Learning Compassion Through Yoga

As humans we all experience judgment. There are many times where we can be incredibly quick to come to a conclusion about a person, a place, or a thing – often based off of a first glance – and while we are so quick to judge others, we are even quicker to judge ourselves, making judgment seem like one of the hardest habits to break.

But lucky for us… we have this thing called yoga.

The more we step onto our mats the more we delve deeper into these judgments about ourselves and others. Through 5-14our practice of movement, breathing, and mindfulness we allow ourselves to become observers: observers of our thoughts, observers of our feelings, and observers of how we choose to react to those thoughts and feelings. Do we allow ourselves to get distracted, fall out in frustration, and feel shame for the lack of integrity? Or can we move through the experience with presence and mindfulness and compassion?

When I first started practicing yoga it was purely for the physical workout. I was recovering from a knee injury, I wanted to become more flexible, and I wanted to get strong – drop some pounds and get myself in better shape. While the dedication to a consistent, Vinyasa practice did help me to strengthen and tone and create more fluidity within my body, I started to noticed a bigger shift beginning to happen. Instead of rolling out my mat for a workout, I found myself rolling out my mat for a “work in.” My practice was allowing me to slowly break down the walls I had built up – the harsh judgments, the limiting beliefs, and the self doubt that I had been carrying around with me for so long. The doors of compassion were beginning to open.

It wasn’t until my 200-hour teacher training that I really began to understand what it meant to be compassionate towards myself. Thanks to self-inquiry and a consistent journaling practice I began to bring more awareness to my judgments and when and why they were showing up. During a practice, I would try to be mindful of when that harshFORGIVE2 voice would get loud, criticizing myself, another student, or the teacher. After the practice I would write in my journal, noting what judgments came up for me and reflecting on what I was feeling at that moment and why I was feeling that way. I began to see a pattern. I was way too hard on myself and in return, I was way too hard on others. I expected myself to be perfect and I expected others to maintain the same type of perfection. And many times I began to notice that the things I found to be annoying or frustrating about someone or something else were usually qualities that I seemed to hold as well…oof! That’s always a tough pill to swallow.

But one of the most beautiful things I’ve come to understand about compassion is that it can mold and move with us as we continue to grow. Now that I am teaching, I’ve begun to look at compassion through a completely different set of eyes. Because when you take on that role as teacher, you automatically begin to hold a space for others who are breaking through their own judgments and doubts and limiting beliefs. I wasn’t able to fully grasp what it meant to be compassionate towards others until I truly learned what it meant to be compassionate towards myself. And we’re not talking about the pity kind of compassion, but a much deeper kind of compassion, coming from a place that we are all one. As a teacher you quickly learn that everyone shows up on their mats for different reasons – some as light as physical exercise and some as heavy as to deal with death, depression, or addiction. It’s a reminder that we are all doing the best that we can with what we’ve been given and no matter how different we may appear on the surface, we all experience the same types feelings, insecurities, and judgments on the inside.

I now understand that compassion is the key to community and harmony. The more we practice bringing compassion onto our mats, the more we will see compassion showing up for us off of our mats. As we begin to loosen the shackles of perfection, we forgive ourselves for all of the too-quick conclusions that we have made. In understanding and appreciating both our positive attributes and our quirky flaws (because we all have them) we learn to understand and appreciate those qualities in others. In releasing our judgments and limiting beliefs we inspire others to do the same. So the next time you roll out your mat, I encourage you to ask yourself the question, “Where can I show myself more compassion?” Then allow the doors to open.




Cait Lawson is a RYT-200 and Living Yoga Ambassador currently located in Rincon, Puerto Rico where she teaches yoga, SUP yoga/fitness, and offers surf lessons and eco-tours around the island. Follow more of her adventures at

Ten Lessons Learned My First Year Teaching Yoga

This past year has been a whirlwind: I quit my bartending job in Florida, my boyfriend and I moved to Puerto Rico, and I started my career teaching yoga. I was always told that the first year as a yoga teacher would be the most challenging year, but that it would also be a pivotal: it was to be a time of coming into your own, a time for learning, growing, and developing your unique style of teaching. As I reflect on this past year’s worth of classes I realize that yes, at times it was definitely challenging, but I also realized how far I’ve come since that very first, slightly awkward, class. After a year of teaching I’ve become more comfortable with the position of “teacher,” I’ve begun to settle into a style of my own, and I’ve gained more than I can retain. With thousands of lessons learned throughout this first year, I managed to whittle them down to the top ten. Here they are:

1. Confidence is key. The second you start doubting yourself it shows, and when you start doubting yourself the whole energy of the class will change. Avoid the awkwardness, please! The second you walk into thesalutepaka classroom own and hold your space as the teacher. Know that YOU know what you are doing.

