How Do You Practice Off the Mat?

In one of our recent posts we described using the body’s physiology to your advantage during a challenging moment. The easiest way to apply and experience what was described is during a focused physical activity like yoga. But we want to know how you take your practice OFF the mat. Below are moments that could be of service to finding ways to do just that.  Feel free to share your own experiences of conscious awareness, clarity and becoming less reactive due to your yoga or movement practice:

New Yorkers are challenged every day in the underground tunnels and overcrowded buses that make up our beloved transit system. Even if you don’t live in a city with this kind of public transportation you may have experienced the deep-seated frustration of extreme traffic in your daily commuting. Well be grateful for it! This is one of the best situations in which to test how well connected you are to your center, especially via the breath. When you are in a crowd of people how mindful are you of what is going on; does your movement and breathing go on autopilot?  So the next time you want to shove someone who isn’t walking fast enough, honk your horn while you’re stuck in bumper to bumper hell or the bus doors closed right in your face before you could get on just take a step back. The key here is to surrender your struggles in that moment. Let go of the fact that you aren’t moving “fast enough,” or that you might be late. It’s smarter to decrease your own self-inflicted suffering by just accepting your situation as opposed to wishing things were different. Breathe and slow down. Remember, the aggravation will pass. How well can you ride that wave, knowing it is temporary, without acting out from that negative place?

The next time you fight with your partner think of how you are feeling, breathing and reacting in that moment.  Just like in yoga, our significant others can really know how to push us to “the edge.”  Well, the sensations of physical discomfort we experience in those moments on the mat and in our private spaces can feel very much the same.  The pain or anger felt in an argument can feel as physical as confronting a challenging asana.  That is because both situations are essentially forcing you to discover and reevaluate your personal/physical boundaries.  Relationships teach us what we can and can’t withstand.  Often, like a mirror they also show us our own limitations and can force an opening in our consciousness and emotional selves.  This can be painful, but beneficial. One way to handle being opened up or staying safely contained (also a valid option!) is by finding your physical and emotional center.  The next time you’re in a fight or emotionally charged place with your partner turn inwards and explore what the moment is there to teach you about yourself.  How well are you handling yourself?  Are you showing up or behaving the way in which you think is best?  When taking in internal evaluation in the moment you will be more likely to act, instead of react, in a way that you can be proud of later.

Professional settings can be particularly challenging, because they set clear parameters for what is considered acceptable behavior. How well have you been able to present yourself calmly and professionally in the face of extreme frustration, dissatisfaction or work place rage? The work place can add another layer to staying non-reactive with the dynamics of power structures. It’s obviously a riskier choice to act out towards your boss than to your peer/colleague. It is especially humbling to be chastised by your boss when you know she’s wrong, but it may not be of service to yourself or the others around you to correct her. These are wonderful lessons for acting in the name of self-preservation (not losing your job, getting promoted) and trying to preserve your dignity. If we define grace by how well we handle a difficult situation than your job is the place where you can learn to become the most gracious/graceful person ever! Accept that things may feel unfair sometimes, but that you can be grounded enough to come out of any situation with a reputation of aplomb, because you didn’t get caught up in the tumultuous energies of the people around you. It is also possible that you will discover that you need to change jobs, because you can no longer stay in a situation that violates certain personal boundaries. Either way you come out the better for having discovered more of who you are, what you are capable of and strengths/talents that may have been previously unknown.

In each of the three scenarios described two major elements arise: The need to establish boundaries and seeing reality beyond our projections.  We spoke about practicing yoga to practice awareness in the last post as a way to become smarter.  When we practice with consistency we know ourselves better and gain a keen discrimination that allows us to assess a situation with clarity.  Ultimately, this clarity helps us to decided how best to handle any given situation.  This is how we establish boundaries within ourselves, within our movement practices and within relationships.  These boundaries create the standards of what we will and won’t accept.  They create the standards of what we will receive and what we will reject.  It can be as simple as Oxygen In/Carbon Dioxide Out.  The very complicated process of respiration is being overly simplified here to exemplify that even in the most overwhelming of circumstances finding your center and defining your boundaries can done by reconnecting to the basic and primal process of breathing.

The other element mentioned was the ability to see reality beyond our projections.

yoga chitta vritti nirodha

This first line in the yoga sutras can be loosely translated as, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.”  (Google it, there’s many interpretations that may resonant more with you.)  Again, practice!  We practice in order to cut through these mind fluctuations, or more frankly, the emotional-bullshit roller coaster that often takes us hostage in any given experience. Expanding your awareness and acting from a place of clear intention (clarity) as opposed to sometimes reacting from an emotionally confused or muddled place takes practice.  As described above, the silly moments and minutia that make up life also provide the opportunities to put what we have been learning to the test. So, perhaps next time you find yourself dissatisfied try to be grateful for the circumstance that allows you to apply these lessons and reconnect to the constant state of the within.  We need to start redefining what we call “advanced” students, especially in yoga classes.  If one is focused on creating a shape with the body, but has gained no awareness from the process of getting there how do you compare that to someone whose core focus is in the process of exploration and discovery, no matter what it looks like on the outside?

In which group do you find yourself when you practice?  Are you advanced enough to take what you’ve learned home?