5 things my yoga teacher taught me that changed my life
My first yoga teacher was a gentle, earnest, spiritual, and funny woman. When I started yoga, it was because I had quit smoking and was trying to find some other way to calm my mind and improve my body. I was at the beginning of my path to self-improvement, and Penny, my yoga teacher, was a strong supporter and guide. Without even realising it, she did so much to inspire me.
We became friends and she followed my progress with interest.
I was honoured when she asked me to do some early editing of her audiobook, and
I was always inspired by her constant search for ways to improve herself and to
learn as much as she possibly could. She was in her late sixties, but had so
much enthusiasm and zest for life.
I was so sad to learn this past week that she passed away recently. We hadn’t kept in touch these last few years after I moved away, so I wasn’t even aware that she was ill. I regret that I didn’t do more to stay in touch with this wonderful woman. Despite not staying in touch, she frequently pops up in my mind. She was such a positive influence for me, and there are many things she taught me that are always coming up in my day to day life.
5 things my yoga teacher taught me (that aren’t yoga postures):
Never stop learning.
Penny had such a thirst for knowledge and made me realise how fortunate we are to be able to learn pretty much anything we want. She struggled with technology but there was no way in the world she was ever going to let it beat her! I used to think I’ll just finish my degree and I’ll be done with education. But Penny inspired me to think of all the things I’d love to learn one day, and now I can’t ever imagine not working at learning something. I’ve developed her enthusiasm for constantly learning. Whether it’s through formal education channels, or teaching yourself something through YouTube and online tutorials, the possibilities are endless.
You can control your mind.
There are so many things in the world that are beyond our immediate control. But Penny taught me that no matter what is going on around you, the one thing you have full control over is your mind. With focus and practice, you can take yourself to where you want to be emotionally and spiritually. In times of intense fear and danger, I was able to remain somewhat calm by using this skill.
You don’t have to be the best, but you do have to be better than your previous self.
I’ve always been a bit of a high achiever, but I’ve never been the best at anything. The feeling of total inadequacy has been a constant thing in my life. Penny taught me through yoga that it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing or achieving. Their experience is different to yours. What matters is that you are working on being better than you were previously. I have taken this and applied it to all areas of my life. Instead of the constant feeling of inadequacy, I now have a frequent feeling of achievement because I know that however far from perfect I might be, I’m still better than I was before. And that’s progress. Penny was always far more excited about progress than she was about complete mastery!
Be true to yourself.
Penny was passionate about a lot of things. A lot of those things were a bit weird. She had some spiritual practices that would raise eyebrows simply because they were out of the ordinary. We would go out for lunch to a café and she would bring out this little gadget and put a tiny portion of her food inside it. The first time this happened I was very confused. Was she taking some home for a pet mouse or something? No, it was an offering to the Gods, she explained nonchalantly, then proceeded to say a prayer and then urged me to eat. While I did not feel the need to take up this practice (mainly because I don’t like to share my food), I loved and respected that it was an important practice to her, and she would not allow others to modify it.
I’ve since learned that this is a pretty common practice in some religions, but it was very rare to see it occurring in a public place in the country town I lived in.
You can teach others even while you are still learning yourself.
Penny had an expansive knowledge of yoga, but she was very open about the fact that she was still learning herself. There were some postures that she could not quite master, but she would still teach them to others and would show great excitement about the fact that we were all learning together. By being open and upfront about what you do and don’t know, and by continuing to learn with your students, you can in fact be a better teacher than one who believes they have mastered the subject and has nothing more to learn.
I will continue to miss Penny and to think of her often, because she truly helped to change my life. The principles I’ve mentioned in this post are some of the main drivers of Fly Life.
A challenge for you:
Sometimes it’s not until someone is gone that you realise what a huge influence they have been in your life. So today I challenge you to think about who inspires you, and why. What have they taught you, or how have they changed the way you do things? If you want, you can just do this as a private exercise, but I’d love it if you would share your thoughts in the comments!
