Westerners generally view yoga as a way to achieve a flat stomach or get rid of flabby arms. While it certainly provides such services, yoga is much more than that: It is a practice, a philosophical outlook, a way of living. If you have thus far viewed yoga only as a vehicle for physical health, consider looking at it through the lens of mental and spiritual health as well. Applying a yoga mindset to your daily life can bring benefits such as peace of mind, positivity and gratitude. Here are ways to extend your practice beyond the mat.
1. Be Present with Others
Yoga is all about presence. Placing yourself at the center of a moment and really living it is a wonderful goal inside the studio, but it doesn’t evaporate when you put your street clothes back on and step outside. Rather, your goal should be to experience every moment as deeply as you can. This is especially true when you are spending time with others. While other people’s words or concerns may not matter to us quite as much as our own, one of the greatest services we can provide is to drop our own thoughts and desires and give ourselves fully to others.
2. Dig Deep
So you’re great at digging deep to hit an elegant tree pose or really put your all into camel. But do you do the same in everyday life? Whether you’re facing a stressful work interaction, an exhausting family get-together or simply the choice between preparing a meal or giving in to junk food, digging deep can help you hitch a smile back onto your face and find that good attitude.
3. Seek Balance
Life is a constant balance between what we have to do and what we want to do, our likes and dislikes, the physical and spiritual. Although it’s hard to enjoy life when you have no clean dishes and the house is a mess, if you spend every moment worrying about little details you’ll find equally little enjoyment in your day-to-day. Apply your goal for a half-moon pose, balance, to daily tasks such as housework, scheduling and more.
4. Take Action
It’s hard to get much out of your yoga routine if you’re unwilling to take action, and the same is true for life. Although no one likes a busybody or bossypants who constantly tells people what to do or tries to fix all problems, you should consistently be prepared to take positive action in your own life.
5. Monitor Your Body
The healthiest people are those who are most in touch with themselves physically. Yoga asks us to pay attention to our physical selves throughout practice, stretching to our limit but going no further, noticing what hurts and what feels good. Begin to do this at other times as well, noting which situations or people make your neck tight, and which loosen you up. Become aware. Cultivate anxiety-free associations. Feel tension arrive, then make a conscious decision to let it go.
6. Breathe Deeply
Breath is a crucial component of yoga, and during a session you probably spend a lot of time thinking about it. Funny thing is, your breath is pretty necessary the rest of the time too, but gets almost no scrutiny. Start to pay attention to your breathing throughout the day, not just during downward dog. If you have to push through a tough moment, use breath to your advantage. You can send it toward irritation, anger and pettiness just as easily as a tight hamstring or a challenging pose.
7. Eat Mindfully
It’s hard to be present and positive with a terrible gut ache. Yoga’s emphasis on mindfulness should extend to your daily diet, from the moment you get up until you turn in for the night. You are what you eat, after all, and if you’re consuming mostly empty calories or sugary treats, you likely won’t feel your best. Revamping your diet can be difficult, though, so start slowly by making small changes and noticing what works and what doesn’t.
Yoga teaches us to be mindful of the moment…feel the breeze, in and out of the studio
8. Commit to Transformation
Yoga is about transformation, spiritual as well as physical. While the bodily benefits of yoga make themselves apparent after each workout, the spiritual benefits are more difficult to cultivate, but perhaps more rewarding. Make a commitment to transforming yourself mentally and emotionally, taking each moment of each day as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and reach for your best you.
10. Follow a Routine
9. Find a Guru
None of us are alone in the world, but a surprising number of us act as though we can only count on ourselves or have to figure everything out on our own. Luckily, this isn’t true. A saying often misattributed to the Buddha (but more likely hailing from the 19thcentury thinker Helena Blavatsky) holds that “When the pupil is ready, the Master will appear.” If you need help with something, be it your work or a hobby or raising your children, look around. There’s a good chance that if you’re really seeking guidance and enlightenment, you can find someone to help you.
Yoga exists on the foundation of firm routine. That’s one of the things that makes practice so comforting, in fact: A sun salutation is always a sun salutation. Research shows that routine also plays a huge role in healthy lifestyle and in happiness. It’s no surprise that people who manage to incorporate routines into their daily schedules end up exercising, eating and sleeping better and more consistently. Snatch these benefits for yourself by choosing set windows for sleeping and waking, mealtimes, exercise and anything else you wish to make time for.
Carrying your meditation into the events of your daily life is not a simple process. That transition point between the end of your meditation session and the beginning of 'real life' is a long jump. Buddhists take that jump and break it down into little steps.