2. Always be open to feedback. And not just from other teachers, but also from your students. Even if it may be a suggestion you don’t whole-heartedly agree with take it in, with a smile, and move on. Do not look at this feedback as criticism – look at it as an opportunity to learn and as a way to develop and strengthen your own personal style of teaching.

3. Be unmessable! This phrase has stuck with me ever since my 200-hour TT. Sometimes people are going to do their own thing during your class. Sometimes there might be a person that doesn’t like your class. Sometimes no one shows up to your class. Instead of beating yourself up or allowing the negative thoughts to take over, look at it, once again, as a learning experience. Gurus are not made overnight. Be patient and stay positive.

4. If, or when, no one shows up use that time wisely. Practice alone or with another teacher. Meditate. Do some handstands. Get outdoors and play. Don’t let the no-shows get into your head. Don’t let the external situations – that are totally out of our control – dim your light (remember, we are unmessable now!).

5. Teach, teach, and teach some more! Your first year as a teacher you learn A TON! You are like a new sponge waiting to absorb everything you can. But, the only way to learn a ton is to teach a ton. Sub classes whenever you can. Start teaching a free or donation-based Community Class. Get your friends together and practice-teach in your backyard. Like anything – the more you do it the more comfortable you become with it.

6. Don’t let your personal practice slip. Take a lot of yoga classes and establish a strong home-practice as well. I think it’s really important for a teacher to find a balance between practicing by yourself and practicing under different teachers (and practicing different styles of yoga). Take ideas and concepts from your own personal, at-home practice and let that be the guide for your next class. Find little things you like from the teachers you look up to and start to incorporate that into your sequences. Draw inspiration from your journey through yoga to share with your students, but don’t forget that you, too, will ALWAYS be a student.

7. Don’t rely on your plan. As a new teacher you never know who is going to show up to your class. Until you get a solid group of regulars, you can expect almost anyone to walk through the front door. It always seemed like the days I planned to have a kick-butt, high-powered class, an older student with a shoulder injury would be the only person to show. Instead of letting it throw me off, I would look at it as an opportunity to practice teaching a slower flowing, Restorative-style class. I’ve gotten to where now I don’t even plan my classes at all!

8. Know your limits as a new teacher. Don’t try to get students into poses that you don’t feel comfortable teaching or don’t have practice teaching. If there are students with certain injuries or situations that you don’t feel comfortable teaching to, be honest. If you don’t know an answer to a student’s question, be honest. Don’t try to be the teacher that you aren’t (yet!). Admit to being new — it’s totally OK! Not knowing is way better than risking an injury.

9. Stay on top of your game. It’s important to invest in yourself as a teacher: take workshops, online courses, or different teacher trainings. Pick up and read your old TT manuals, anatomy books, and journals to stay sharp. Personally, I’ve committed myself to do at least one new training a year.

10. Have fun with it! Don’t go into teaching expecting to make a lot of money right off the bat, because honestly, that’s not going to happen. And maybe it’ll never happen, but that shouldn’t matter! Realize how lucky you are that you get to share this gift of yoga with others. Set standards for yourself as a teacher and always hold yourself accountable, but never take yourself, your classes, or your teaching too seriously. Be able Headshot-WebRes1to laugh at yourself when you mess up. Stay humble. Always be happy to see your students and always try your hardest to remember their names. Like Maya Angelou said, “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Caitlin Lawson is a yoga practicing, wave sliding, positive vibe warrior based out of Rincon, Puerto Rico. Caitlin is a RYT-200, WPA Level 1 Certified, and SUP Yoga Certified. She is the founder of Sunburnt & Salty Yoga Company –