adventures off the mat: yoga & stress

it’s too easy to contain yoga to a yoga studio – this is what I do on my mat. This is how I breath on my mat. This is who I am, how I am, what I believe, on my mat. But there’s so, so much more – the asanas and the studio time are only the very surface of a yoga practice, and in a lot of modern yoga culture, there is not nearly enough focus given to yoga off the mat. To using your breathing, that gentle, powerful ujjai breath in your daily life, to bringing that flow and awareness to everything that you do. Recently, in an incredibly stressful situation, I recognized that everything is yoga. Everything can be yoga. If we can just bring that mindfulness, that awareness, that breath and that power to our every day lives, we can truly live a yoga practice. I can think of nothing more powerful. So, here are a few ways that I found to breath yoga into my stress, and to truly bring my practice to life.

1. First of all, recognize that, just like in your yoga practice, everything that is present in your world right now is a result of choice. Just like you have the choice, always, to skip a vinyasa, or to step out of a challenging pose, you also have the choice to remove yourself from whatever is causing you stress. No matter how persistently you would argue that, no, in this case, there really is no choice, yes – there is always choice. If work is what’s stressing you out, remember that YOU are choosing to make that deadline, or even to show up at all. Yes, that choice is resulting in the status of your employment… but recognize that staying employed is also your choice. It truly is all up to you – and how freeing is that? Just as you could arrive on your mat and simply spend the entire practice in savasana, so you can also chose to step away or be absent from any elements of your life. So, step one is to recognize each element as a choice, and take a moment to decide if it is truly a choice you want to be making. Remember that, like poses, some choices are hard, or even uncomfortable. But you make them, because you love yourself, you love your body, and you love the world. So, once you’ve decided to grow to fullness within those choices you make, you can move on to another element of yoga:

2. Your breathing. Maintaining that calm, steady, deep, and full breath is just as important in your daily life as it is in your yoga practice, and even more important in moments of high stress. So much anxiety and worry could be easily avoided if we just took an extra moment to focus on our breathing, to really balance that deep, full in-breath, and completely clear ourselves with an even, measured out-breath. It’s amazing, what space will open up in your life with no effort except to simply center yourself in your breathing. And just as you try to send breath to the areas of your body that are tense or hurting in a pose, send your breath to your stress. Breath in peace, balance, stillness, and certainty that you are enough. Breath out doubt, worry, uncertainty, exhaling them completely and resting in what remains – you.

3. Once your breathing is centered, turn your attention to your balance. This is a huge element of yoga, both on and off the mat, and while a large part of maintaining balance is breath, there is also so much strength and presence required in a balancing pose, and in a balanced life. Just as you can’t stay in a challenging balance if your mind is anywhere external to your practice, and you really can’t maintain that posture with integrity if you don’t have a fixed, strong focus, so it is with a balanced life. I find that, a lot of the times that I’m the most stressed, it’s simply because I’m actually very absent from what’s going on. I’m not grounded, not rooted, I’m simply letting my body and mind react negatively to vague, undefined stressors, instead of taking that moment to truly get rooted within myself, identify the exact nature of the situation, and focus my gaze with stillness and strength on fixing it. Get present, get focused, get balanced. It’s amazing how quickly and effectively you’ll be able to work towards a solution for your stress once you’re truly balanced.

4. Recognizing the flow is another crucial element to yoga, both in the asanas and in your life. It’s all flowing, fluidly and constantly. The Warrior series you’re in the middle of now, it won’t be here forever. Soon, you’ll be back bending or forward folding, maybe even arm balancing. You don’t know, and you can’t know… all that you can know is that it won’t last forever. No matter how long you’ve been holding chair, you know that it won’t be all that there is. Something came before this, and there is something following this. It is not permanent. So it is with whatever is going on in your life right now, be it good or bad. It’s not forever. And that’s incredible. If the Right Now is not your ideal, that’s okay – it’s all a part of a flow. Not everything will be Child’s Pose. But not everything will be handstand either.It’s a constant balance between the rest and the work, and it is in that flux that we find the true and deep beauty of life.

5. And finally, a crucial element of both yoga and life, please remember to take Savasana. Do as much as you can, give as much as you can, shine and be truly amazing. But rest. Recover. Come back to your breath, to your body, to the now. Remember that you don’t always have to find the solution this second. Give yourself some grace, and make space for yourself to rest. Just as there is a very definite space carved out at the end of a yoga practice for rest and breath, so there should be in your life. Make space for you, especially when you’re so stressed out that you can’t see straight. Doing more isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, your heart is crying out for a Savasana. Don’t be afraid to take it.

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