Carrying the Calm Off Your Mat

Don’t you just love that feeling you get during yoga class? That slipping away of stress, the calm pouring in. “How do you get that feeling outside of class?,” is a question I get sometimes. Ay, there’s the rub. There’s such a sense of peace at the end of a class, but it can seem that the moment you walk out the door, the stress comes jumping jack flashing back. So how do you welcome in that sense of peace without removing yourself from the world and closing yourself in a yoga studio? Looking into what the practice encompasses may give us the answer.

Practicing yoga isn’t just practicing asana - the poses. It involves building awareness. Observing your breath - its temperature and texture, its location and size - makes you aware of every quality of this involuntary but able to be voluntary action that keeps you alive. Attention to the breath relaxes it and spurs a smoothness to it that spreads across your body and mind. Evenness comes to the mind through the meditation practices of yoga. In meditation, you observe your thoughts and realize that you are not them. You notice how you feel. You see behind your reactions to your emotions. You detach from grasping and let go of expectations.

Philosophical concepts like ahimsa - non-harming - and santosha - contentment - are ideas you embody over time. If studied, without effort, they enter your psyche and lead you toward your desired peaceful state. Devoting yourself to practicing on a regular basis, putting your phone and laundry aside, allows you to concentrate on yourself. The more you learn from yourself, the more you learn about others. Compassion grows. Lovingkindness arises.

In the beginning, you need to force yourself to get to practice, to meditate, to keep at it, to try to bring these teachings off the mat. But eventually, your on-mat and off-mat experiences meld into one; and you find yourself practicing yoga at the most unlikely times. You notice your sensations and reactions without formally telling yourself to do so. There’s no hope of escape as you find that you prefer peace over chaos and awareness over ignorance. Whether by leaving work early a couple days a week to get to class or by changing where you live or with whom you hang, you may just find yourself making little and big changes to experience more joy - the kind that yoga sports.

If you invite the peace and joy you experience in class into your whole life, you’ll find that yoga is not just a workout with kind thoughts. Rather, it’s a total lifestyle overhaul. And like all true overhauls, it happens slowly and with setbacks. Getting on the path and staying the course despite distractions may set you up for the adventure of lifetime to a place of more joy, more peace and total honesty. Freer from the need to impress and pretend, more open to sharing yourself with the world, you’ll head toward becoming the calm force you were hoping to be.