I wonder what percentage of yoga happens off the mat? If we look at the eight limbs of classical yoga and consider that asana practice is just one limb, then strictly only 12.5 percent of all that is largely available to us in yoga.
So if the majority of yoga happens off the mat, I have to wonder, how ‘well’ am I really practicing? How much of the other 87.5 percent am I doing or being, regardless of how often I find myself on the mat?
And I have to wonder, do we practice yoga as such or do we ‘simply’ live it?
Beyond being bendy, yoga can get pretty hard. But the gift is in the hard stuff. ~Kathy Kruger
Here are some ways we can ‘practice’ off the mat, so that with some commitment and discipline we can find ourselves truly ‘living’ yoga. P.S.—these points don’t necessarily align exactly with the eight limbs, but are ways I try to bring yoga into my daily life.
1. Cultivate contentment.
Close your eyes and just re-feel that last beautiful moment with your child or children, partner, or friend. Be energized by that moment. Feel it as rare and precious and re-breathe into that moment.
Practice contentment as gratitude when things are going well, and as a salve when things aren’t going as planned.
2. Don’t get so attached.
You know you can get just as attached to the ‘negative’ stuff as the positive stuff? It’s (theoretically) as possible to be attached to being really poor as it is to being really rich. Sometimes I think our society conditions ‘negative’ attachment to keep the masses down. That could be slightly Orwellian.
3. Practice ahimsa (non-violence).
That includes not being mean to yourself.
I find it quite easy to be nice to other people, with some exceptions. Much harder is the ‘nice to one’s self’ ideal. This is so much harder than being bendy for me, but I suspect being bendy is exactly the attitude: bend a bit, see a better side of yourself, stretch, soften a little more, etc.
4. Use your five senses, then shut them off.
Really feel, smell, see, hear (and listen), touch, and experience the sensation of another person next to you. Feel so alive in the world and then start really feeling inward. This is the focus of meditation, and for me, the secret of living yoga every day, beyond being bendy.
5. Study the gurus and yourself.
You will never have all the answers, but you will have those you need.
6. Focus on holding a flame.
A flickering candle is a symbol of universal light, even though it can be snuffed out so easily. While it flickers, it mesmerizes. We all have the same light inside us, and a candle reminds us to keep it burning. Imagine that flame as your passion in life and don’t let it go out.
7. Cultivate compassion.
To me, true compassion is ahimsa in an active way. Karma yoga is the action of doing for others, of moving beyond empathy and understanding, listening and caring, on to doing kind actions and genuine assistance. It’s the time and help we give others and the self-care we give ourselves.
8. Enjoy the physicality of your practice.
Take away a sense of strength, balance, and flexibility by being truly present in a class, avoiding comparisons and judgments that only sap enjoyment. Make a class a meditation in gratitude, and then take that attitude with you.
I started by talking about percentages, but don’t get hung up on them—everyone’s path is different just as we all lead different lives on our shared yoga journey.