Taking yoga off the mat and living in balance

The western world can be a frantic crazy place, filled with commuting, 9-7 working and commitments that we often don’t have control over, add in our penchant for a glass of wine and you could be forgiven for thinking that no westerner can really live a yogic lifestyle. Throw in the Instagram image of the perfect yogi in a physical and lifestyle sense and you can easily see why often to an outside yoga looks inaccessible. Of course there is space for everyone’s views and some people take to a vegan lifestyle, no drinking and dedication to the physical and mental practice of yoga but if you remain a drinking, life juggling, meat eater are you any less of a yogi?

This is something I have struggled with over the last year or so. I panicked over being the only meat eating drinker on my yoga teacher training (and found out quite quickly that I wasn’t) and have also struggled a little bit on my return from India and the beginning of my teaching journey. Often wondering how to portray myself when I am not that quintessential yoga person. The more I chat to others within the yoga teaching world I’ve found that often we are all coming from the same viewpoint and that there is a need for more honesty particularly in the online world. As I’m sure you will have notice if you follow me on Instagram I am trying to be as honest and open on there in order to dispel the slight myth of the ‘perfect’ yoga teacher. We are human after all and the point I keep on coming back to is as long as I am present and honest in all parts of my life does it really matter that the way I am living does not entirely fit with the dogma set out in the ancient texts of yoga?

Traditionally yoga came from India approximately 5000 years ago and follows the eight limbs set out by Patanjali, one of which is asana or the physical practice we define as yoga in the west. The other seven are:

– yamas – how we treat others

– niyamas – how we treat ourselves

– pranayama – breathwork

– pratyahara- sense withdrawal

– dharana – concentration

– dhyana- meditation

– samadhi – enlightenment

When we’re looking at that ‘authentic’ yoga lifestyle its the yamas and niyamas and their codes of conduct that is being referred to. It’s all about taking that love you feel for yourself on the mat out into the wider world when you leave your class. Practising non violence and truthfulness, following the path of life in a devout and sharing way, ensuring that you’re content and focusing on your own self study and I believe that these really can be followed while living a more western lifestyle. In order to look at this more closely I’ve broken down the yamas and niyamas below and added how I’m using these as cues for my lifestyle. I thought by being open on what I am doing and what I find difficult this might give you some ideas and maybe you can give me some pointers as well?

I guess at the moment I am really focused on breaking down the barriers that make yoga seem inaccessible to some. As a yoga teacher I think it is important in this day and age to project an image that perfection is not necessary, if you’re there in your physical and lifestyle practice then great but it’s also ok to be trying your best. I’m not perfect but I’m present in my decisions and I’m trying to live in a more authentic way.

Yamas – How we treat others

– Ahimsa – non violence – the yama that is often used to promote a vegetarian or vegan diet, I’m using this as a cue to tread as lightly on the planet as possible. I’m remaining a meat eater, which is my choice, but I am cutting down on the amount of meat I consume and being more aware where it comes from. I also think this a great reminder to look after the world around you and to be as careful and protecting of it as you can be (see my previous post on how I’m trying to be more eco friendly here) and so I am definitely stepping up my ecological actions as well

– Satya – truthfulness – I use this as a cue to be as kind to myself and others as possible. This does not mean constantly telling the truth if it will hurt someone but remaining true my values and being vocal in these. Also treating myself the way I would treat everyone else as we so often treat ourselves as our own worst enemies. I’m working to being more comfortable with myself

– Asteya – non stealing – this is often a yama to be seen as quite easy, just don’t steal anything right? But I’m also using it as a cue to be more aware of what I am using and not being wasteful with it whether it be material goods or food or maybe someone elses time

– Brahmacharya – discipline of the senses – being aware and revelling in my senses. This is one I find difficult, I am easily distracted but I am trying to take the time to properly look, and experience the senses of day to day life and trying to break the habit of having my phone near me all the time! Not easy when so much of your worklife is net based!

– Aparigraha – non hoarding – this one is similar to what I’m working on for asteya by just being conscious of what I am buying and if I am getting rid of something ensuring it can either go on to someone else or be recycled. I’ll be honest I have a lot of stuff (years of working in fashion culminates in a bulging wardrobe and a love of books in a very large bookcase) but I’m being conscious of only adding things I genuinely love, not just that bored shopping lunchtime buy

Niyamas – How we treat ourselves

– Saucha – cleanliness and removal of impurities – obviously making sure I wash….but also I’m trying to be clean in my thoughts and how I move. Being decisive and getting rid of habits that slow me down, damage or don’t serve me, working towards as clear a mind as possible and being clean and pure in how I live my life. Again it’s not easy and is a daily struggle but I’m trying to ensure that everything I do is thought about and a more conscious effort whether it be in my physical practice or in day to day life

– Santosha – contentment – one of the hardest I think, being content with what I have, reeling back the sense to strive for more when it isn’t working for me. This doesn’t mean I’m not striving but just trying to realise the moments where I need to take a step back and be content rather than pushing constantly

– Tapas – disciplined practice – for me this is properly cultivating a home practice. You may think as a yoga teacher this is something I should have already but for me it’s work in progress, making the time and having the intention to properly practice at home and challenge myself within this practice. Life has a habit of getting in the way!

– Svadhyaya – self study – not only taking the time to study the self but also to learn new things. I’m trying to broaden the literature I read and the podcasts I listen to as well as making the time to visit galleries and the theatre more, both of which I adore. I think it’s so important to step outside of your learning comfort zone and to explore and learn new things

– Ishvara Pranidhana – surrendering to the divine – this is something I’ve been working on since I came home from India. I grew up in quite a religious family and even though that is not a large part of my life right now I’m making myself more open to my spiritual side whether that be through organised religion, yoga, astrology or just taking the time to listen to myself.

All of these yamas and niyamas come back to loving yourself and having respect for the world around you, I think. Maybe looking to change the way we live in a few ways but also being able to balance life without giving yourself a hard time. I think particularly santosha is good for this, being content with how you are progressing and not pushing yourself constantly.

Are these codes reflected in the way you are living? Do they resonate with your lifestyle? Maybe try introducing a few into your off mat practice and begin to take your practice further than the physical.

The more I think about this and mull over my own off mat practice I come to the conclusion that my practice is authentic one, my heart body and mind are all working towards the same goals which surely reflect the union of yoga. It won’t ever be quite as envisioned 5000 years ago but back then yoga was practiced by men and boys in the Himalayas and now it’s women in leggings in Soho. I think it’s just really interesting to watch our off mat practice and ensure it matches our on mat practice. Taking those feelings you get post movement and applying them to other parts of your life. But remember it’s completely in my eyes for this balance, to be give and take, we are human after all and as long as the intention and effort is there it can be no bad thing.

What are your thoughts? How are you living yoga in your world? What does yogic living mean to you? I’d love to hear your thoughts

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