Practicing Yoga Off the Mat

I think of my yoga mat as my sanctuary and try to visit it every day.  I even have a special yoga mat I take with me when I travel so I can remain faithful in my commitment to practice daily.  It is easy to feel gratitude, and reverence and connection to all life when I am on my mat, or after finishing asana, pranayama or meditation.  But once I leave this internal sanctuary behind and re-enter my life the struggle begins.

Early in my practice I naively thought that as I gained strength, flexibility and stamina in the asanas I would be able to master the complexities of a complete yoga practice.  I added pranayama and pratyahara and would sit and repeat a mantra afterward, concentrating in hopes that my mind would relax and empty.  After some time I could sit without thought only feeling my breath enter and exit my body.

During times of stress I found tranquil moments and during times of grief I found solace in my practice.  I realized how different I interacted with people and in stressful interactions on days when I practiced compared to days I did not.  Great, I had become an observer of myself, the observed.  But observing does not alter the event or person observed.

The conclusion was that some days I only practiced yoga on my mat.  The real test of a yogi is how well we maintain our concentration and balance, not while in an asana but while interacting with the rude person on the other end of the phone.  Practicing yoga on our mats, in our “safe environments”, like my sanctuary, really is only practice, we are only in  training.  It is how we use our yoga when we are “out there” that matters, and we are tested daily.  I try to remember this as I smile at the person irritating me, trying not to look at them and find every imperfection within them, but to look through them, beyond them so that I can see their beauty, their humanity.  At the very least see they are not some entity different than me, that we are all the same underneath.