Our everyday existence is full of motion and activity. Sitting utterly motionless for hours on end is nearly the opposite of normal experience. Those states of clarity and tranquility we foster in the midst of absolute stillness tend to dissolve as soon as we move. We need some transitional exercise that will teach us the skill of remaining calm and aware in the midst of motion. Walking meditation helps us make that transition from static repose to everyday life. It's meditation in motion, and it is often used as an alternative to sitting. Walking is especially good for those times when you are extremely restless. An hour of walking meditation will often get you through that restless energy and still yield considerable quantities of clarity. You can then go on to the seated meditation with greater profit.
To do the walking meditation, you need a private place with enough space for at least five to ten paces in a straight line. You are going to be walking back and forth very slowly, and to the eyes of most Westerners, you'll look curious and disconnected from everyday life. This is not the sort of exercise you want to perform on the front lawn where you'll attract unnecessary attention. Choose a private place.
The physical directions are simple. Select an unobstructed area and start at one end. Stand for a minute in an attentive position. Your arms can be held in any way that is comfortable, in front, in back, or at your sides. Then while breathing in, lift the heel of one foot. While breathing out, rest that foot on its toes. Again while breathing in, lift that foot, carry it forward and while breathing out, bring the foot down and touch the floor. Repeat this for the other foot. Walk very slowly to the opposite end, stand for one minute, then turn around very slowly, and stand there for another minute before you walk back. Then repeat the process. Keep you head up and you neck relaxed. Keep your eyes open to maintain balance, but don't look at anything in particular. Walk naturally. Maintain the slowest pace that is comfortable, and pay not attention to your surroundings. Watch out for tensions building up in the body, and release them as soon as you spot them. Don't make any particular attempt to be graceful. Don't try to look pretty. This is not an athletic exercise, or a dance. It is an exercise in awareness. Your objective is to attain total alertness, heightened sensitivity and a full, unblocked experience of the motion of walking. Put all of your attention on the sensations coming from the feet and legs. Try to register as much information as possible about each foot as it moves. Dive into the pure sensation of walking, and notice every subtle nuance of the movement. Feel each individual muscle as it moves. Experience every tiny change in tactile sensation as the feet press against the floor and then lift again.
Notice the way these apparently smooth motions are composed of complex series of tiny jerks. Try to miss nothing. In order to heighten your sensitivity, you can break the movement down into distinct components. Each foot goes through a lift, a swing; and then a down tread. Each of these components has a beginning, middle, and end. In order to tune yourself in to this series of motions, you can start by making explicit mental notes of each stage. Make a mental note of "lifting, swinging, coming down, touching floor, pressing" and so on. This is a training procedure to familiarize you with the sequence of motions and to make sure that you don't miss any. As you become more aware of the myriad subtle events going on, you won't have time for words. You will find yourself immersed in a fluid, unbroken awareness of motion. The feet will become your whole universe. If your mind wanders, note the distraction in the usual way, then return your attention to walking. Don't look at your feet while you are doing all of this, and don't walk back and forth watching a mental picture of your feet and legs. Don't think, just feel. You don't need the concept of feet and you don't need pictures. Just register the sensations as they flow. In the beginning, you will probably have some difficulties with balance. You are using the leg muscles in a new way, and a learning period is natural. If frustration arises, just note that and let it go.
The Vipassana walking technique is designed to flood your consciousness with simple sensations, and to do it so thoroughly that all else is pushed aside. There is no room for thought and no room for emotion. There is no time for grasping, and none for freezing the activity into a series of concepts. There is no need for a sense of self. There is only the sweep of tactile and kinesthetic sensation, an endless and ever-changing flood of raw experience. We are learning here to escape into reality, rather than from it. Whatever insights we gain are directly applicable to the rest of our notion-filled lives.
The goal of our practice is to become fully aware of all facets of our experience in an unbroken, moment-to-moment flow. Much of what we do and experience is completely unconscious in the sense that we do it with little or no attention. Our minds are on something else entirely. We spend most of our time running on automatic pilot, lost in the fog of day-dreams and preoccupations.
Your body goes through all kinds of contortions in the course of a single day. You sit and you stand. You walk and lie down. You bend, run, crawl, and sprawl. Meditation teachers urge you to become aware of this constantly ongoing dance. As you go through your day, spend a few seconds every few minutes to check your posture. Don't do it in a judgmental way. This is not an exercise to correct your posture, or to improve you appearance. Sweep your attention down through the body and feel how you are holding it. Make a silent mental note of 'Walking' or 'Sitting' or 'Lying down' or 'Standing'. It all sounds absurdly simple, but don't slight this procedure. This is a powerful exercise. If you do it thoroughly, if you really instil this mental habit deeply, it can revolutionize your experience. It taps you into a whole new dimension of sensation, and you feel like a blind man whose sight has been restored.
