What does it mean when we say to 'take our practice off the mat and into the world'? You've probably had this experience while practicing yoga: you're in a pose that's uncomfortable, you take it to the edge and abide there. You're mind starts to fight the tension in your body and you start to feel resistance, the desire to quit, but if you follow your teacher's voice and breathe into the sensations and wait, the tension, the discomfort, the fear start to subside and you are able to either stay in the pose a little longer, more comfortable, or you're able to deepen the post just a small amount.
What happened in that moment?
You experienced a stressor and faced your discomfort, resistance, and/or fear of it. You stayed in the moment and rode the wave of sensation with your breath as your guide. You watched your feelings change and then the resistance receded.
That's the practice of yoga. Now, what if you could use that same approach to stressors that happen when you're not practicing yoga?
What if you could approach the comments from that stubborn and recalcitrant person in your Monday meeting the same way? Could you settle in with your breath and let the emotional reaction wash over you and continue the meeting with grace and attention?
Rather than leaving all the wonderful stress management techniques you learn on the yoga mat there on your mat, carry them into the world with you. What works on the mat, works off the mat. If it works on your yoga mat, it works in terrible traffic, with grumpy people, and in long lines.
When any stressor arises, you can choose to ride the wave of your breath and allow the negative sensations to dissolve. Some practical tips for taking your yoga practice off the mat:
Offer kindness to others
You learn compassion with your body on the mat, so extend that same kindness to others. Take a deep breath before speaking; if what you were about to say would hurt, you stopped that pain. Let go of destructive and negative thoughts. Smile at those who are clearly having a bad day.
Allow gratitude to develop
You probably didn't feel too grateful when your first teacher asked you to deepen a pose into something that looked and felt impossible, but the gratitude likely followed after. Stop thinking about the things that are missing in your life and allow time to remember what you do have. Praise the goodness that allowed those blessings to come into your life and let yourself feel grateful for them.
Practice humility and devotion
Yoga is a humbling practice - it shows us what we cannot do and inspires devotion for our teachers and the students who practice with us. When we say Namaste at the end of the class, it's not just to honor the divine in our teacher, but also to everyone in the class, the janitor who cleans the facility, the person manning the front desk and everyone we interact with every day. Avoid labeling others and be inspired by the people who come into your life.
Slow down and know your limits
Cultivate that inner calm you achieve on the yoga mat and take it with you in the world. Your outer world reflects your inner world. Slow down. Reduce your commitments. Get to bed early and rise early. Give yourself time to fully experience this wonderful moment, this day, this life.
We develop the capacity for compassion and humanity on the mat.