What is yoga off the mat?
#yogaoffthemat is a hashtag I’ve been using in an attempt to get across the fact that yoga is so much than all the gorgeous postures that fill our Instagram feeds. Let me elaborate…
First of all, yoga in essence means “union.” That can mean the joining of opposites or the coming together of two things. Yin and yang. The self and the infinite. The posture and the breath. The addictions and the awareness.
Yoga is so much more than the 60 minute class you take in a studio or online. And to be completely honest, I didn’t fully realize this until my Namaslay® yoga teacher training, with Yoga By Candace.
Before my teacher training, the asana practice was so important to me. Power flows and postures were what I focused on the most. All I cared about was improving my arm balances. But I wasn’t carrying my practice beyond the four corners of my mat. I still became furious in traffic. I couldn’t stand still while waiting in line. My dad’s constant commentary was absolutely irritating. I would regularly raise my voice to people I love.
“Yoga is a way of life, and its teachings should penetrate every aspect of your being – from your actions to your speech to your thoughts.” Yoga: the essence of life
This was an incredible benefit I gained from my YTT. We had lectures about the history and the philosophy of yoga. We learned about the Eight Limbs of Yoga, only one of which is postures. The other seven limbs are a beautiful guide to the ways people can bring yoga off the mat and into daily life.
The 8 Limbs come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He explains them as the 8 limbed tree, where the highest is transcendental union with the Divine, and the foundation of the tree are the yamas and niyamas.
Limb #1 are the Yamas.
These are ethical codes and moral restraints. Sort of like, vows. They help us to master our bodies, our minds and our lives. There are five of them.
- Ahimsa: Non-violence. “Encompasses all forms of violence – violence in thought, speech and in deed.”
- Satya: Truthfulness. Your thoughts, values, words and actions are aligned.
- Asteya: Non-stealing. Avoid taking time and energy from others without purpose. Have integrity and be mindful of how you give what you have. “Realize the joy that comes from sharing with others. Life is for giving.”
- Brahmacharya: Awareness of your own addictions or obsessions.
- Aparigraha: non-accumulation. Do not take more than you need. Live simply.
Limb #2 are the Niyamas.
Which are observances for daily life. Rules to follow for yogic life. How to treat yourself.
- Saucha: cleanliness & purity in thoughts and action. Cut out toxic people. Journal to clear your mind of anxious thoughts. Consume healthy food.
- Santosha: contentment. Strive for an “attitude of gratitude.”
- Tapas: tolerance. Learn self control and choose to act or not.
- Swadhayay: Sacred self-study. Introspection and self-awareness. Understand your ego, your fear, and your desires. Examine your life to find a balance.
- Ishwara paridhana: Surrender. Trusting that everything is as it should.
Limb #3 is Asana
These are the postures and movements. Asana literally means seat. It is used as preparation for yoga, because yoga is a philosophical way of life. Asana practice is how we prepare the body for yoga. It involves postures, movement, mind and body control and connection. Asana should be graceful, stable and done with ease.
“You don’t own a posture until you can breathe in it.”
Limb #4 is Pranayama
This means extension of the breath. The breath is our literal lifeforce and moves energy around in the body. To understand how it moves will teach us to be calm, collected and centered. It helps to ground and connect to the nervous system in our body.
“Where focus goes energy flows.”
Limb #5 is Pratyahara
Sensory withdrawal. Sensory overload disconnects us from ourselves. We are flooded with sights, sounds and smells all day. Turn the focus of your senses from the external to the internal.
Limb #6 is Dharana
Single minded concentration. Stop the wanderings of the mind. By using a candle, a mantra, or the tip of your nose.
“Asana taught us to control the body. Pranyama taught us to control the breath. Pratyahara taught us to control the senses. Now dharana teaches us to control the mind.”
Limb #7 is Dhyana
Meditation. Objects and subjects disappear. You and your mantra become one. Separation between us and the universe begins to disappear. We begin to realize the oneness of all beings and of creation. Types of meditation depends on the person.
Limb #8 is Samadhi
The Divine union. Enlightenment. Bliss. It literally means to merge, or come together. You are at one with the universe and all identity is lost.
If you want more information, here is a free PDF you can read.
Of course, you can also read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sacred Teachings). It is a book full of bite-sized yoga wisdom. I try to open it and read one every day. I sit in stillness. I focus on the words and meditate on them like a mantra.
So this is why yoga is mostly, off the mat. It was never actually on a mat to begin with we sort of just put it there. If you have a regular yoga asana, posture, practice, I encourage you to notice if you’re practicing yoga beyond that. Think of your eight limbs.
Comment or journal prompt: What part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga resonates with you? Was there a moment while reading this that something specific came to mind? I would love to hear what that is. Please comment below or maybe head over to my social media channels (Facebook or Instagram) to share.
XO + OM