Beyond the Mat.
When I started teaching yoga, little did I know that I would have to be more intentional about being a student as well. Teaching and learning are two completely different things. I don’t get to lay in savasana soaking up the benefits of my hard earned practice with my students.
So, prior to my 35th birthday last month, I committed to stepping on my mat for 35 days in a row - as a student, not a teacher. I quickly remembered the discipline required for such a commitment.
The week started off great. I was on my mat, flowing, growing, letting go, and evolving. Then reality began to set in. I was housesitting, traveling, and spending way too much time in my car leaving me little time to step on my mat.
I began to beat myself up for not following through, for not upholding my commitment to myself. That’s when I remembered that yoga transcends the walls of the studio. It isn’t about simply stepping onto your mat, but rather turning inward, quieting the chatter of your mind, finding peace in the midst of a chaotic world.
It was time I put into practice those lessons I share with my students each week. So, I began to “practice” yoga every day in a way that served me best.
Below are four yoga lessons I practice both on and off my mat:
Find Balance - whether garudasana (eagle), vrksasana (tree) or virabhadrasana 3 (warrior 3), I work on balance every time I step onto my mat. Some days I manage it better than others. The idea is that I practice. I notice the areas where I’m shaky, I use my breath to steady me, and I set my gaze on a single point of focus. Off my mat, some days I get it right - I work, play, and spend time with my family in equal measures. Other days, I notice where I’m shaky or feel weak - maybe I neglected a family outing or blew off my friends. Simply bringing awareness to the imbalance is key to bringing back the peace and harmony I seek. The next day, I practice again and sometimes get it right. When my priorities are in balance, I notice the ease of my day. There’s a constant ebb and flow of life with little disruption. It’s a beautiful thing to witness and an even more beautiful concept to practice.
Cultivate Positive Thoughts - I often tell my students that the minute they want to get out of a pose is the precise moment they should stay in it. That’s when their muscles are working to build strength and stamina. By getting out of the pose the moment it gets uncomfortable, they cheat themselves out of the growth that’s possible. I encourage students to look at their thoughts in those difficult times. What is their mind telling them? We are only as strong as our weakest thoughts. Off my mat, I work to cultivate positive thoughts. When life gets tough, my schedule is hectic or I begin to feel overwhelmed, the first thing I do is examine my thoughts. What is my mind telling me? Beating myself up for doing this or not doing that, gets me nowhere. Rather, I choose to practice the power of positive thinking. How am I growing and evolving in this moment? How am I building strength and stamina? What am I teaching myself by staying in this moment a little longer? I can’t run from all the problems I face, but I can reframe my thoughts about my current situation.
Breathe Easy - my breath is one of my greatest assets on and off my mat. When I find myself in a particularly tough pose, I hear the voice of my yoga instructor Anna telling me to use my breath to manage my reactions. Breath work is powerful. Any time you find yourself in a stressful, painful or overwhelming situation, it takes 3 simple deep breaths to change the chemical reaction in the brain allowing you to respond from a calmer state. This works well when I find myself in a difficult pose and wanting to get out of it. It is also one of the most effective tools I use off my mat. When cut off in traffic, facing a grumpy family member, responding to a terse email or dealing with a rude cashier, I pause, take a few deep breaths and then respond from a place of peace and calm rather than anger or frustration. It is super effective and my go-to tool!
Rest. Period. - at the end of a yoga practice, savasana allows my body to rest and soak up all the benefits of the session. My breath calms. My energy settles. My mind quiets. I get out of my flight or fight mode, stop releasing the adrenaline from my energizing practice and allow my body to find stillness. I seek that same rest off my mat. Yoga allows me to tune into my body, listening to the aches and pains. It brings awareness to the parts of me that need stretching or a little more love and care. This same attention follows me off the mat. When my body is screaming at me to slow down as it fights off fatigue or a cold, I listen. When my muscles are tired and achy after doing some heavy lifting, I choose to rest. I drink my water, take naps in the afternoon, get a full night’s sleep and allow my body to recuperate rather than pushing it to extremes. This has been really helpful in keeping me healthy during a season when many get sick.
What lessons have you taken off the mat and into the world? I’d love to hear others’ perspectives! Comment below!