Off the Mat | 20 Things I’ve Learned in 20 Years

I have recently had the pleasure of attending my 20-year high school reunion. And I do say “pleasure” without a whisper of irony. I was genuinely curious to find out how my classmates had evolved since being liberated from the insular microcosm that defines the high school experience.

The age of teen-hood is arguably the most conflicted of all the chapters in our life story.  I was no exception. Struggling to define myself as an individual, I was at my most vulnerable yet also the most intrepid. I was typically sullen yet fueled by bravado. I was driven by a passion to right the injustices of the world, but succumbed often to self-centeredness. I followed the lead of my peers, offering judgement with rapid-fire aim, and yet suffering deep and painful humiliation when the arrows inevitably turned toward me.

Teenagers are human beings at our most cruel, most passionate, and most curious. In yogic philosophy we refer to this type of energy as “rajas”. From the Sanskrit roots for “impure” and “passion”, rajasic energy is described as one that is turbulent, fiery, and frenetic. Fortunately for our teenage selves, rajasic energy is difficult to sustain for any long period of time, so we (hopefully) do outgrow this. At least I’d like to think I did.

All of the inescapable navel gazing that precedes such milestone events as high school reunions inspired me to contemplate how I have evolved, and what I have learned. I willingly accredit my dedication to a flourishing yoga practice as the single most influential force in my evolution as a human being. On the mat I learn patience, acceptance, humility and grace. For me, the yoga I learn on the mat is simply a metaphor for how I interact with myself and others. My asana practice is a mere fraction of the yoga I integrate into each day.

If I could turn back the clock and have a good heart-to-heart conversation with my teenage self, I would assure her that as smart as she thinks she is, she has way more to learn. This is what I would tell her.


    1. They are only mistakes if you don’t learn from them.  Some mistakes I had to learn a number of times over, but eventually the lesson did sink in. Perhaps repetition, as in yoga, is the key to deeper understanding.
    2. Lessons such as : It doesn’t have to hurt to be love. I will never forget a work colleague’s keen observation: “Remember when it hurt so much, it had to be love?” I recall past loves that were detonated by jealousy, betrayal, and other adaptations of impassioned drama. Mercifully, I learned that the most gratifying love can be uncomplicated and gloriously peaceful.
    3. When it comes to choosing a mate, don’t  convince yourself that you are prepared to take on “the fixer upper”. You don’t have the time, energy, nor the right to take on someone’s else’s corporeal or spiritual renovation. Your energy is much better spent on transforming yourself into your most ideal version, and graciously accepting what others offer to you in return.
    4. Memories are emotional, not factual. When reasoning or arguing from the distant past, your partner will never remember it quite like you do. Best to stay in the present moment, and articulate what you feel right now.
    5. Confidence is the ultimate manifestation of  true beauty. If you come across a potential mate that is threatened by your confidence, back away slowly and purposefully.
    6. You are a product of both nurture and nature. At some point in your life, something will come out of your mouth and you will hear your mother’s voice. As unsettling as that can be, endeavour to embrace the idea that your ancestors continue to live through you. All the door slamming in the world won’t silence wisdom.
    7. Often forgiveness is easier than permission. Make decisions boldly from the heart, and be willing to acknowledge your errors of judgement.
    8. With time, space, and money, it isn’t necessary, nor advisable, to use all that you have.
    9. You have been given two ears and one mouth for a reason. The ability to simply listen without offering your perspective or comparative experience is the often the best gift you can offer to a friend.
    10. Wishing is not goal-setting. You must willingly and courageously take action to make things happen in your life.
    11. You will never have the body, nor the metabolism, you had when you were 18. But what you will gain is the ability to consume mindfully and understand what makes your body thrive. You will nourish yourself with self-acceptance and forgiveness.
    12. You will be the happiest with your own self-image when you give yourself permission to be who you really are. As a teenager I spent years (and a small fortune) trying to will my hair to be curly and bouncy. Did you notice I am Asian? Once I offered a peace treaty to my true self, peace filtered into all aspects of my life.
    13. Treat your own body as a sacred sanctuary, and others will come to worship at your altar.
    14. Our responsibility in life, on and off the mat, is to discern between what is painful and what is challenging. When something causes you pain, retreat. When something is challenging, breathe.
    15. When struggling with something inside, go outside. A meditative walk with the resonance of whispering trees or crashing waves almost always helps you to gain perspective. At the very least, it inspires you to breathe fresh oxygen into the depth of your lungs.
    16. Learn to retire your ego souvenirs. Ok, so my teenage self was a dancer with an impossibly tiny waist. I also had knees wracked with pain and consumed cigarettes instead of food.
    17. Busy is not a badge of honour. I have decided to retire the phrase “I am so busy” from my vernacular There was a great article that went viral a few months back that described this phrase as “a boast wrapped in a complaint”. It’s a universal fact, especially in the western world, that life is busy. Instead I want to acknowledge and offer gratitude for the precious moments I am doing something because I want to, not because I have to.
    18. 20 years ago, I maintained a vivacious circle of friends who interacted on a regular basis without any help from email, smart phones, and social media. It is entirely possible, perhaps even preferable, to continue to allow your face-to-face relations to determine who your “friends” really are.
    19. Celebrate delayed, rather than instant, gratification. We live in a world ruled by the demons of desire. We have been conditioned to believe we deserve everything and anything right now. But there is much gratification to be gleaned from practicing patience. We can celebrate the act of crafting something from our own labours, like a hand-knit scarf or a meal made from scratch, possibly even from our own garden. As an exceedingly precious commodity, time deserves to be relished, rather than just consumed.
    20. Peace in, peace out. Graduating from high school in the early nineties signified amongst my peers a brief resurgence of the peace movement. We held in utmost esteem the musicians from the Woodstock era- The Grateful Dead,  Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix. The first Gulf War erupted in the Middle East, and I joined my friends in marching zealously in the streets with signs that read “No blood for oil” and “Peace now.” Since then I have come to understand that conflict is more likely to arise, whether between nations or neighbours, from a place of inner turmoil. To borrow a gem from Marianne Williamson, “we must actively cultivate the conditions of peace.” When we commit to creating our own selves as peaceful sanctuaries, we are less likely to engage in conflict with others. Any activities that enable us to cultivate conditions of internal peacefulness, whether nourishing one’s people or nourishing one’s spirit, are more likely to result in gratitude and contentment. Whoa. My teenaged self might just be tripping right about now.


AndreaAndrea Ting-Letts is a professional business writer who also teaches Vinyasa yoga and Bellyfit Flow™ in Victoria, BC. Her intention is to infuse a little bit of universal wisdom in her classes.  Andrea can be found online at Infinite Bliss Yoga