So.... you've got a yoga practice. Perhaps you hop to the studio every now and again, or perhaps you're a hardcore practitioner who doesn't miss a day. Whatever the case may be, I'd like to share a few ideas that I've been exploring as to how we can integrate our yoga practice into our daily lives beyond the mat. Let's explore some of the ways we can evolve a personal practice on the mat, into a lifestyle of dedication and connection out in the world, as the work we dedicate on the mat comes to fruition in our lives, into our vocation, our friendships, relationships, and the way we move through the world.
Let's begin with a moment in time:
It's early afternoon, and the sunlight is streaming in through the windows. I roll out my mat, holding the outer edges with both hands, and give it a little flick to unfold it out and onto the floor. It makes a snapping sound before plopping down onto the ground with a slight thud. I carefully flatten out the edges and adjust the corners. I'm ready for practice, and the length of this rubber mat will be my residence and place of study for the next couple of hours.
The space around is simple. No frills, bells, or whistles. I sit down onto the mat and immediately drop inwards as I venture into a journey of mindfulness and transformation. I connect into my breath as an initial reference point, and begin.
First, comes stillness and a settling process. In the initial moments, the shift is palpable. My breath deepens, and I can immediately feel a sense of inner spaciousness overcome me. Within this space, I begin to notice little places of tension in my body, little knots of tightness, spaces of slight soreness, and the background noise of my mind suddenly reveals itself. 'Wow, has that chatter been there all day?' I begin to watch a little more closely. Just listening and observing, getting used to what's there, and sit with it just a bit more. The longer I sit, the more it settles. I arrive into a simple form of presence and soon, I'm ready to move.
I continue with three Aum's and some slow warm ups; Sufi circles, shoulder rolls, neck rolls, and a few seated stretches into my wrists and hands as the conversations with my breath begin to connect into the movements of my body. I roll onto my hands and knees and explore some wavelike movement through my spine to free some tension through my very core and bones. Soon, as I'm ready, the journey carries further on and I rise to my feet, charting a steady course through a vinyasa sequence that sits somewhere between ashtanga and yoga therapy. The movements and shapes come with fluidity, and technical exploration. I do my best to carry the sensitivity of my breath through each movement, staying in touch with the way my body moves and the way my consciousness interacts to each movement. It's an amazing process, even in the familiar spaces I find something new to explore. With each moment, presence gathers, energy cultivates, strength builds in the body, balance enters the mind, and openness presents itself through the seams of it all. In a search for a flow that is both challenging and sufficient, I guide the practice to a completion when it feels right, and take time to rest on my back. The practice on the mat comes to a close with some final meditation and mantra to close the circle. 'Ah, what a treat! I feel like a new person!' My mind clear, energy uplifted, body balanced, and I feel truly present to the moment at hand. My time on the mat has come to a pleasant completion, and it's time to continue forwards into the day.
Now a great question arises, what comes next? What does your practice on the mat have to do with your practice off the mat? How will you bridge the gap from the insights you've gathered in personal study and share them in daily life, extending your strength and openness into what you do in your life and the people you interact with?
The evolution of the practice asks us to do more, and requires that we have a deeper look at all of the aspects of our lives.
As we explore these questions, we can discover answers by looking at the larger picture, by connecting to the traditional model, in a modern and accessible way.
Beyond the physical movement, the modern yogi lives by a code of ethics. One learns to live with gentleness, learning how to be gentle on the mat, and extend that same gentleness outwards in relating with the world. This gentleness can come through in many ways, but I like to think of it as one which brings a sense of compassion, empathy, and understanding. You may find the same sensitivity that you cultivate in your practice can be applied in any activity you engage in during your day. A conversation with another person can be just as intimate, and imagine if you were to use the same patience and non judgement in a potentially challenging situation that you do when you're working on a new posture in your practice, as you do when you have a challenging interaction outside of the yoga studio.
Through our practice we can learn to stay calm and relaxed in potentially challenging circumstances, and we can learn to carry ourselves with a sense of embodied strength as we move about our business. In this way we can live in a balanced manner, born from the capacity to listen, understand, speak, and act in a harmonious way. I like to think that this sense of balance yields freedom as we live and act in integrity, and with more skilfulness overtime. Of course we can be patient as we make mistakes, remember there's lots to learn along the way and it's all useful information as we find our way!
So as you explore your practice on the mat, remember to connect the lessons you learn through your physical explorations back into your life, relationships, and work. It's entirely possible to integrate the practice into a lifestyle, something we do at all times as a way of life. As you explore some of the ways to connect more deeply, you can always take a look back to the source, and roots of the 8 limbed yogic path which laid out the foundation of the practice as: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi. Here you'll find the roadmap which leads to an integrated and holistic yoga practice. Happy practicing everyone! Hope to see you on the mat and the places in between.