Even if you’re the most avid yoga practitioner, some days you just can’t make it to the mat. But we’re surely missing out if we think that our yoga practice only exists in the postures we do. Yoga’s Eight Limbs, defined by Pantanjali in his Yoga Sutra, describe many more ways to express our connection to yoga than just the asanas (poses). Plus, when we connect to the other aspects of the practice, which exist outside the physical poses, we develop a broader understanding of the varied depths of yoga itself.
Here’s a quick list of ten things you can do to stay connected to your practice, outside of doing asana. I’ve noted the particular aspect of yoga philosophy that is the foundation of the tip:
Stop at three distinct points in your day for a round of deep breathing or Pranayama. Deep breathing stimulates your parasympathic nervous system, which is in charge of triggering the relaxation effect. Not only will you feel better, it’s the first step towards the different meditative phases of yoga.
Have that hard conversation with someone you love. This idea of being truthful is the basis for the concept of satya. Satya is one of the yamas, or 5 moral restraints, as they’re called. We sometimes think that holding back the truth will serve not only us but the person with whom we need to share it. Rather than holding back, share truthfully, even if it’s hard. In most cases, the harder it is to share, the more it needs to be said.
I love that tagline that Ellen DeGeneres says at the end of her show, “Be kind to one another.” In it is one aspect of Ahimsa, or non-violence, another of the yamas. You can express it in other ways too; refrain from arguing, let that person that cuts you off just go by without having a fit, think more about what you eat and the path it took to your plate and perhaps make some changes based on what you realize.
Take a look at your workspace, your car, your home. Does it reflect order or chaos? We all have different thresholds for what we can tolerate but the idea of one of the niyamas, or second limb of yoga, is Sauca, which translated, means “cleanliness or purity.” Maybe being a neat freak isn’t your thing but one step to creating calm and peace in your life is connected to having peace around you. You can also think about it in the context of what you eat and how it serves (or doesn’t serve your health).
Most people would never consider outright stealing but did you consider that holding back from giving, because you’re attached to something from a selfish perspective, “stealing?” It’s one way to look at the concept expressed in one of the yamas, Asteya, or nonstealing. Another angle of “stealing” could be considered the act of hoarding. Maybe there are things in your life you can let go of, or people even, relationships, about which you feel an attachment that comes from an unhealthy place?
Have you ever found yourself relaxing, closing your eyes and intentionally starting to relax into your body? You’re still aware of what’s going on around you but it becomes like a quiet buzz, not the loud noises you may hear if you were wide awake. This of course can happen while resting after practice or even as you meditate. This idea of Pratyahara is the beginning of moving into the deeper stages of meditation. Along with pranayama, it’s a wonderful way to relax.
In my recent retreat, led by myself and author Brett Blumenthal, founder of Sheer Balance, she asked participants to go through a list of possible life values and select those that were most important them. This is a great example of Svadhyaya, or self-study, one of the niyamas, or five observances. Another example of this concept in action was something I did at my recent Women’s Wellness Group, where we examined unhealthy habits and broke them down into actions, reactions and sensations to better understand how to change them into something more positive. Any reflective time you spend observing yourself is putting this concept into action.
Have you ever done the right thing for yourself, even though it wasn’t the most fun or popular decision? In this action is the concept of Tapas, or austerity, another one of the niyamas. The Sanskrit word “tap” means “to burn” and if you think of the “burning” that occurs when we do the right thing, work hard, focus and develop our skills towards being our best self, you can see how this idea of “burning zeal” comes into play. This is not always used in reference to physical practice; in fact it’s more about attitudes, behaviors and actions reflecting a commitment to honorable values.
The last two concepts are Dhyana and Samadhi, the last 2 limbs on the 8-limb path. These are the deeper phases of concentration or meditation. Dhyana literally means “meditation” while Samadhi refers to deep absorption and a sense of removing “you” from the equation of your experience of the world around you. We often think of these two stages as attainable only through seated meditation but there are many other activities that can elicit this single-point of focus. The one that most easily comes to my mind, as a golfer, is playing the game of golf. In golf, you try to bring all your senses to one point of focus, and see perfectly clearly, despite distractions around you. Think of things you love to do, really love, and see if in these actions, you begin to slip into a state of Samadhi.
The ideas presented here are merely examples. They’re meant to illustrate to you that yoga is not only about the poses but in fact is meant to be a system that you could use to develop greater awareness, greater mental and physical health and connect on some level to greater peace in your life.