Personal development is such a huge field and probably means
different things to different people. My interest in personal development started
at a time when I realised that I couldn’t always change a situation, but I
could change how I respond to it. I could change myself. So I started making
tiny changes that rapidly built up until I was actually quite a different
person to who I started out as.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve reached the end point in my
personal development journey. I think it’s a lifelong pursuit to be a better
person, to be someone you’re proud of, to live a life that you love and are proud
I’m not out to “fix” anyone or tell people what’s right and
wrong. I’m just enjoying my own path to self-improvement and I like to share my
own experiences and some things I’ve learned along the way through my studies.
My view on personal development, and what I hope to bring you through my blog,
Always try to be a
little bit better than the person you were yesterday.
Try to make someone
else’s day a little bit better than it was before they interacted with you.
Be conscious of what
kind of person you want to be, and work toward it.
Make gradual changes, have a go at new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking.
Life is a constant
experiment. Have fun testing what works for you and what doesn’t.
If you don’t like something, change it, or at least change how you respond to it.
What it looks like in practice:
Some days you might experiment with developing a small
habit, like say for example, making your bed or doing meal prep for the week. Other
times you might experiment with something huge like starting a new career,
studying a new field, or ending a toxic relationship.
I’m focusing big this year on just trying to always be a
little bit better than I was before. Personal development is NOT about being better
than someone else. It’s not about proving anything to anyone else. Really, it’s
just about being who YOU want to be.
Even when I’ve had a bad day, I feel okay when I can go to
bed knowing that at least I tried to do something positive about it.
You with me?
So if this seems like your version of personal development, self-improvement, growth…. whatever you want to call it… come hang out with me. Follow my blog, subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, or send me an email now and then. Let me know what you want to read about or talk about. Tell me what you find useful. Share your tips or experiment findings with other readers! Let’s make each day a little better than the one before.
I had my first cigarette behind the chook shed with my best friend when we were maybe 13. It’s such a funny memory now. We had stripped down to our underwear so that our parents wouldn’t smell the smoke on our clothes. But I was still convinced three days later that mum might smell it on my breath. So I vowed after that first smoke that I would “quit smoking” because the stress of hiding it was just too much for me.
I think I was 16 when an older friend bought me a packet of smokes to help me get through a break-up (who does that?). With a whole packet of my own to practice on, and older friends to impress, it wasn’t that long before I was hooked. From the age of 18 I was smoking about 30 cigarettes a day. I tried to quit smoking on many occasions, using many different methods. It just never lasted.
I was in a relationship where my boyfriend smoked (even more than me), many of my friends smoked, and I spent a lot of time in the pub (when smoking was still legal inside). Smoking had just become part of my life.
What made it so hard to quit smoking?
I guess the hardest part of quitting was that part of me loved smoking. I loved the feeling of
calm that came over me when I lit up. I loved that it was a good excuse to withdraw
from a group for a brief period to step outside. It gave me something to do
while I sat on my veranda for hours at a time. I loved the feeling of a fresh
new pack each day in my hands.
All of this sounds so crazy now. But I was so attached to
smoking at the time that the idea of quitting was just torture.
Deciding to quit smoking
In 2011 I decided once and for all that I wanted to quit. I
thought about it for a long time and argued with myself. Sick of going through
the pain of quitting only to take it up again, I wanted to be sure this time
that I was ready. So I thought hard about why
I wanted to quit.
At the time, a beautiful woman with a connection to my
family was dying of smoking-related cancer. She had been one of the most
vibrant, dazzling women I had ever met, and though I didn’t have a particularly
close connection with her myself, her situation had a huge impact on me. She
wrote about her cancer experience, and her regret for smoking. I read every
word and thought about the fact that this woman had lived such a wonderful life
and positively impacted so many people, and her impending death was going to shatter
so many hearts.
And here I was, living a very-less-than-ordinary life, not making a positive impact anywhere,
but smoking my little lungs away. I didn’t expect that my death would have quite the same impact on people, but I also
realised that it wasn’t fair to put my family through it in any case. Smoking
was something that I could choose to do or not to do. To quit smoking was one
small way that I could show my family I loved them – not because they wanted me to quit, but because I
didn’t want them to suffer the pain of watching another loved one die an
But that wasn’t my only motivation.
Other reasons I quit smoking
It was getting bloody expensive! I was spending a huge amount of money on smokes and missing out on other things. It sucked being broke all the time.
