Three ways to take your yoga off the mat and into daily life
By Maureen Grosse
When most people think of yoga, they think of physical flexibility: the foot behind your head or handstand postures you see in magazines. Those poses have their place and purpose—and there are a plethora of other ways to practice yoga too.
Yoga isn’t just about the physical postures to build strength, flexibility, and balance. People often forget, or don’t know, there are 8 limbs of yoga. These 8 limbs are
- the Yamas (the integrity of our behavior),
- the Niyamas (habits of self-discipline),
- Asana (postures of yoga),
- Pranayama (breath control),
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses to observe our habits),
- Dharana (focus of concentration),
- Dhyana (meditation, or contemplation), and
- Samadhi (a state of bliss).
Each limb offers multiple tools within itself to create balance in our minds and bodies and live a joy-filled, vibrant life.
Yoga therapy can teach us how to use various tools “on our mat” in a controlled manner so we can not only gain mastery of the skill, but a deep understanding of how these tools can transform our daily lives by helping us
- shift energy when we’ve been sitting too long;
- manage symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression;
- increase motivation;
- manage pain;
- and more.
When we master skills on the mat we can then begin to integrate these skills into our lives to create the life we want to live on a daily basis.
Three yoga tools you can start using today
1. PAUSE. One tool I often use in my yoga therapy sessions and classes is a combination of the 8 limbs: a simple pause. A pause creates space to notice. Notice how your body feels. Notice the thoughts in your mind. As you begin to develop the habit of pausing, you can tune into your energy in each moment. You notice patterns of thoughts and habits.
I encourage noticing with a beginner’s mind: Notice with curiosity versus judgment or expectation. When we pause and notice in this way, we can shift thoughts and habits. When I’m ruminating on something, I can train myself to practice the pause and notice: What story am I telling myself? Are my thoughts negative? Are my thoughts helpful or not so helpful? I can then reframe negative thinking and/or respond differently in a given situation.
2. BREATHE. I read once, “if we can control our breath, we can control our lives.” I’m not sure where I read it, but I’ve believed this for a long time. In any moment, if we can focus on our breath, quiet our minds, shift our energy and focus on what we want to create in the present moment. I severed the nerves in my finger one time. My daughter was in the emergency room with me when the doctor was telling me how “incredibly painful” the numbing injection he was about to give me was going to be. As he began, I writhed in pain. My daughter said, “Jeez mom, use your yoga breath.” The minute I engaged in Ujjayi breath—which brings a slight constriction to the throat, thereby slowing the rate of breath—I was able to manage the pain and the doctor could continue.
In yoga therapy we work with multiple breathing techniques (pranayama). There are techniques to calm, to energize, to increase energy, to quiet and focus the mind. These techniques can be used in various ways to help us become more present in the moment so we can respond instead of react, manage pain, and shift our mood or thoughts. Even while standing in line at the store, if you notice yourself getting frustrated, you can easily use a breathing technique to create a sense of calm.
3. MOVE. Movement is the elixir of life. We are lucky to have so many variations of yoga because it allows us to find what resonates with us. When we participate in physical exercises on the mat, we find what makes us feel calm, strong, and energized. We can use these movements in our daily lives to help us feel whatever it is our body needs at any given moment. If we’ve been sitting too long, we know what movement will help us release tension in our bodies. If we are in a stressful environment, we can pair movement with a breath to ground ourselves and manage our emotions or actions in the moment.
As we become more confident on the mat with our yoga tools and skills, we are more able to access them off the mat when we need them to create the life we desire. We can begin to see the effects of integrating these tools as we experience more positive relationships, energy, balance, and joy.
I encourage people to take different types of classes from different teachers so they find what resonates with them. I also stress that while something may not resonate with you one day of one week of one year, as life changes, what we need and what resonates with us also changes. Be open to trying things more than once. Don’t be afraid to circle back in a year or two to something that didn’t resonate with you the first time. You may just find there is a nugget there that will now help you create balance as you travel the journey of life.
Maureen Grosse, MS, NBC-HWC, RYT-500, C-IAYT, uses her training in trauma sensitive/therapeutic yoga in conjunction with her health and wellness coach training to help people manage symptoms of trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and other life challenges.
Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here.