ones you need most of all (unless there’s a physical reason it’s not good for you to do that pose). Why is your mind telling you that you don’t like them? Me? I shy away from the Bow and Shoulder Stands but I know they will help me. (A subtly different point from #33…)

36. Sitting still is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Your body wants to move. Your mind gets louder. But stay with it and watch this merry dance and you will discover a deep, nourishing stillness within you.

37. …But sometimes the mind or body shouts so loud that the stillness is elusive. And that’s fine. It’s still there anyway. The sun doesn’t cease to exist just because it’s behind clouds.

38. Be here, now. The past has gone, the future hasn’t happened. The present moment is all we have.

39. Yoga is a way of life. It’s in the way you move, sit and stand. It’s in the way you breathe. It’s in your relationship with others. It’s in the thoughts you have and the intuitions of your heart which whisper to you. It is connection.

40. I am light. I am love. So are you. All is and will be well.


Over to you

How old are you? Take your age and write a list of things that you have experienced and learned throughout your life so far. And congratulate yourself for all that accumulated wisdom … It’s much more constructive than worrying about getting older and counting grey hairs and wrinkles!!!

I’d love it if you shared some in the comments below or over on my Facebook page.

What next

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And if you’d like to try a slower-paced, therapeutic approach to yoga which helps you to relax, then why not come along to one of my yoga classes in Southampton & Eastleigh, Hampshire, UK?

I teach five public classes a week as well as offering private 1-2-1 tuition, with a programme of workshops for 2015. Check out my yoga class timetable to find out more and make a booking enquiry.


{Photo credits: Birthday cake picture – Aih. / Foter / CC BY
Heart picture – me;}

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