I was a bit ashamed of being a smoker, so I spent a lot of time trying to hide my smoking and to make sure I didn’t smell offensive. This was effort that I realised I could spend on more interesting tasks and activities.
I would get very anxious if I thought I’d be in a situation where I couldn’t easily have a smoke. I would even avoid certain situations if necessary. It was tiring having to plan ahead for smoke breaks all the time.
I never had enough time for things I wanted to do. But I was smoking around 30 cigarettes a day. Each smoke would take about 5 minutes. That’s something like 2.5 hours every day that I was spending just on poisoning myself! Ridiculous!
I don’t like being dependent. Whether it’s depending on a person or a thing, it makes me uncomfortable. I like to know that I’m in control of myself, and I certainly wasn’t when it came to smoking. I was entirely dependent on Peter Jackson. While I sometimes tried to fool myself that I was smoking because I chose to and because I enjoyed it, the reality was that I was smoking because I had come to depend on it.
I was sick of being sick. “My immune system is weak” I would moan every time I got sick. Colds, flu, and chest infections were so frequent, and they would be severe and last a long time. I would be embarrassed every time I got sick, because deep down I knew that I would be a lot healthier if I didn’t smoke.
9 Tips to Quit Smoking Once and For All
Focus on why you want to quit.
No matter how big or small, think of as many reasons as you possibly can that you want to be a non-smoker. Forget about the things you like about smoking. Don’t worry too much about all the things you hear about how bad smoking is (although it’s all important and valid). Really focus on your own reasons for quitting, like I did in the list above. Also, it helped me to think about it as “reasons I want to be a non-smoker” rather than “reasons I want to quit smoking”. It just felt more like I was moving toward something positive rather than moving away from something that I had somewhat enjoyed. I’m a big believer that you can’t quit an addiction until YOU want to and until YOU are ready. It doesn’t matter what everyone else’s reasons are – you have to convince yourself that YOU want to quit.
Give yourself a time frame.
Rather than just aiming for one solid quit date, give yourself a time frame in which to quit. You might aim for a week or a month (you probably don’t want it to be too much longer). As I spoke about in another post, I knew that telling myself I’d quit on the 1st of January was a mistake. That time of year is still too relaxed and full of social activities, and that’s when I knew I’d find it difficult to quit. The possibility of falling off the wagon once or twice was also strong, so I decided I’d give myself until the end of January to be a non-smoker. This worked. On the 9th of January 2011 I had my last smoke.
Identify linked habits.
What do you do that is linked to your smoking habit? Is it something that you can give up or change, perhaps temporarily? I quit drinking at the same time as I quit smoking. The two often went together for me, so it would be much harder to stay off the smokes if I was having a beer or wine. Giving up drinking and smoking was effing hard, but it was easier than only giving up one at a time. I drank soda water from a wine glass to make it feel like I was still enjoying a special drink until I got used to not drinking. I stayed off the booze for about 9 months I think, and by the time I allowed myself to drink again, the association had been broken. By then I loved being a non-smoker.
Track and reward your progress.
Do something that will help you see and celebrate your success. I literally gave myself gold stars. I had some pretty, sparkly gold star stickers like these ones. It might seem like such a small thing, but I think it was one of the key drivers for me. The satisfaction of putting that sticker on the calendar at the end of the day was huge. And gradually, my calendar started to look SO FREAKIN’ PRETTY! It sparkled and glowed and congratulated me every time I walked past it.
Focus on a project.
Distraction is your friend!I focused on decluttering my house. With all this extra time on my hands, I needed something to keep me occupied. So I worked on going through each room in my house and getting rid of anything that was just clutter. Not only was my body starting to feel cleaner, but so was my house. Admittedly, in the early days I was such an emotional wreck from the withdrawals that I probably threw out more than I normally would. My thinking would have been along the lines of “If I can’t smoke, then what’s the point having all these things? Life is going to be miserable anyway – INTO THE BIN!!!” (It wasn’t my most rational period).
