Yoga Off the Mat

Practicing yoga, we know the feeling of a calmer mind, focused awareness, and often times blissful relaxation. But what happens when we're off the mat? Are we able to take what we learn in class and apply it to our daily lives?



It's the middle of yoga class...your body is warmed up, your mind has settled in and you're focused on each movement and each breath, following the voice of the instructor through each asana. It's time just for you, to check in with yourself, to quiet your mind, and sometimes maybe to challenge yourself a little bit. When class is done, you feel great and go back out into the world, with that feeling from class lingering for a few hours, maybe longer. But then, some negative or stressful thing happens and you're thrown off kilter until the next class. How can we take what we learn and experience about ourselves on the mat and apply it to our lives off the mat?



Most yoga classes will start will some sort of self check-in, connecting with the breath, noticing anything that's pulling on our attention and finding our way to being as aware as possible in the present moment, warming up our mindbody as we prepare to move our way through an asana practice with care and mindfulness. During practice, we may find that on a particular day, a certain pose may offer a particular challenge and we have to decide if it is one to feel into or one to leave alone for now and try again on another day. We are constantly making these decisions throughout our practice, reflecting and learning through each breath and each movement. Many classes end with a period of rest in Savasana, and some classes may have a pranayama practice and/or meditation practice after that. A moment of gratitude is often observed to complete the class as we bring our attention back to the external world.



Is there a way to bring that experience into our external world and apply it to the course of daily lives? Of course there is! We can use the pieces of a yoga practice throughout our lives, and if we want, we can even incorporate external things we want to address into our practice as well. Let's start at the beginning, with breath awareness. Although our environment at a workplace or at home (these days those may be the same place) is not the same as the environment at a yoga studio, we can still take a moment (or multiple moments) anytime during the day to pause, close our eyes, connect with our breath and do our own little self check-in. Just as we gave our external thoughts some space during class, we can give them space any time we like. Of course, we have to solve problems and deal with stresses, but many times taking a break from them can actually bring clarity.


If what we're faced with is particularly challenging, we can call in what we know from our practice about encountering a difficult moment during class...we know what to do with that, right? We can breath, reflect, and decide what the best course of action is to take for ourselves in that moment. Maybe it's best to leave it be and come back to it another day. That's not always possible, understandably, but we're not entirely powerless in the face of adversity either. We can always decide one way or the other, then reflect on the decision or the outcome and move forward from there.



Then there's the resting part. Depending on the practice, it may come at the end, in the middle, or it might be a whole class of restorative or yin poses that help you relax more deeply. For many of us, that class we take is the time we set aside for ourselves for self-care and self-reflection, but it can also be a microcosm of what's possible throughout our days, incorporating periods of rest and relaxation into them. Again, we can pause just about any time, check in with ourselves and decide what's needed.


(photo credit: Charl Folscher)


Beyond a class or an individual practice, Yoga philosophy and teaching offer even more insights and suggestions to use in our lives to create balance. Although there are different yogic traditions, a commonly taught tradition is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras which include 8 limbs of yoga, offering guidance on ways to explore, self-reflect, and live a more harmonious life, with ourselves and with the Universe. Like with any ancient texts, there are often different interpretations to be explored, but there is general agreement on what they are. Here are some brief descriptions to get started (click on highlighted words for more in-depth descriptions):

  • Yamas - Five aspects related to our relationship with the external world, the awareness of the inter-connections that exist within it, and how we participate with it in our own unique way.

  • Niyamas - Five aspects related to our relationship with ourselves.

  • Asana - All aspects of work done with the body, including postures (dynamic, static, symmetrical, asymmetrical), extensions, contractions, rotations, etc., incorporating a dimension of breath as well.

  • Pranayama - Expansion of Prana (life force) through regulation and mastery of the breath.

  • Pratyahara - Mastery of the senses, bringing them from the purely external, reflecting, and integrating them with our internal selves.

  • Dharana - Concentrating and directing the mind in one direction, increasing the ability to remain there with focused attention.

  • Dhyana - The deepening of Dharana, creating a meditative and intimate relationship with our direction of focus.

  • Samadhi - Further deepening awareness to the point of complete absorption and integration, total union and immersion, creating bliss and delight.



Bringing yogic principles into your life, off the mat, could have a profound effect on how you go through your days. You might revisit the focus you found in your practice and apply it to a work problem. Or take a pause and breathe before responding to a triggered response in your relationships with others. We can ground ourselves in our practice with grounding poses and grounding breathe. We can feel energized by energizing poses and energizing breathe. We can bring ourselves back to the space of our practice, back to the present moment at any time; grounding, energizing, relaxing as needed. This may sometimes be easier said than done, of course, and sometimes deeper, more challenging things may arise. This is where building a community is very important in addition to the practices we do on our own. Nurturing our relationships and ourselves keeps important connections available when we need extra support. Incorporating time, even just a few minutes a day, for meditation, journaling, or any other self-reflective practices can be incredibly rewarding and go a long way towards keeping us present and truly enjoying life in each moment.


What are some areas of your life that could use the influence of your yoga practice to go more smoothly or solve a problem? What relationships do you feel triggered by and how might you use your yoga practice and other self-reflective practices to find a new perspective? Take some time this week to explore and experiment with your yoga practice, maybe bringing an external challenge to it to find clarity, or taking what you know from your practice and applying it to your life, off the mat.



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