If you’re here on Yoga International, it's likely you're already familiar with the great feelings that arise during and right after a yoga class. That blissful window of time where you reconnect with your body, your breath, and the present moment is a big part of what keeps so many of us coming back for more.
And then we get into our cars and drive straight back into the world with all its noise, traffic jams, overcrowding, and frustrations.
How’s the serenity now, my yogi friend?
Loving thy neighbor is easy when we’re talking about the gentle soul on the mat next to you who's offering you a peaceful namaste. But when thy neighbor has parked right in front of thy garage so thee must go knocking on doors in the rain? Or when your angelic child is having a seriously unangelic meltdown in the supermarket, or your partner has brought their office argument home with them, or your colleague is merrily taking full credit for work you’ve spent tons of time and energy on? How’s the serenity now, my yogi friend?
This is the real practice. And here are some ideas to help you bring that post-class peace into your daily life.
Your breath is your sanctuary. You’ve got it with you 24/7, so use it. Not just to stay alive—you don’t get much choice in that—but breathing is unique in that it is an autonomic function over which we also have control. When we make our exhales longer than our inhales, the body immediately receives a message that it can chill out. The relaxation response kicks in, taking us out of fight or flight, reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and inducing a greater sense of calm. Next time you feel the pressure rising, notice the relationship between your inhale and exhale by counting in your head. How many counts is your natural inhale? How many counts is your natural exhale? There’s no "right" number. Just observe. Next, increase your exhale by one count. If that’s comfortable, add another count. You can continue to lengthen your exhale until it's twice as long as the inhale. Only take it as far as is comfortable; there should be no strain or forcing. This is my favorite go-to instant stress reliever of all time. Try it for yourself, it’s like magic!
Use waiting in line as a chance to check in with yourself. Instead of checking your phone or silently cursing the slowpoke in front of you when you’re in a queue, check your posture! Stand with your weight evenly distributed between your feet, spine tall, pelvis neutral. Relax your shoulders, face, and jaw, and take full, steady breaths here in tadasana (mountain pose). Better, right?
Flow through the jam. Sitting in traffic AGAIN? Pass the time and cool your frustration by sensing your body from the inside out. Take your attention to your feet and work your way up your body. Can you feel a slight vibration, a sense of aliveness in each part of you? What’s going on in each area of your body today?
Be mindful. Bring your full consciousness to everyday tasks. When we give daily duties our full attention, it infuses them with care and quality and anchors us firmly in the only place anything can ever actually happen—the present.
Take your class with you. When you’re in class, see if you can really pay attention to what feels good and not so good in your body. Does one side of your body tend to be tighter than the other? Do you have a frequent, nagging ache or pain? Back in your everyday life, pay attention to any habitual movement patterns which might be contributing to these imbalances. Do you always cross your legs a certain way? Carry a heavy bag on one shoulder? Can you try to alter those patterns, or at least lavish a little more attention on the side that suffers as a result?
Sprinkle your day with asana. Which postures and movements feel delicious in class? Sneak a few of them (or variation of them) into your day. In the office, you could take some seated side stretches or twists. Or cross one ankle above the other knee and slowly fold forward into a seated pigeon. Or sit on your hands and lift and open your chest and throat in an adaptation of matsyasana (fish pose). You could try engaging and releasing the bandhas whilst waiting for the elevator, practice ujjayi breath when you’re walking down the street, or challenge your focus by standing in tree pose and finding your drishti while you brush your teeth!
Which postures and movements feel delicious in class? Sneak a few of them (or variation of them) into your day.
Yama and niyama project Try a 10-day challenge! Each day, focus on one of the yamas (ahimsa, non-harming; satya, truthfulness; asteya, non-stealing; brahmacharya (moderation of the senses); and aparigraha (non-possessiveness) or niyamas (shaucha, self-purification; santosha, contentment; tapas, self-discipline; svadhyaya (self-study); and ishvara pranidhana (self-surrender). See how you can apply it throughout your day. Get creative! Asteya, for example, doesn’t just refer to bypassing the checkout at the grocery store. When someone talks to you, are you stealing your full attention away from their words by figuring out what you’re going to say next instead of truly listening? Can you exercise brahmacharya by being moderate in your responses, or by using only what you really need of consumable items? There are infinite ways in which these beautiful guidelines can serve you everyday.
The practices of yoga, used wisely and applied broadly, can make us more resilient to all of life’s stresses and simply make life easier and more pleasant. What’s in your toolkit?