Taking your yoga practice off the mat
Yoga asana has its purpose. There is long established evidence in support of how a physical yoga practice helps us to work towards peace, connection, and wellbeing. In addition to working on our handstands and chaturanga dandasana alignment, it is also important to remember that life as a yogi continues after we roll up the mat. Yoga is a life philosophy – it’s a way of life - and we can incorporate more of its principles into our everyday lives outside of a regular yin or vinyasa yoga class.
Whether you are relatively new to a yoga practice or are an established salty yogi have you contemplated the reasons why you practice yoga? Maybe you’ve begun to sense that there’s something more to yoga than bending, twisting, balancing, and stretching? And what does it really mean to practice yoga anyway?
First up, let’s consider the semantics. Yoga means to unite – to connect. Yoga is an art that brings an incoherent and scattered mind to a reflective and coherent state. Yoga is the communion of the human soul with higher consciousness - the energy source that transcends human experience and permeates everything in existence (some call it ‘God’ others ‘Totality’ etc).
In Sanskrit, the ancient language in which many of the traditional yoga texts are written, “sadhana” translate as practice. However, as is the case with many words the translation is messy and reductionist. Something is lost in translation for sadhana means far more than the English verb to practice. Sadhana means to accomplish something through practice. It encapsulates both the means and the end, and it’s a principle that lies at the foundation of all spiritual and yogic endeavours motivated by a desire to feel conscious and connected.
With this in mind, yoga sadhana – a sustained practice focused towards realisation of a higher goal - can embody far more than asana (the physical postures centred on strength and flexibility).
transform your yoga practice
Understanding that there are a variety of means that can be considered foundational to a yoga practice completely transformed my personal practice and my life as a yogi. Here are just a few examples of sadhanas that enable a practitioner (a sadhaka) to work towards goals of personal growth and transformation:
· Meditation – sitting with focused attention
· Pranayama – breathing exercises
· Walking in nature
· A daily gratitude practice
Count (and contemplate) your blessings
I had been drawn to the idea of journaling for some time before I committed to a regular journaling sadhana. I found the process of scribbling my inner world out onto the pages between the notebook covers cathartic and it was fundamental to my return back from depression and illness. But there was no basic structure to how I would journal: to what I would write about or how often I would write. Most of my days outwardly looked very similar and this frustrated my desire to journal regularly. Simply regurgitating my day was uninspiring and tedious: “today I did this, and then that, and then went to work, and then came home” etc. and so weeks would go by without writing.
The key to establishing a yoga journal sadhana is to find a basic structure that resonates with you and that will form the foundation of what you write about on any given day and for me it’s blessings. Inspired by my visit to Ubud, Bali I created my own blessing cards and each morning I pull a card at random and hold that blessing in my thoughts throughout the day.
Small acts can change the world
This simple, small act of mindfully pulling a blessing card has turned into a ritual that I look forward to each morning. And small acts can change the world. Holding in blessing in my mind throughout the day changes the window through which I view and therefore experience the world. Re-framing our thought processes is a technique used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a treatment for depression and other mental illnesses traditionally used in Western psychotherapy. When I hold a positively framed word such as ‘believe’ or ‘patience’ in my thoughts I begin to notice the beauty of everyday life and the lessons inherent in every experience that would have ordinarily passed me by.
We live in a world where the media, politicians and various marketing campaigns instil fear, anxiety, and desire through the use of words. A journal sadhana focused on blessings inspires the use of positive, empowering language. Each word carries its own energetic vibration (or resonance) and can have a profound impact on the quality of our lives. The words we use in conversation with others and in our own inner thoughts are powerful; they can trigger anger or frustration, love or warmth. Words can attract and repel. Simply reflecting on a blessing, such as ‘abdundance’, during the course of a normal day has fundamentally transformed my understanding and experience of this blessing. Positive words attract positive actions and experiences.
Pulling a blessing card gives me a focus on which to base my journal musings at the end of each day. I start by defining what the blessing means to me. I then consider what comes up for me when I think of the blessing and then I reflect on how the blessing has resonated with me throughout the day. I come to know myself better and feel more conscious and connected as a result.
Establishing a yoga sadhana is a three-step process
… choose your means and then take the action - mindfully.
1. First, choose a sadahana or practice that resonates with you. What do you feel drawn to do? Daily walks in nature, sitting in meditation, scribbling your thoughts down in a notebook?
2. Consistency is key so stick with whatever practice you’ve chosen. We live in a world of countless options and a common obstacle that hinders our ability to achieve desired goals is the abundance of choice. The paradox of the mind is that it likes to be challenged, to achieve and accomplish goals, and yet it feeds off distraction that ultimately undermines our endeavours. So once you’ve decided on a sadhana you would like to work with - devote yourself to it. Devotion (a blessing in itself) involves combining love and commitment. Love what you do and perform it repeatedly. This is the key to forming new healthier habits and happier mindsets. NOTE // Practice also requires doing – the taking of action - thinking, dreaming, and procrastinating about the practice alone will not bring about the changes you desire.
3. Quality of attention is everything. Many of us have been conditioned to be gifted multi-taskers but this means that we often perform tasks habitually - mindlessly. As our repeated actions become familiar we ‘check out’ mentally, allowing the mind to wander off into any realm (the past, the future, our imagination) other than the present here and now. In time all practices becomes customary - another part of our daily routine - but the key is for this exercise not to become mindless in the way we typically brush our teeth or get dressed in the morning. No, in order to achieve your desired goal your sadhana must be practised mindfully - consuming your full attention.
Keeping the following two points in mind may help you along the way…
Be ready for the obstacles. These are the things that have a tendency to crop up along our path that cause us to give up. Practice requires commitment and committing to anything is challenging. We need to show up on a regular basis and exercise discipline. Sadhana demands sustained effort. This being said, practice with compassion; honour (recognise and respect) the ebb and flow of daily life and your energy levels – your levels of enthusiasm and interest. We live busy lives. Be realistic about when and how often you can practice. An overambitious plan from the start is doomed to have us feeling frustrated and overwhelmed within a matter of days. A yoga sadhana requires regular practice but is not about cultivating another desired healthy habit with which we can beat ourselves with when we skip practice.
Remember your why. As described above, the mind loves to wander and craves new distractions. Remembering why you wanted to practice your yoga sadhana; the outcomes you desire, the things you enjoy about the practice, and it’s purpose will help you to gain momentum. We invest our energy into a yoga sadhana because they change us for the better. They promote self-study and understanding, connection to the self and others, and heightened awareness. They are invaluable tools that help us progress towards the highest expression of who we can be.
On Sunday 24th March 2019 I will begin sharing my weekly musings on a blessing picked at random from my deck of blessing cards. I would love for you to join me in creating a community of souls who seek to extend their yoga practice off the mat into their everyday lives.
Source a notebook. Something that you will only use for this journal sadhana – no shopping or “to do” lists here.
Follow me on Instagram @theresonanceco where I’ll share a weekly blessing each Sunday for you to use as a focus/foundation for your weekly journal sadhana.
Schedule how often you would like to journal throughout the week and then commit to the practice.
Set the environment – maybe some music, light a candle, curl up in your favourite chair, make a delicious warm drink. Whatever makes you feel comfortable and relaxed and then write out your thoughts that flow from considering what the blessing means to you.
If you would like to join the conversation #resonantblessings and I’ll share inspiring posts throughout the week.
Have a beautiful day.