As you practice yoga over time, you discover that it’s more than just about becoming stronger, calmer, or finally gaining some flexibility where you always felt tight. There’s an “off the mat” practice that you begin to connect to. You begin feeling like what you’re doing on the mat is symbolic of life as you notice that you don’t get bothered by your co-workers anymore, you stop losing your cool as frequently, or you don’t react to stress nearly as much as you used to. Welcome to the real yoga practice, the one that occurs off the mat.
The postures and breath connect you to all of life. There’s a stream of never ending energy that runs through everything, including us, and you connect to it through the breath. Think of yourself being in a stream of flowing water. This stream has life flowing through it and you’re expanding or contracting at all times with it. A friend once said to me, “you have two choices in every moment, to either open to life or to close to it. Which feels better?” It was simple. It was powerful. It was to the point. Which DOES feel better? Which do YOU do? This is the beginning of your off the mat practice, this awareness of how you move throughout life.
As you’re going about your daily life all kinds of stresses, disappointments, and heartache can come up. How you tend to react to those is very similar if not the same to how you react to the postures that challenge you or that you don’t care for. Do you always run from resistance? Do you make excuses for ourselves? Or do you laugh everything off as if it didn’t matter? Pay attention next time you find yourself reacting in a posture on the mat. Just observe and embrace what you’re experiencing and give yourself permission to feel it. Eventually you’ll find yourself remembering this awareness next time life is throwing something your way. Just go back to the breath, breathe deep, and feel what’s coming up. Then you can choose to act from there.
Just making that connection can be powerful. It’s much easier at first to stay with some resistance you encounter in the yoga posture on the mat, then to remember to not lose your cool next time someone upsets you. But the more you’re willing to feel, breathe into, “make friends with” what’s happening on the mat, you’ll be making friends with what happens off the mat. Over time you’ll find yourself reacting differently, and that is the real practice.
Welcome to the magic of yoga.