Stretching Beyond The Mat

Stretching Beyond The Mat

By Deepak Sridhar

Front bends, backward bends, triangles, lunges, warriors, shoulder stands and head stands. Ah the world of Yoga. There is no better way to start a day than an intense session of yoga practice, pushing your body ever so gently into twists and stretches, with your breath aligned and the mind at rest. The exhilaration along with the peace and calm one gets in the practice of Yoga is quite unparalleled. And yet our practice on the mat is just the beginning.

Derived from the sanskrit word “Yuj”, Yoga literally means Union or  a coming together as one. The end goal of Yoga is to truly be one with oneself. When that happens, our inner nature of joy and enthusiasm expresses itself naturally in life. It is towards experiencing this sense of union, inner freedom and joy that the postures and asanas play a role. The yoga postures or “Asanas” are just one of the eight limbs of the ancient Yoga system. Yoga starts with a sense of self-discipline and ends with a complete and unequivocal equanimous state of mind.

Maharishi Patanjali, widely considered the father of Yoga, and the author of the incredible Yoga Sutras,  defines Yoga as that state of mind devoid of any mental modulations. When one’s mind is not engrossed in imaginations, wrong perceptions, a sense of seeking, memories of the past or a state of sleep, Yoga happens, he says. 

In another ancient Indian text, the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga is defined as the skill in action. All of these point to one thing clearly - Yoga has way much more to offer us than just physical rejuvenation and a feeling of freshness. Yoga is that state of being where one is totally aware and joyful, natural and skillful, in synergy mentally and physically.

Our lives today have become a rat-race of sorts. We consume incessantly, from our phones, televisions, tablets, advertisements, and not always by our own choosing. We are increasingly chasing happiness and joy, associating them with certain events, accomplishments, people and relationships. And failing to find that happiness, we start our pursuit again, with a fresh set of goals. The happiness and joy that we strive so much for is right here and now, and the practice of Yoga will lead us to where it lies - right within us. While our daily practice of postures on our mats is extremely important, and provides a great platform for us to explore our inner selves, there is more that we can do to carry over that peace and joy to the rest of our day. 

Here are 3 ways you can stretch into Yoga outside the mat and into your daily lives:

  1. Meditation: Meditation or Dhyana, another of the eight limbs of Yoga, is an often misunderstood idea. Often people feel that Meditation is very difficult because they aren’t able to “get rid of their thoughts”. Or that they could never sit "cross legged and meditate”. Meditation, in fact, is the art of doing nothing. It is very different from concentration or emptying the mind, and the only effort one needs to undertake is to let go. Research has found that 20 minutes of meditation gives you rest that 4 hours of deep sleep does. According to scientific research, it also decreases anxiety, pain and stress while increasing immunity, grey matter and compassion! A good way to start would be to use an app like Sattva, and start a daily practice of meditation.
  2. Pranayama: Have you ever observed your breath when you’re angry or sad, or even happy or calm? Every single emotion has a corresponding rhythm of breath, and this connection is so inherent that using the breath one can change the state of the mind. Pranayama in itself is a huge science and it is easy to get lost in complexities. Start with attending the Happiness workshop with the Art of Living, and experiencing the power of breath. 
  3. Seva: There is no better way to be in Yoga than to be in seva or  selfless service - doing service without expecting anything in return, not even a thank you. Seva or service is not just an action but a frame of mind. The path of Seva, or Yoga of action asks of us one thing - to work without agenda, to act without an ulterior motive, and that this will set us free. Start with volunteering at a local shelter or soup kitchen, and experience giving. Seva is our very nature and we cannot but give when we are natural.

Just as we stretch in our mats, with each breath in and out, let us stretch ourselves into Yoga outside the mat too. For when Yoga blossoms in our lives, our work prospers, our relationships thrive and our true nature shines through - complete Peace and Happiness.

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