Off the Mat: 5 Things I Learned From Yoga

Yoga lingo. We throw it around like everyone speaks Sanskrit. One of our favorite Yogi phrases to throw around: off the mat.

When we are “On the mat” we Tadasana, Utkatasana, Utthita Trikonasana, and Adho Mukha Svanasana But when we talk about a practice “off the mat” – we mean the stuff yogis take with them out of the studio and into the world.

5 Things I Have Taken “Off the Mat”

1. I think I’m a good listener, but am I? I have always identified as a “good listener.” But in classes at 502PY, I’m realizing that I am not always listening.

In yoga, you know when you aren’t listening. When you’re in Mountain Pose and everyone else is Chaturanga-ing, you definitely weren’t paying attention. On the mat, I laugh these moments off and find my way to the correct pose. Off the mat, it’s made me think more critically: where else and with whom am I not truly listening?

2. Where do I add extra crap in my life? I can hear Sarah’s voice now. “GUYS, some of you are tugging on your tank top, fixing your hair, wiping sweat from your face before moving into Crescent Lunge. Just go into Crescent Lunge. Go there, without adding that extra crap.”

I add a lot of “extra” to my life. When I get home from work, I notice that I spend the first 20 minutes thinking about what I need to do. “I should roll up my yoga mat.” “I should put a load of laundry in.”  “I should make dinner.” Why on Earth am I not just doing these things instead of thinking about doing them? My tendency to make mental lists stalls me from taking action. And life is about taking action. I know what I need to do and where I need to be. I need to just go there; anything else is extra crap.

3. Breath builds power. This has been my simplest, and most entertaining, lesson learned from practice at 502PY. Remembering to breathe is so important to our yoga practice. And we don’t just breathe any old way; we practice Ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath is “victorious breath” a.k.a. “sounds-like-the-ocean breath” a.k.a. “Darth Vader breath.” It builds heat in your physical body; it builds calm and focus in your mental body.

Two recent moments when I took Ujjayi breathing off my mat:

1) At work. When an incident at work left me wanting to scream at the top of my lungs, I closed my office door, took a few deep Ujjayi breaths, and brought myself back to calm/appropriate/professional Carrie.

2) Before a date! When some last-minute nerves crept up, I paused, breathed, and kicked the worry and stress to the curb.

4. Together we can do things we cannot do alone. This has been the biggest breakthrough, and the biggest challenge, for me to take off my mat. I’m an extremely independent person. I used to cringe when people spouted, “Together we can do things we cannot do alone.” I thought it was baloney. I thought it only applied to those people who couldn’t figure out how to do things on their own. I’m not exactly proud to write that, but it’s true.

I’ll never forget the first time the 502PY community proved me wrong. The class was in Tree Pose, and we were asked to go back, to try on a mini-backbend. I went, I bent, I did okay. Then, the teacher told us to stay in Tree, press our hands against our neighbors’, and go back again. And I went back deeper, more gracefully than I ever had. I stood up, mind blown. It was undeniable, anatomical proof that with the pressure and support of a row of yogis, I went somewhere I could not go alone. I still have a lot of work to do on this topic, but today when I think about my career, my relationships, my interactions with strangers, I often catch myself going back to that Tree Pose moment.

5.  Rest is how you rebuild, how you come out stronger. I love this. I love Savasana at the end of a yoga class, and I love what it stands for. Savasana, or final resting pose, isn’t about napping or checking out from all the work you just did. Savasana is when you give yourself permission to rest and absorb the benefits of your practice. It’s the part where your body rebuilds so that when you sit up in a few minutes, you are stronger than you were when you entered the studio that day. (You know how when you install updates on your computer, and, after all of the whirring and downloading, the computer needs to close all programs and restart? Yeah, Savasana’s kinda like that.)

We need to be taking Savasana all the time off our mats.

We live in this fast-paced, crazy, demanding world. Self-care, rest, and fun is so important, and often so overlooked. In the studio, the teacher tells us when to take Savasana. Off the mat, we have to create our own Savasana, and we have to do it without feeling guilty. Savasana is our reset button.

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I’d have said I wasn’t buying “off the mat.” No way. But today, I spend my days with an incredible community at 502 PY, and I’m seeing the off the mat practice come to life.

 

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