You’re going to feel pretty crappy for a little while, but I promise it gets better. In the meantime, do things to pamper yourself and make yourself feel good.I made a habit of regularly having a long luxurious bath with candles and a book. Also, I started eating better because I had more money for good food, and more time to cook it. There was a huge cupboard in my house full of lovely pampering products like hand creams, moisturisers, bath gels, etc. So, I started trying to use some of those each day. Now that I didn’t stink of cigarettes, I could appreciate the beautiful scented products on my skin.
Even in five-minute blocks, it can be a great replacement for smoking when it comes to stress relief. When I quit smoking, I joined a yoga class. I was so nervous and made sure I got a spot in the back corner. But it soon became my new addiction as I developed an appreciation of my body, extended my skills each week, and learnt beautiful relaxation techniques which were much more useful than smoking.
Have a trusty sidekick.
Find a non-judgmental support person who will encourage you. The day I quit smoking, I had a brand new packet of smokes in my bag. My best friend, a non-smoker, was always supportive of my efforts to quit, without being a bully about it. I knew I could trust her to guard my “emergency pack” and that she wouldn’t let me have them unless it was really, really desperate. Knowing that I already owned a pack prevented me from going and buying more in the weak moments. But knowing I’d have to ask my friend to give them to me made me consider whether I really needed them. She was so strong – there were times in those first weeks where I was crying and really struggling to break the addiction. It would have been much easier for her to hand me the pack and shut me the hell up, but she never did. She just kept telling me how proud she was of me, and how well I was doing. You need to have someone on your side.
Acknowledge the difference.
Try to be really conscious of how different you feel. The first few days were usually the hardest for me, but even several months later I’d have weak moments where I’d really miss smoking. So I tried to always be mindful of how nice it felt to breathe fresh air, to have time that I could use productively, to not be sick all the time, to have more energy. Even now, eight years later, I’ll occasionally walk past someone who’s smoking and I’ll get a bit of a craving. So instead of thinking about how smoking felt, I force myself to think about how I feel now.
How I feel now, 8 years later
I’m so glad I quit when I did. Without a doubt, it was
bloody hard. Addiction is a beast of a thing, and I was so heavily addicted to
cigarettes that there were times I thought I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t
be a smoker. Crazy huh? I’d tell myself things like “you’ve gotta die of
something, may as well be something you enjoy.” But since quitting, I’ve
discovered things I enjoy even more, and they’re not even gonna kill me!
I rarely get sick now (although that changed recently when
my baby started day care and started bringing a heap of germs home). Even when
I do get sick though, I recover a lot quicker.
I now own a house, a car, and plenty of nice things and I go
on real holidays. Yeah, so I have a mortgage, but even that would have been
impossible with how much I was spending on smokes.
With all the extra time (and self-esteem) I had when I quit, my life started to turn around in so many more ways. I took up study, I joined volunteering groups, I got a job I loved, I left a toxic relationship and built a loving, respectful relationship. It was such a huge turning point for me.
Most of all, as a non-smoker for 8 years, I FEEL FREE.
To sum it up:
If you’re considering quitting smoking, or some other habit that you don’t want in your life, do it.
Start by focusing on reasons you want to be a non-smoker.
Set a time-frame where you will work on quitting. Aim to quit as early as possible in that time frame, but give yourself some leeway if needed, and then keep trying the next day.
Identify your habits that are linked with smoking, and either change them or quit them as well.
Track and reward your progress. This might be something as simple as gold stars on the calendar, or perhaps you’ll buy yourself a treat with the money you’ve saved on smoking.
Focus on a project to keep yourself distracted. This will also give you something to show for all the extra time and energy you have.
Introduce self-care and pampering to get you through the crappy feelings of breaking the addiction.
Practice yoga or meditation. Even if you just use YouTube to find some quick 5- or 10-minute videos, it’s a great replacement for the stress relief that you once got from smoking. I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but at least give it a try.
Have a trusty sidekick. Having someone to support you is really important. Also remember that there are resources like Quitline to get counselling and support.
Acknowledge and focus on all the positive differences throughout your quit journey. Every time you have a craving, think instead about the things that have improved since you quit.
I’m not saying that you’ll never feel like smoking again.
But using these strategies has helped me to remain a non-smoker, even through
some really difficult times.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any
other tips to suggest. Or feel free to email me if you have any
questions or would like some support to begin your journey toward being a