What does it mean to take yoga off your mat and into your life?

In my classes, I often say that your mat is a mirror. The way we show up there is indicative of the way we show up in life.

I came to yoga struggling with depression and with the feeling that somewhere along the way I had gotten lost and didn’t even know what it was I was supposed to be finding my way back to. All I knew was that things couldn’t continue the way they were going but there were so the ways I needed to change and ‘be better.’ It was overwhelming.

At this time, my physical practice of yoga was characterized by flexibility, but not a lot of strength. I had put on a lot of weight. I gave up on poses when they got challenging – backing off when I felt any kind of sensation. I lost focus in between poses and my transitions were sloppy and disjointed. I was very serious. I often cried during class.

‘Wherever you go, there you are,’ and I was showing up on my mat exactly the way I was in life – without direction, focus, or healthy boundaries; with fear, sadness, and judgement; disconnected from my body and afraid of feeling anything.

One day, feeling overwhelmed and sad as usual, something shifted. A little voice in my head piped up and comforted me, saying, “Yes. There’s a lot to change. But that doesn’t matter right now. Right now, all that matters is that maybe today you hold this pose even when your muscles burn.”

It had finally sunk in that the value of this compassionate mirror was not only that it showed me where I was hiding, shrinking, believing in a limited version of myself; but that seeing Limited Me could empowered me to choose differently… and ever so gradually these small adjustments culminated in big changes that transformed the rest of my life.

It was a miracle. Like so many others, I came to yoga for some physical benefits and found so much more. Our transformations cannot always be explained with the rational mind. They have to be felt in our bodies. They have to be believed with our hearts. For me, my extra physical weight gradually fell away and as energy shifted, so too did my emotional state. I got ‘unstuck’ and reconnected with my body so that my suffering and judgmental mind was no longer the master. I cried less and laughed more. The moment I started viewing my physical practice as a microcosm for the larger context of my life was the moment my feet hit the path I still (somewhat blindly and often clumsily) walk today.

As my experience has proven to me, the physical benefits of practicing asana (the physical postures of yoga) are great and lead to other, more subtle energetic benefits, too. But that’s not enough for me. We have to keep growing or we stagnate.

So every day I re-choose a commitment to transforming my life, to walking with discipline and faith, and to being a vehicle of empowerment and healing in the world.

To do that, I have to take yoga off my mat and place my personal practice and journey in a larger context. So how do I do that?

Starting on Monday, April 7th I will be leading a week-long digital workshop on the first of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga – the Yamas.

These Yamas are a series of ethical guidelines – tools which, when applied to our social lives, lead to greater peace, healthier boundaries, and deep healing.

They do not come into conflict with any other ethical or religious belief systems, but rather offer us another set of lenses through which we can view our Shadow Teachers (as I like to call our ‘demons’ or vices) and learn to not only notice them, but honor them and then choose a different path – the path of Love.

When I started studying the Yamas, I began looking at my relationship with myself and with others from a different perspective. I more easily notice old, self-defeating patterns as they come up and when I see my thoughts becoming violent, greedy, non-truthful or overly judgmental I am very clear about what the consequences are of investing in those thoughts. Seeing the resulting suffering clearly, it’s not as difficult to choose differently!

If any of this has spoken to you, I hope you’ll consider joining me for this workshop. It will be a very community-oriented workshop, with plenty of forum for facilitated discussion and exploration. Each day, we will have opportunities to focus our practice on one Yama and to inspire each other with our triumphs and our stumbles. Practicing asana each day is an added bonus, but not the main focus.

We are always Students and also always Teachers. Together, we can hold the mirror up for each other with compassion, support each other as we encounter our Shadows, and empower each other to choose Love over Fear.

What’s the point of all being on this journey together if not to explore these questions in community? Let’s live yoga – on our mats and off!