08 Mar Four ways to take yoga off the mat and into everyday life
Often when we think of ‘yoga’ our first reaction is to think of the physical movements, the poses, or the asana. The things we do on our mat in a room full of people. And that is certainly where most of us begin. But when we allow ourselves to delve deeper, the practice starts way before we hit our mat and continues long after we leave it. It starts with how we interact with ourselves and others, long before we see the postures themselves.
Incorporating the yogi way of life into our everyday existence can be a daunting process, so we’ve chosen four of our favourite ways to give you somewhere to begin.
If you’ve been to a yoga class, you would have noticed there’s a lot of importance placed on the breath. And for good reason. Our breathing is something that happens all day every day, but when we start to take control of the breath (called pranayama) we can start to dramatically shift how we feel. This can be more obvious in the yoga room as we are breathing and moving together. But you don’t need the movements to start to take control of your breath.
Anytime you feel busy, stressed, distracted, upset, or simply out of sorts, find your breath immediately. Take a moment. Close your eyes. And take a long deep inhale to the count of four, pause for just a moment at the top of your inhale, then exhale for the count of four. Repeat this process five to 10 times and notice how you can quickly slow the mind and become more grounded in your body.
Meditation (often done in savasana or other times during a yoga class) helps us to become aware of what is happening in the exact moment we’re in. It helps us get out of our own way and arrive back in our body. It’s not about stopping the thoughts or trying to change how we feel in an instant – that is near impossible – but more about giving ourselves the space and time to become really familiar with ourselves. How does the body feel, how does the breath feel as it moves, where are we holding tension or tightness?
A really easy way to dip your toe in meditation is to simply sit with your eyes closed and watch your breathing. Watch (and feel) as the breath moves into the body, notice where you feel your breath, the experience the sensation of the air flowing in through your nostrils, and then watch it when it leaves. You will notice your breathing will tend to deepen and your focus will slowly start to land more into your body. And when we spend more and more time in the present moment, there tends to be less to be stressed and anxious about.
Ahimsa or non-violence
Ahimsa is where the practice begins. It’s the first yama, which is the first limb in the eight limbs of yoga. Ahimsa directly translates to non-violence or non-harming. While this does speak to the physical harm of one’s self and others, it also speaks to more subtle ways of causing injury. This includes self-doubt, judgement of the self and others, and negative comments. Ahimsa asks you to first be compassionate and loving to yourself in thought, word, and action. Then asks you to do the same for others.
Often this is the hardest part of our practice. Start by watching the kinds of thoughts you have about yourself and those around you. “I’m not good at this”, “I need to lose weight”, “That person is really irritating me”. Things you might not even realise you were thinking. Notice them, see how they make you feel, and try to shift them if you can. Then again notice how that makes you feel. “I am new to this task, I am slowing learning”, “I am enough, just as I am”, “This person is clearly in need of some love and attention themselves”. Ahimsa asks us to come from love. And when you do, you see more love around you.
Tapas or discipline
In our modern age of technology and distraction, discipline is something we could all use a little more of. Tapas, which is one element of the second limb of yoga niyama, speaks to the concept of discipline, focus, and working hard in order to move forward.
Tapas translates to fire or ‘to burn’. The idea is that when we work hard, often outside our comfort zone, the heat and fire that creates, burns away the things that we don’t need. That can be the ‘not enough’ thoughts, a lack of drive, excuses. While staying for a long time in a strong yoga pose certainly amounts to tapas, so does getting up that little bit earlier to make yourself a healthy breakfast. Or committing to reading that book, every single night, because you know it will help you at work, even if it’s not your first choice of reading material.
Tapas isn’t about creating unnecessary work. It’s about committing to something and staying with it, even when you want to quit or things get uncomfortable. Because in the end, it’s going to make you stronger and more aligned with who you want to be.