As a yoga teacher, I constantly remind my students that the real yoga begins off the mat. Although many practitioners in the Western world discover yoga through asana (or the physical postures), true yoga is a philosophy of living. When we commit ourselves to the practice of yoga we must remember that it is not only a realignment of the body, but it is also a commitment to the cleansing of the mind and the soul.
I consider my daily practice as a “cleanser”, it gives me the energy and peace needed to use it throughout the day in my roles as a business owner, a mother, a neighbor, and a citizen of the world. When teaching my classes, one of the main yoga tenets I try to instill in my students is that the real work begins off the mat.
To bring that yogic-mindset into our daily lives, here are a couple of principles I like to keep in mind.
1. Keep it simple
The world is full of things we don’t need and we are constantly bombarded with advertisements and corporations telling us our lives are not complete without their product. However, the more we fill our lives with stuff, the less space we have for what really matters. Our minds can become occupied with these fleeting, material things leaving us with little room for the real work of staying present, content, and mindful. In the first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga called the Yamas, there is a principle called Brahmacharya, or non-excess. We can practice the principle of of minimalism in our homes (i.e. utilizing the KonMari method). We can always be on the lookout to find places in our lives to create space. Let’s fill our lives with experiences not material things.
2. Be truthful
Not only in your words but in your thoughts and in your actions. Also one of the Yamas, truthfulness is known as Satya in the Ashtanga yoga methodology. But make no mistake; this is no easy task. It takes strength of character and determination. Just like when trying a new, difficult pose we push ourselves but we must also trust our bodies to tell us when to stop and rest. In our words, thoughts, and actions we should also be true to ourselves instead of trying to fit into a certain mold or idea. Let every action reveal who you really are and what you really stand for.
3. Act from a place of love
We are constantly facing challenges and conflicts, these are the situations when practicing yoga is the hardest. Let’s allow our actions to come from a place of love and compassion. In the eightfold path, this can be practiced through one of the Yamas — Ahimsa (non-harming). We can easily become frustrated when the day isn’t going according to plan or maybe our mind is wandering during asana. It is important to remember self-love and acceptance. When we lead with love, for ourselves and others, we move through the world in accordance with the yoga philosophy. It will certainly enhance our intuition, keep us away from unnecessary fears and lead us to make the best decision in every situation. As Rumi says: “There’s a voice inside of us that has no words, listen!”
4. Be present
There are no ordinary moments, we are just not paying attention. Using the breath in asana practice allows us to focus on the present moment, in the flow of the chaturanga or in the difficulty of a new pose. We need to take these habits into our daily life to remain in tune with the present moment. There is beauty in each and every day and we are better able to recognize that beauty when we are truly present.
5. Surrender and let go
My favorite quote from the Bhagavad Gita says: “You are the owner of your actions, but not of the fruits of your actions.” This is one of the toughest lessons in yoga. There are things in life that are beyond our control and we must learn to be ok with that. In the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga yoga, Ishvara Pranidhana is known as devotion or surrender to forces beyond our control, the act of letting go and trusting that life is unfolding as it should. Let’s try our best every day in our work, in how we treat others, in every action we take to be sure we’ve done our part, and let the rest unfold the way it will.
Practicing yoga has as much to do with your thoughts and actions in the studio as it does outside of it. If we can bring these five yogic principles into our daily life we will be happier, healthier, and more fulfilled in everything we do. No one is perfect and just as we have good days and bad days on the mat, not every day will be easy. But you can use these five principles as a kind of check-in with yourself through reciting it as a mantra “simple, truthful, love, present, surrender.” I am constantly reminding myself of these lessons that I have learned on my yoga journey and I try to put them into practice in each of my thoughts, words, and actions. Never forget that the real work of yoga begins off the mat.
Stay tuned for our next offering of the “8 Simple Limbs of Yoga for a Simple Life” online yoga philosophy course!
Co-written by Sheridan Plummer