How Does Your Practice Show Up Off the Mat? (April 2018)
Say you’ve been practicing for at least a year or more. You probably noticed you feel stronger physically, perhaps your flexibility has increased, and you are becoming better and better friends with your breath, too. But, the yoga journey is an internal path, more than anything. As you walk this path and continue to let it unfold, you discover a calmer mind, greater equanimity, and so much more.
Yoga for me began with the healing of my heart and mind. I came to the practice just barely escaping a very dark clinical depression where it was a win just to get out of bed at some point in the day (let alone the morning). I noticed the mental and stress-reducing influence of my yoga practice almost immediately. Over the past 12 years however, I’ve continued to grow in my practice and it evolved into so much more than even that mind-body-heart healing.
So, if you’ve just begun walking this path: welcome! And if you’ve been here for a few years or decades, welcome, again. Keep going. Dig deeper. It gets better! There is so much more yoga than asana, and living by the outlined philosophies of yoga is sure to change your life–it is meant to do that.
Here are some ways you can take your yoga practice off the mat.
How you treat yourself & others. The sage Patanjali outlined five Yamas (controls) within the first limb of yoga (asana is the third), as a guideline for living in harmony with society and the environment. First, there is the Yama of Ahimsa, translated as non-violence or non-harming (by the way, that applies to you, the animal kingdom, the planet, and pretty much everything). This is followed by Satya (truth), Aparigraha (non-grasping), Asteya (non-stealing), and Brahmacharya (non-excess).
If any of the yamas come into conflict–-say, if being honest would cause harm to another–-then it is said that Ahimsa should override all else as the other four Yamas are just an extension of Ahimsa.
This is just a tiny dip into Patanjali’s first limb of yoga. Other yogic schools outlined additional Yamas, but the general idea is that before inner peace can be sought, we must first live in right relationship with the world outside of us.
How you get through tough spots. We often first learn how to get through tough spots in life from our asana practice, using the breath. Where the breath goes, the mind follows. Ever notice that you held your breath in hard poses, or you’ve huffed and puffed when it got really challenging? Controlling the breath calms the mind and allows space to flow through with grace. Using this tool, we can not only get through tough postures and physical transitions, but tough life situations and transitions, too!
Beyond breath, yoga offers its timeless philosophy. The Upanishads are one of the sacred books of Hinduism, though largely philosophical in nature and transcendent of religion. They are a collection of 12 books of ancient knowledge, poetry, and writings from several unknown and known authors from thousands of years ago. Essentially they are a compendium of philosophy and queries around understanding consciousness, enlightenment, the nature of God/Universe (in whatever way you connect with that concept), and getting through life.
One of my favorite Upanishads talks about the idea of allowing life to hit us like an eternal wave, letting it move through us as we anchor into equanimity, rather than resisting or being swept away. This brings us back to the concept that no matter what happens in life, our circumstances and challenges are temporary–our true, God-sourced nature is eternal.
Your zoomed-out outlook on life. Yoga asks us to expand our perspective from “Me” (ego) to “we” (universal) and, circling back to the last point, to realize that everything but the Divine will pass. Yes, this might sound familiar as the Bible talks about this: this, too, shall pass.
When we zoom out from the weight of our problems and nit-picked details of our life (which have their purpose because we live in modern times), we can relax a bit into the parts we cannot control and find greater peace amid the constant waves that lift and drop us.
The bigger picture is that we are part of this great ocean of consciousness and we are all trying our best. We can float when we surrender to that flow, rather than sink in resistance to nature. No matter how we fail or succeed it’s all temporary, just like the asanas in our bodies are temporary, and in the end all that matters is how we make our way through.
There are so many more ways to take your practice into your daily life, but these are a great start and a constant practice for all of us. I hope this was helpful and perhaps it might inspire you to live your practice more whole-heartedly. These teachings are timeless. Are there other ways youpractice yoga off your mat? Share below!