What does it mean to you to practice yoga off the mat? I’ve always felt that the greatest challenge and benefit to my yoga practice was how I took yoga with me off the mat, when I wasn’t in the midst of my asana practice.
I know that so many of us are going through difficulties these days. However, once I paused and thought about it, my yoga practice has been preparing me for unexpected chaos and difficulty all along.
It’s truly how we bring our yoga practice into our daily lives that makes it the most meaningful and alive. I am a recovering people-pleaser, perfectionist and overachiever who is so incredibly hard on myself most of the time. I’ve had to really practice ahimsa (nonviolence) in the context of not beating myself up when experiencing setbacks in life. Oftentimes, when we find ourselves in turmoil, our yoga mat may be the last place we want to be. It’s a place where we can focus on our bodies, our hearts, on where we are in this moment. That level of self-reflection isn’t always fun or easy. We can also do this through meditation or journaling or immersing ourselves in nature (utilizing yoga off the mat). After some time away from our asana practice, it can feel like it is the first time we are practicing all over again. This is when we turn our focus to listening to our bodies, giving ourselves grace and doing only what we can do in the moment. By the end of class, we feel so much better and are able to emotionally and physically release some of the tension and emotions that may have been building up in our bodies.
One of the most difficult things about experiencing challenges in life is that we can often feel disconnected from our bodies and from ourselves. Yoga has always helped me come back to myself and understand that my body may not be where I want it to be in any particular moment, but it has always protected me and is strong and resilient. The theme of a yoga class I attended recently was self-love, and that is exactly what we need to focus on in order to move through discomfort and disconnection and give our bodies the attention and care they need to heal and strengthen.
In times of difficulty, there are so many tools along the path of yoga that can bring us back to the moment and allow us grace and space to heal (physically, emotionally, spiritually). Meditation (dhyana), turning inward (pratyahara), mindful breathing (pranayama), postures (asana) and the wisdom of the yamas and niyamas (along with a beautiful community of friends and family) have always brought me much-needed strength, peace, acceptance and hope along the way as I have moved through unexpected life challenges. My hope for you is that you are also able to reach for these beautiful tools when you are in the midst of difficulties; they are there for us to return to again and again. Let’s all be here for one another as we embrace all that this life brings us, both the successes and struggles.