There are many reasons why someone attends their first Yoga class.  Some come wanting to relax, to slow down and regulate their nervous system, others to do a dynamic fast paced workout and tone and strengthen their bodies.   Some approach Yoga as a spiritual practice connecting them with their version of divinity, others come to meditate and learn to deeply know themselves and the nature of their conditioned mind.  But whatever brings someone to the mat for the first time, many people discover that Yoga is a multi layered, highly sophisticated ancient tradition with many riches to offer. 

Today, the rise of Yoga for mental health and psychological wellbeing is steadily growing.  Yoga for trauma, for anxiety, for depression are all becoming well researched, documented and taught as the profession of Yoga therapy matures and becomes more established across the globe.   

As both a Yoga teacher and a Yoga psychotherapist, I have watched with great joy and excitement this burgeoning of Yoga as it spreads further and further into modern society and the many advantages of a regular Yoga practice become known and available to more and more people.  And I feel very blessed and privileged to play my small part in this growing movement.

Taking Yoga off the mat

Here, in this post, I wish to look even further.  At how when we begin to take Yoga off the mat and incorporate it into our daily lives it becomes a living, breathing practice that we are actually engaged in moment by moment, encouraging us to wake up and be present.  To truly pay attention to the extraordinary world around us.  To notice when we start to disconnect from our bodies, from our breath and wander off into the realms of unhelpful conditioned thinking.  And to bring us back to ourselves, to the movement of Life flowing within us and around us.

In my Yoga and writing room, where I practice myself and from where I teach my online classes, I have a hanging given to me by one of my closest friends.  It has an image of the Om symbol and the words,

            Become loyal to your inner most truth     

            Follow the way when all others abandon it

            Walk the path of your own heart

I see this hanging several times a day and it is a wonderful reminder for me to try to live authentically and be confident in who I am.  Of course, I don’t always succeed.  Just like everyone else, I am prone to the’ weather’ of my conditioned mind and can be swept away by waves of self generated criticism and harshness making me feel inadequate and small.  But seeing these words alongside the sacred symbol of Om reminds me that I am not my mind, I am not my thoughts, I am not my ego.  I am part of something much bigger and richer than I can imagine.  This awareness, this sense of belonging to a greater whole grounds me and helps me move away from the smallness of self defeating chatter. 

There are so many ways we can take Yoga off the mat. Conscious slow breathing for 2 or 3 minutes when feeling stressed or overwhelmed to calm our nervous system (pranayama), stretching and moving the spine after sitting for any length of time to mobilise our bodies (asana), studying some of the many texts both ancient and modern on the history and philosophy of Yoga (known as Svadhyaya or self study) can inspire us or support us in the midst of life’s challenges. Yoga can be far more than rolling out a mat once or twice a week and when truly incorporated into our daily life.

Perhaps Yoga is….

Having had Yoga as a guide for my life for many years, I realise that there is no one clear cut definition to describe how Yoga is a living practice.  But for what it is worth, here are a few of my many thoughts on what Yoga means:

Yoga is one of the great wisdom traditions that we are fortunate enough to inherit from the ancestors.

Yoga is a profoundly complex healthcare system for mind, body and spirit.

Yoga offers us a philosophy on how to live well, reduce suffering and increase happiness.  

Yoga allows us to accept things as they are and invites wisdom and humility to be our guides.

Yoga gives us a joyful, playful community of souls, a satsang of like minded and like hearted others who focus on the beauty in the world

Yoga inspires us to strive to make our planet a better place for those yet to come.

Yoga is a deep connection to and reverence for the earth, sun, sky, moon and stars.  A respect of universal consciousness and the unity of all beings. 

Yoga offers us a path to Truth and infinite Peace, to touch the divine and to be present to all that is. 

Or perhaps most simply, Yoga is the light seen in another’s eyes, the joy experienced in another’s smile and the warmth felt from another’s heart.