Practicing Yoga On and Off the Mat

When Patanjali outlined the eight limbs in the Yoga Sutras, he laid out a plan for living life – eight steps to be mastered individually and collectively that ultimately become integrated into the fabric of our BEing. Most of us weave an asana practice into our daily life and then “go out into the world.” But that would almost imply that the hour we take to practice pranayama, move our body into various asana, and then chill out in savasana is separate from our daily interactions with our self, other BEings, and our sweet mother earth.  But if yoga is truly union, then there is no separation. What we do with that  “yoga” hour is the trajectory for every other moment we breathe throughout the day – impacting and nourishing not only our physiology, but our emotional state, our spiritual connection, the way we think, speak, and act for the next twenty or so hours. And how we show up in yoga class is a function of all those interactions from the time leading up to us unrolling our mat in the safe compartmentalization of a yoga studio or our living room.

In Chapter 2, Verse 48 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna advises Arjuna that the path to enlightenment is Yogastha kuru karmani – essentially, to establish yourself in oneness, and then perform action. This is not simply guidance for our asana practice, but our blueprint for every moment. There is no better feeling than those sweet few minutes at the end of a powerful yoga class where we lay in surrendered savasana – allowing every flex, stretch, reach, droplet of sweat, and lesson to integrate into our body, heart, mind, and soul.

By the time we are rolling our mats back up and saying Namaste to our fellow class mates, the power of dying to the past and establishing ourselves in oneness is a faint memory, as our mind re-engages with all the chores, lists, responsibilities, and tasks yet to come. But, that’s only if we view being on the mat as separate from the rest of our life.

Imagine if rather than viewing savasana as simply the conclusion of a class, we expand our view to embrace it as setting the table for everything that is yet to come – a mega-metaphor for dying to the past and birthing the next moment from a still, silent, pure, and infinite womb. Yogastha kuru karmani can flow through us as we order our morning beverage, stand next to another BEing as we wait to cross the street, type our next text or email, talk to someone, and re-engage with the world outside of the studio. 

Reconnecting to the present moment before we act allows our next expression to be pure, unconditioned, less reactive, and less laden with past interpretations and emotional charge. Coming from a place of stillness and silence – or even taking one breath before we respond - allows us to bring more of our authentic self to our thoughts, our words, and our actions. Coming into the next moment from a place of mini-savasana allows the next moment to be pure, infinite, abundant, magnificent – unbounded by anxieties, fears, grievances, and old, stale, limiting beliefs.

We all know the physiological and emotional benefits of savasana: a slowing of our heart and breath, a relaxing of our blood pressure and muscle tension, an integration of everything we’ve just practiced and learned, and a letting go of what no longer serves us. But often as we wiggle our toes to restart the pranic flow, we are back in our bodies, back in our minds, feeling good but ready to slide back into who we were right before the class began.

Instead, as we wiggle our toes, if we breathe in some deep gratitude that the pure potential of the next moment rests in our coming from Yogastha – being established in oneness, being established in BEing, being established in present moment awareness – then all of our interactions off the mat will reflect the trajectory of those last moments in savasana.

 To help my students connect to Yogastha throughout the day, I encourage them to wiggle their toes the moment they sense emotional turbulence, a disappointment, a frustration, or an unmet need beginning to blossom. This stealth ritual is guaranteed to make you smile and will transport  you back to the magnificent feeling of savasana – its deep relaxation, its pure surrender, the integration of your body, mind, and soul, and a subtle reminder that corpse pose is not simply a death, but a rebirth as well. If each step we take OFF the mat is filled with the same present moment awareness we shared ON the mat, then every moment that flows through us and out into the world will carry the power and the beauty of Yogastha!


davidji is a certified Vedic Master, a teacher of Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, and the author of “Secrets of Meditation: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace & Personal Transformation.”

 

Website: www.davidji.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/flowoflove

Twitter: @davidji_com

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yfermin, posted on January 4, 2013

what a refreshing, new way for me to look at savasana. I have always marveled at why more advanced and experienced yogis say it the sometimes the hardest, but always the most important, part of their practice. With this interpretation of savasana on and off the mat, I can see why it is so, so hard and always important. I love the toe wiggle idea too! Thank you for such a beautiful article.

yogadivya, posted on January 4, 2013

thank you davidji... i have been teaching small yoga classes for a few years and have recently been encouraging students to take yoga from the class and into daily life... your article is an inspiration, very helpful :)

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