On the mat? In class? At home?
But where do you practise yoga off your yoga mat?
At work? Taking a deep breath and emotionally and mentally steadying yourself before an important meeting.
In your relationship with others? As you act instead of reacting to others and events. As you no longer meet anger with anger but with compassion, for the fear, frustration or disappointment the person in front of you is acting out.
In your relationship with yourself? As you become able to observe your monkey jumping around and shouting for attention, instead of the habitual being pulled in all directions and off balance by your busy mind.
In your daily life? Noticing the beauty on your door step: the snow falling; the tiny spring bulbs already beginning to push their way through the ground as they reach toward the light; the sound of bird song; or the whistling of the wind in bare tree branches.Your answer will depend on what yoga means to you.
What does yoga mean to you?
For many it’s the physical postures, with maybe some breathing and a relaxation. And that’s absolutely fine, because you will enjoy much benefit to your health and well-being as well as your emotional resilience simply by regularly going to class.
But be aware that you don’t have to be on a mat or a meditation cushion to practise yoga!
The word ‘yoga’ itself means ‘union’: union of breath and movement, union of the body and mind, union with a higher consciousness.
According to yoga sage Patanjali, ‘yoga is stilling the thought-waves of the mind’.
Feel the yoga love!
For me, whatever we do which enables us to connect to peace and stillness is yoga.
Whenever we connect to the present moment without judging, fear or anxiety of what has been and what may be, we’re practising yoga.
Here are a few more ways you can experience yoga every day:
- Check in with your body, mind and emotions throughout the day – become aware of how you feel, there in that exact present moment.
- Stand tall – raise your sternum and lightly contract your core muscles – whether you’re walking, standing or sitting. Feel confident in yourself and your own abilities.
- Breathe! I mean, really breathe – full in and out breaths. And notice how much better you feel, more alert and lively, as a result.
- Concentrate on what you’re doing as you’re doing it – bring mindfulness to every activity. Eating a piece of cake? Then enjoy every mouthful – notice the look of the cake, the smell, the texture, the taste … and don’t feel guilty about it!
- Notice the details – a smile, the sun shining through branches, the colour and feel grass…
- Observe your thought patterns – notice the messages you’re giving to yourself. But don’t judge them.
- Feel content for the good you have in your life – make gratitude and contentment a daily practice.
- Accept life’s challenges – resistance and frustration take a lot of energy. Better to channel that energy into dealing mindfully with those challenges.
- Be kind to yourself. What do you truly need for your health and well-being? Allow it to yourself.
- Show compassion to others – whether individuals you come across during your day, or to groups in society who are shunned or judged.
The role of the physical yoga postures
So why do we go to yoga class then?!
The physical postures of yoga are only one aspect of yogic practice. However, they give us something tangible to work with.
Working with the postures helps us to quieten our minds as we occupy it with focusing on our movement, alignment, stretching and twisting the body and balancing.
As most of us are so cut-off from our bodies we need to do this physical practice to reconnect to our physical body and in turn to heal and unify our whole beings.
So, if you’re interested in widening your experience of yoga you may like to become familiar with the eight elements, or limbs, of yoga. Practising these can help you to bring yoga into our daily life. They are:
- Restraints (Yama) – ethical standards by which to live life with integrity: non-violence; truthfulness; non-stealing; moderation; non-grasping.
- Observances (Niyama) – ways to bring a practice of self-discipline into your life: purity / cleanliness; contentment; austerity; study; surrender; and non-attachment.
- Physical postures (Asana) – the movements of yoga which are usually the main focus of a class. These enable you to strengthen your body and increase flexibility, and to encourage the ability to concentrate, which are needed to practice the remaining limbs of yoga practice.
- Breath control (Pranayama) – techniques to master our respiratory system and enjoy the benefits which come when we can control our breathing e.g. to re-energize or to calm our mind and body.
- Withdrawal or control of the senses (Pratyahara) – making a conscious decision and effort to withdraw our focus from the external sensory world, for example, as we practise relaxation at the end of a yoga class, we are withdrawing our senses and letting our mind and bodies relax. This practice, for example, enables us to stand back and notice how our wish to satiate our senses can control our behaviour.
- Concentration (Dharana) – where we move away from physical practices and move inwards. We practise stilling the mind by concentrating on a single object, for example, a candle flame, our breath. Or washing up, cleaning your teeth, or cooking. Bring a single-pointed focus to what you are doing in the here and now.
- Meditation (Dhyana) – where we contemplate; an uninterrupted flow of stillness in our mind.
- Bliss, or connection to the divine / higher consciousness (Samadhi) – where we transcend our sense of body and individual mind and realize inter-connectedness with all beings and consciousness and experience a boundless sense of peace.
Over to you…
I endeavour to bring this holistic practice of yoga into my daily life. Yes, it’s challenging. But it brings its own rewards.
So, what does yoga mean to you? How do you practise yoga?
Stella Tomlinson teaches Dru yoga in Southampton, UK. Dru yoga is a flowing and therapeutic style of yoga, characterised by graceful movements, directed breathing, relaxation techniques and working with affirmations and visualisations. Connect with Stella via Facebook and Twitter.