Yoga is more than the movement of your body; yoga is a journey that takes its path through your entire life if you let it…
What does it means to take your yoga off the mat and into your life? That your body is physically stronger and more flexible? Well, yes you certainly will be but that isn’t what we really mean. Taking Yoga into the rest of your life means being strong enough to face life’s up’s and down’s, to be flexible enough to face the choices we need to make.
A few months ago my hubby and his two daughters and I went backpacking along a section of the Appalachian trail, it was a tough trail, hubby thinks it was just fine, but me and Ashley beg to differ…. It was Hard!
All up…every step was UP the first day. We climbed 1800 feet in 5 miles that first afternoon and 1300 feet in 7 miles the second day. The 3rd day wasn’t as bad…I mean we had to come down, right. But my legs we were pretty toasted by then. What most people don’t know about me is that I have a neuromuscular condition known as Mcardles disease that cause extreme muscular fatigue and failure. It affects the body’s ability to process sugars for energy. It wont kill me but it makes some things, from walking up a flight of stairs to backpacking for 3 days, challenging.
What does all this have to do with yoga well if hadn’t been for my yoga practice, my long suffering hubby probably would have left me out there….still whining! As I walked along I remembered all that I learned from my teachers…. from yoga. The basic tenets of yoga help us to make choices throughout our lives and in this case to get through what was both a wonderful, fun time with my family and a grueling, physically challenging event, that at times I wasn’t sure I could finish.
Yoga isn’t something that we do only when we roll out our mats, it weaves it’s way throughout our lives, in our minds and actions. Knowing how to practice Ahimsa, to do no harm, was a big help over that weekend. I had to know when I needed to rest, but I needed to balance that with getting to our camp site set up before dark. In Yoga there is a strong emphasis on having a ‘single point of focus’ a ‘Drishti‘. A drishti doesn’t move so you stay focused on a still place while moving or being in a challenging pose. For me during that those long climbs when I thought my legs weren’t going to make it, my breath became my drishti. Just being aware of my breath helped me to put one foot in front of another when my legs were telling me I needed to stop. Using the technique of a dristi can get you through many of life’s tough challenges. Having that stillness within you, no matter what is going on around you, gives you the focus to get through the Chitta vritti. Chitta vritti means chaos of the mind, literally means mental vortex or whirlpool. It’s calming to know that when the mind is all over the place you have a place to go ‘be still’ and organize your thoughts.
Yoga can be everywhere and in every action. So when you are off the mat how does Yoga show up in your life. Where, in your life, can you start applying what you have learned from your practice? Give it some thought. And here are a few tips for taking your yoga off the mat and into your life.
- Attend to your Breath: Just like in yoga class, breathe when uncomfortable situations come up, bringing with them emotions like anger, sadness and fear. Breathing helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system prompting the relaxation response. So just like on the mat breathing with purpose and awareness can help us to relax and therefore change a stressful situation.
- Be aware of what you feel: Notice your feelings, emotional stress can come up in the body as muscle tension, or headaches or an upset digestive system. But our feelings are not the problem. It’s when we try to control them or we refuse to face them that is the real problem. So when faced with a stressful situation sit with it and allow the feelings the come up to move through you, without you trying to clutch at them. Use your breath to control that knee jerk reaction.
- Witness yourself: Witness consciousness is the capacity to notice what’s happening without judgment, the ability to observe with deep compassion and understanding. When we can step outside ourselves for a moment and witness whats going on we can gain new understanding of the subtleties in life. Just like on the mat when we step away from a pose and look at the subtleties of movement and alignment we gain a better understanding of the pose .
- Allow things to unfold naturally: If we can allow painful sensations to arise and pass on the mat then we can do the same in life. We can’t control other people, situations, or things, but we can learn to let things pass, to ‘let things go’ without always trying to fix or change them. We can relax and experience what’s happening instead of trying to force it.
“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson