Yoga in Public
In class, we might hear the phrase “taking yoga off of the mat” and out into our everyday lives. This can be as subtle as taking a few deep breaths before a business meeting, or as wholehearted as devoting your life in service to an ashram. There are countless ways to bring yoga “off of the mat.” Without taking any vows of silence or making huge leaps and lifestyle shifts, here are a few ways that I enjoy bringing yoga into the rest of my life:
I like to remind myself. I use the word here as kind of a freshening of consciousness, as we do in class when we refocus on the breath or the intention of the day. Falling asleep at night is reminiscent of savasana, and the mind tends to wander when the body is resting, regardless of whether I am on or off my mat. In savasana I can easily remind myself how wonderful it feels to just be flat on the mat, and the bombardment of stray thoughts usually dwindle if I scan my muscles and continue to relax. I used to have a lot of trouble with finding sleep, until I began to remind myself that there is a “me” outside of the chatter, and allow myself to feel removed from the thoughts drifting past. The same techniques that help me to meditate in a resting pose also allow me to find sleep even when my thoughts try to interrupt.
When I find myself tired at work or feeling burnt out, I remember that in yoga class my mind tires much sooner than my body. I wonder if I am tired because I have been focusing on one thing without a break. Usually shifting focus allows me to achieve my goals less strenuously, and my body can do more than I expect of it, when my mind isn’t getting in the way by complaining or looking ahead for the next thing.
This one can be really fun, and occasionally hilarious. My best friend from high school introduced me to yoga, and I got to meet up with her in a chance encounter at a wild art studio/apartment in New York City. A guy with a guitar was doling out marvelous songs and entertaining lots of people strewn about the room. It was winter and there was no warmer place to be found. Amanda, my best friend, had a look on her face like she was about to shift positions, as people do when they sit on a hardwood floor. To everyone’s surprise, delight, and amusement, she popped into a downward facing dog with her butt straight up in the air. It complimented the mood perfectly, and didn’t phase the guitar player one bit. Doing yoga in public can be scary, fun, freeing, inspiring, expressive, or all of those things at once. Forget the instagram appeal – do yoga just for your body’s sake!
Life throws us innumerable obstacles, hurdles, raging winds, torrential storms, both metaphorical and literal. Yoga is a tool to survive, or even thrive, despite circumstances that are outside of our control. I like to draw a venn diagram of things I can control and things that matter, and focus on changing those few things that fall in the middle. If I can’t practice because I have the flu, I don’t beat myself up about it, because I can’t control my immune function AND it probably doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. If I have lost a dear friend, it reminds me that everything will die at some point, and to embrace this fact allows me be grateful for that person and grateful for the time I have left. Does that mean I immediately find peace and tranquility? Absolutely not, I cry and throw a fit for days if that’s what I need to do. If my body throws a fit in a stretch that isn’t your favorite, let it throw a fit and just be present during the whole process.
Yoga is a way for me to be kind to myself. Today my yogic gift to myself happened to be baking cookies while escaping the winter winds for a spell. Tomorrow I might take a very meditative hike. The world is my mat, where I am privileged to find out how many directions my body and mind can explore.