Walk Like a Yogi: How to Live Your Yoga Practice Off the Mat
Photo Courtesy of Conscious Living TV
As many die hard yogis can attest, committing to a consistent yoga asana (Sanskrit for pose) practice can lead to more flexibility, strength, balance and overall serenity.
However, as extolled in the Bhagavad Gita, the true test of a yogi is their ability to bring his or her practice off the mat and into the trials, tribulations and successes of everyday life. After practicing and teaching yoga for over ten years, I have found that this is the most humbling and satisfying part of the practice.
While the idea of equanimity sounds simple, it can be quite challenging when faced with pressures at work, home or in our relationships with others. Read on for tips on how to master the difficult life asanas that will help you live your yoga practice off the mat, where it really counts.
1. Be Present. One of the first instructions I offer my yoga students is to give themselves permission to be 100% in the room, accepting whatever they feel in the present moment. In the larger world, many of us are on auto pilot, living life through to-do lists like automatons without a deeper connection to what’s happening spiritually within and around us. To be present in the world as yogis, we have to let go of whatever did or did not happen in the past and what may or may not occur in the future to fully experience the spiritual blessings available only in the present moment.
2. Breathe. When we’re angry or stressed, we tend to hold our breath. In Ashtanga yoga, the Ujjayi (warrior) breath is an essential thread connecting each pose, providing physical endurance as we send the life force into challenging positions and helping us detoxify our bodies as we bring awareness to areas filled with tension. The next time you find yourself in a difficult conversation with a colleague or loved one, instead of huffing, puffing, or panting your way through it, try using the Ujjayi breath instead:
- Inhale slowly to the count of five through both nostrils simultaneously, allowing the air to make a rustling sound (like the ocean) in the back of your throat as it comes up the windpipe.
- Slowly exhale to the count of five, making the same rustling sound as you mindfully send the air back down your windpipe.
- Send the breath - your life force – to any tense areas or emotions, and allow them to slowly loosen their grip, melting away with each exhale.
3. Ground Yourself. Many classes begin with an asana that appears to be very simple, but is actually quite complex: Tadasana. This pose is excellent when transitioning from one task to another, or anytime you feel intimidated, anxious, flighty or imbalanced:
- Stand up straight and centered vertically on the floor. Find the balance between your front and back body. Feel all four corners of both feet planting you firmly into the earth. Gaze softly upward towards the point between the eyebrows, the center of will and spiritual perception.
- With an inhale, lift your heart, opening up to all of your emotions and the power of the present moment.
- On an exhale, pull your shoulders down and away from the ears, then squeeze the shoulder blades together towards the back of your heart.
- Inhale the crown of your head toward the sky, elongating your neck long without hunching the shoulders.
- Exhale, engaging your inner core. Bring your navel towards the spine, tucking your tailbone with the ribcage in.
- Breathe, feeling the empowerment that comes from grounding and centering your energy.
4. Detach from Outcomes. In many of my classes, there are students who are more concerned with getting into a specific pose and what it looks like from the outside than listening to their bodies and the inner wisdom that flows from within. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna counsels Arjuna to “perform all actions forsaking attachment [to their fruits]. Being indifferent to success and failure, this mental evenness is termed yoga.” Off the mat, by acting in good conscience for ourselves and others without regard to particular outcomes, we remain free from the grip of ego-derived personal wants and desires, which are not always in alignment with the Divine will.
Whatever challenging poses life brings you, by continuing to commit to regular practice — however it looks — you are sure to find serenity both on and off the mat.