Yoga Off The Mat

Taking What You’ve Learned In The Studio To Achieve Big Things IRL

Yoga off the Mat

Raise your hand and say “namaste” if you can relate to this moment: your blissed out bod floats out of savasana, the light and love in you honors the light and love in your yoga teacher, and you commit to riding this peaceful wave as long as possible until…BZZZZZZZZZ!!! Your cell phone rudely jerks you out of your dreamy state. Or maybe it’s your email. Or the car that cuts you off on the highway. Or your boss who decides today is the perfect day for a pay cut. Or whatever. There will always be external forces threatening to fill your brain back up with s**t after you JUST exhaled it all away on your mat. We can’t necessarily control those forces, but we can control how we respond to them. Yoga is not merely physical–in fact, that part is just icing on the cake. Ancient yogis created the postures so they could warm the body up in order to more comfortably sit in stillness. Uh…when was the last time you sat in stillness?! I’m talking physical, mental, emotional stillness. Yeah, I can’t really remember either. But it’s possible. And it can happen without the soothing voice of your yoga teacher lulling you into half pigeon (although we’re on board for that too, right?). This kind of stillness, ease, and compassion truly can be found off your mat. But just like yoga, it’s a practice. I chose pieces of the yamas and niyamas, two components of the yogic 8 Limbed Path (see The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for more yoga philosophy if you want to nerd out like I do!), to help us bring some of these concepts out into our lives. Ready, set, ommmmmm…

Ahimsa: non-harming/kindness

“Be nice to people.” It’s a rule that’s ingrained in all of us (hopefully!), but one we occasionally let slide. We share space, often very tight space, with our fellow humans in the yoga room. You aim to do this peacefully, no matter how much of your neighbor’s sweat is dripping onto your mat. Juxtapose this image with the close quarters of a crowded train, let’s say. Commuter to your right has some serious BO, commuter to your left is bumping into you with her bag, and now you’re late to your meeting because of delays on the track. Suddenly, some of that yogic kindness goes right out the window. Happens to the best of us. But next time you’re ready to glare at your fellow public transportation rider or blame the conductor for your crappy day, ask yourself how you’d act on your mat. We all bring some stress into the studio, and we’re all dealing with that same stress out in the world. And guess what? We’re all in this together, whether that’s in the yoga room or riding to work. A little kindness can turn a day—or even a life—around. Kindness is that powerful, and that cool. Which brings me to a very important question: when is the last time you did or said something nice to YOURSELF? If you’re blanking, hop on that metaphorical yoga mat of your life and practice being kind to YOU. The non-harming energy we send into the universe is not complete unless it circles back to the one who offers it up. You are just as deserving of the love, care, patience, and forgiveness that you give to those around you. So be kind to yourself. Everyday. Promise?

Santosha: contentment

You know that yoga pose you dread? The one that makes you fall on your butt or scrunch up your face or want to run out of the room screaming? Yep, that guy. Close your eyes and imagine yourself in that pose. Once you’ve mentally gone there, remind yourself what your yoga teacher tells you while you’re there. Encouraging words like “only three more breaths” or “you’re stronger than you think” or “go ahead and fall on your butt!” How do those words make you feel? Probably a little more comfortable, a little more calm. That feeling is santosha. Comfort within the discomfort. Calm inside a storm. Our lives present us with that same yoga pose all the time. That breakup. That injury. That assignment. That day from hell. We are constantly being presented with moments that test us and make us want to give up. We see only what we lack, and forget all that we have. To be content means to be inside of that frustration, doubt, sadness, and fear and still remind yourself that you are strong, you are capable, and you are enough. I’m not asking you to be bursting with joy every moment of your life (unless you want to be, in which case more power to ya), but I am asking you to take a few moments amidst the crazy and remind yourself of everything that you’re grateful for—at which point: breathe deeper, acknowledge your strength, and then pick yourself back up.

Aparigraha: non-hoarding/letting go

This is that big juicy twist, that sweet release of sinking into child’s pose, that fleeting moment when you forget what you’re afraid of and suddenly you’re standing on your hands for a millisecond. There’s a reason we leave our mats feeling lighter. The simple (yet very very challenging!) act of being present means we loosen our grip on the people, places, things, and thoughts we so easily latch onto. We decide, for that hour of zen, to detach from what normally fills up waaaaay too much of our brain space, and just focus on being who we are, as we are, in every single sweaty moment. And yes, the sweat helps. We physically rid our bodies of toxins. But the exact same process often occurs mentally as well. All too quickly, however, those people, places, things, and thoughts flood right back in once we roll up our mats. So, I dare you to clean up a little. That’s right, clean out your mental and emotional closets. Who and what is no longer serving you? Who and what is holding you back? Who and what makes you feel insignificant? Who and what doesn’t support your big, beautiful dreams? Take a hard look at any and all of what bubbles up here, and do what you do in the yoga room: loosen your grip. Allow the dead weight to slip from your tired fingers, and then open up your palms and invite in something new. I’ll bet you wind up floating in that handstand for one more millisecond.

Joanna Taubeneck is a yoga instructor at CorePower Yoga in Chicago. She has a BFA in Dance Performance and Choreography from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. She is currently pursuing her master’s degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and Counseling at Columbia College. You can also find her on Instagram.

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