Taking It Off The Mat: Yoga For Your Life

I’m in the middle of teaching the 21-Day Summer Sunrise Yoga series. Every two days I teach one of the Yamas or Niyamas (basically the yogic directions on how to live your life found in Limbs One and Two of the Eight Limbed Path of Yoga). Each Yama and Niyama have an associated mudra (hand gesture) and mantra (chant) and asana (posture). It’s an amazing practice and helps you take the theory of yoga and access it in the rest of your life off the yoga mat. I have been teaching it every summer for a few years now, and I never tire of reviewing these important tenets of yoga.

We are a little over halfway through, and I wanted to share a few things that I’ve discovered so far. While some of these suggestions and ideas might sound obvious, you might benefit from hearing them again. If you’re like me, you know a lot of good advice, but you might not take it all the time.

Rest When You’re Tired

Because I had to get up earlier than usual and do an extra yoga practice every day, the first week I was physically tired. I am not a person who usually gets tired in the middle of the day, but I needed to take a nap. Whether you are doing yoga every morning or maybe facing an illness or emotional or mental challenge, you will get tired from time to time. Please give your body time to rest. It is one of the best ways to stay physically, emotionally, and mentally sound.

Of course, right? But I know a lot of people who look and act like they could use some rest. When you keep pushing without giving yourself rest, one of the important things you miss is time to let the body, heart, and mind integrate and assimilate all the experiences you are having. Emotions get pushed down, the mind gets confused, and the body starts to get injured. To quote my husband, Bud, who takes a nap every day, “I’m so busy, I think I’ll take a nap!” I can attest that he is a much better husband as a result.

Don’t Be So Demanding

The first yama which lies at the foundation of the yoga practice is called Ahimsa which translates to non-violence or non-harming. This principle helps you cultivate a sense of peace with yourself and others. It shines the light on where you might be “violent” through your judgment of yourself and others, when you worry too much, and when you feel a lack of power in a situation.

While reflecting on this practice, I had a somewhat bizarre incident at a local business that I go to. Someone that I know in the community verbally attacked me because she thought I had intentionally taken her place for a service she had signed up for. I told her that the business had been very busy that day, and I had to start 20 minutes late, thus running into “her” time.  This explanation did nothing to stop her from yelling at me until I was able to walk away. From what she said, it was apparent that she had scheduled herself too tight and was needing to get to her next appointment without any wiggle room for the time she was being delayed. I felt bad for her and, in retrospect, for myself because I know I have done the very same thing in the past. When you schedule yourself too tight and when you expect too much of yourself (and others), you spread anguish all around. Try not to be so demanding and notice the peace that blankets you through the space you give yourself to breathe.

Do You Really Need It?

One of the yamas is called Brahmacharya, which helps us practice the art of self-restraint and sustaining energy. This yama helps us reflect on what’s “enough” in how we eat, move, work, talk, and consume. The day that we started this practice, I had a calendar reminder that a local jewelry store was having a big anniversary sale. I had put this on my calendar a while back and thought it would be great to get a good deal on some jewelry. For those of you who know me, jewelry is one of the pleasures I have been known to indulge in. However, I am happy to say that because I was focused on what’s “enough,” I didn’t rush down to the sale and have no plans of going. I absolutely don’t need another piece of jewelry.

We live in a consumer society, and it is easy to get caught up in the idea of a sale, a good deal, or a new product that you don’t have yet. Instead of getting caught the next time, stop and bring in some gratitude for what you have already. You might be able to save yourself some money but also begin to dial back the urgency to need more. Feel the satisfaction of having enough and of being enough, even without the latest gadget (or piece of jewelry!).

If Something Feels “Off,” It Probably Is

A student emailed me after our two days of practice with a particular mudra (hand gesture) to let me know that I had taught it wrong. I have done this mudra hundreds of times and, for some reason, I was having a brain fart. I knew when I was doing it that it felt wrong, but I didn’t take the time to explore what was going on. It was obvious once she pointed it out to me, and I am thrilled that she did. I was able to go back and make the correction to the class.

Two points I want to make here. One, if something feels “off,” it probably is. Take your time and attention to it. It could be more important than a hand mudra and have much bigger consequences. For instance, if something is going on in your body that you’re ignoring or there is something you are feeling uncomfortable about with another person, take the time to investigate and act on this information. Trust yourself that you are getting an important intuition. The more you pay attention to your intuition, the stronger it gets.

Two, if you see someone else making a mistake, don’t feel scared, embarrassed, or shy about letting them know. You don’t have to do it in a way that is harmful. But it is more harmful not to let someone know than to continue letting them make the mistake in the future. It might be slightly embarrassing to the person at first, but it gives them an opportunity to make any useful corrections.

Keep Showing Up

Showing up for yoga every day at 6:15 to teach a yoga class always instructs me in Tapas, the yama that teaches us to show up and keep commitments even if the face of difficulties. Even more, it is about using skillful effort to become the person that you want to be. So, no matter how many times you might do or say things that you regret, each moment is fresh and the time to start over anew. This act of showing up for yourself builds strength and character.  

So, even though I’ve been a little absent as of late, I am glad to be back in your inbox. I hope to be here again soon! Stay tuned.