Yoga: Off the mat and into life
The practices of yoga are meant to touch the whole fabric of our lives, not just our physical health. Thousands of years old, yogic wisdom contains profound practical relevance for life and living in the modern world.
The word “yoga” means “union”. When you experience everything as one in your consciousness, then you are in yoga. To start with, you work with the body, then you move on to the breath, then to the mind, then to the inner self.
Yoga is often experienced as an asana class, which happens on a yoga mat. Something profound happens when we move our body mindfully, focus on our breath, and quiet the mind. Something within us is transformed, so that the way we see the same stressors, people, and interactions before our practice, is different as a result of our practice.
Have you ever wondered, “What is the yoga off my mat? How do I live this in my life, not only during my practice?”
The Paths of Yoga
‘Yoga off the mat’ refers to how we are walking in the world – what are we doing with our life, our speech, our actions. The 4 paths of yoga as outlined in the Bhagavad Gita can be viewed as stages of development and offer a pathway that leads us to our True Self, beyond our body, mind, emotions and intellect.
Rāja Yoga – the yoga of meditation. Also known as the Ashtanga (8-limbs) system, most yoga classes in today’s society are steeped in the Raja Yoga path. The restlessness of the mind has caused our attention to be carried away or disconnected from our True Essence, according to this path. The solution is to calm the mind through meditation to reveal the Oneness that we are in our truest essence.
Jñāna Yoga – the yoga of will and intellect. Jnana means ‘knowledge’ or the ability to contemplate, ask questions, and enquire into the nature of life; it also includes studying the texts of yoga. This path asserts that our ego-based ignorance keeps us from knowing our true nature. Through self-reflection, we learn that we are living a shared human experience – we can connect to this native humanity and embody life, and vitality, and love itself.
Karma Yoga – the yoga of action and selfless service. Karma yoga is the act of giving to others, giving back to the greater good, treating people with respect, and volunteerism. Where Karma yoga begins is with an understanding of what has been binding us and what limits us through our ‘soul journey’. It also refers to the act of giving (dana) or generosity, even of our resources. We can demonstrate non-attachment when we give more than we think we can, even if there is uncertainty or discomfort in the process. It is not just giving what is within your means because it is easy to give.
Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of devotion. This path resonates most with those of an emotional nature. It asks us to purify and transform our egotistic self-love by focusing the mind on sacred thoughts, transferring all of our love and emotions into the Divine essence that permeates all.
Tools for taking yoga off the mat
Yoga was not meant to be an isolated event on a mat. It is a full-spectrum, life-integrated, personal and societal path and practice. It goes beyond the physical practice (asana) and beyond the breath practice (pranayama). Yoga is not encompassed by any one practice; it is in all of the practices. It enriches our life and our vitality, and in the process, we can feel the impulse or inclination to be of service.
Here are 5 beautiful and simple ways to live yoga, off the mat.
1. Focus on the breath. When uncomfortable thoughts or feelings arise, focusing on the breath can take us from fight, flight or freeze to a parasympathetic nervous system response that promotes relaxation. Breathing into the sensations can cause them to relax and change.
2. Cultivate mindfulness. Bringing mindful awareness to daily routines or mundane tasks can help us stay focused in the present moment and live our lives to a greater fullness.
3. Practice loving-kindness. As we move through life, what if we could develop a habit of being kind and loving to ourselves? Replace that voice of self-criticism or comparison to others with words of encouragement, acceptance and loving-kindness to self.
4.Keep an attitude of gratitude. Take time in the early morning to write about things that you feel grateful for. Studies have shown that people who write about what they are thankful for have higher levels of optimism than those who didn’t write anything at all.
5. Commit to transformation. Yoga is about transformation, both physical and spiritual. Make a commitment to transforming yourself mentally and emotionally, and take each day as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, reaching for your best you.
Every one of us has our own journey in life, but yoga can offer us stepping stones along the way to living a more inspired existence.
By Jessica Sanders, BSc, DipNat, DipMedHerb, RYT200 Yoga