Every action you perform is made up of separate components. The simple action of tying your shoelaces is made up of a complex series of subtle motions. Most of these details go unobserved. In order to promote the overall habit of mindfulness, you can perform simple activities at very low speed - making an effort to pay full attention to every nuance of the act.
Sitting at a table and drinking a cup of tea is one example. There is much here to be experienced. View your posture as you are sitting and feel the handle of the cup between your fingers. Smell the aroma of the tea, notice the placement of the cup, the tea, your arm, and the table. Watch the intention to raise the arm arise within your mind, feel the arm as it raises, feel the cup against your lips and the liquid pouring into your mouth. Taste the tea, then watch the arising of the intention to lower your arm. The entire process is fascinating and beautiful, if you attend to it fully, paying detached attention to every sensation and to the flow of thought and emotion.
This same tactic can be applied to many of your daily activities. Intentionally slowing down your thoughts, words and movements allows you to penetrate far more deeply into them than you otherwise could. What you find there is utterly astonishing. In the beginning, it is very difficult to keep this deliberately slow pace during most regular activities, but skill grows with time. Profound realizations occur during sitting meditation, but even more profound revelations can take place when we really examine our own inner workings in the midst of day-to-day activities. This is the laboratory where we really start to see the mechanisms of our own emotions and the operations of our passions. Here is where we can truly gauge the reliability of our reasoning, and glimpse the difference between our true motives and the armor of pretense that we wear to fool ourselves and others.
In seated meditation, our primary focus is the breath. Total concentration on the ever-changing breath brings us squarely into the present moment. The same principle can be used in the midst of movement. You can coordinate the activity in which you are involved with your breathing. This lends a flowing rhythm to your movement, and it smooths out many of the abrupt transitions. Activity becomes easier to focus on, and mindfulness is increased. Your awareness thus stays more easily in the present. Ideally, meditation should be a 24 hour-a-day practice. This is a highly practical suggestion.
A state of mindfulness is a state of mental readiness. The mind is not burdened with preoccupations or bound in worries. Whatever comes up can be dealt with instantly. When you are truly mindful, your nervous system has a freshness and resiliency which fosters insight. A problem arises and you simply deal with it, quickly, efficiently, and with a minimum of fuss. You don't stand there in a dither, and you don't run off to a quiet corner so you can sit down and meditate about it. You simply deal with it. And in those rare circumstances when no solution seems possible, you don't worry about that. You just go on to the next thing that needs your attention. Your intuition becomes a very practical faculty.
The concept of wasted time does not exist for a serious meditator. Little dead spaces during your day can be turned to profit. Every spare moment can be used for meditation. Sitting anxiously in the dentist's office, meditate on your anxiety. Feeling irritated while standing in a line at the bank, meditate on irritation. Bored, twiddling you thumbs at the bus stop, meditate on boredom. Try to stay alert and aware throughout the day. Be mindful of exactly what is taking place right now, even if it is tedious drudgery. Take advantage of moments when you are alone. Take advantage of activities that are largely mechanical. Use every spare second to be mindful. Use all the moments you can.
Concentration On All ActivitiesYou should try to maintain mindfulness of every activity and perception through the day, starting with the first perception when you awake, and ending with the last thought before you fall asleep. This is an incredibly tall goal to shoot for. Don't expect to be able to achieve this work soon. Just take it slowly and let you abilities grow over time. The most feasible way to go about the task is to divide your day up into chunks. Dedicate a certain interval to mindfulness of posture, then extend this mindfulness to other simple activities: eating, washing, dressing, and so forth. Some time during the day, you can set aside 15 minutes or so to practice the observation of specific types of mental states: pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral feelings, for instance; or the hindrances, or thoughts. The specific routine is up to you. The idea is to get practice at spotting the various items, and to preserve your state of mindfulness as fully as you can throughout the day.
Try to achieve a daily routine in which there is as little difference as possible between seated meditation and the rest of your experience. Let the one slide naturally into the other. Your body is almost never still. There is always motion to observe. At the very least, there is breathing. Your mind never stops chattering, except in the very deepest states of concentration. There is always something coming up to observe. If you seriously apply your meditation, you will never be at a loss for something worthy of your attention.
Your practice must be made to apply to your everyday living situation. That is your laboratory. It provides the trials and challenges you need to make your practice deep and genuine. It's the fire that purifies your practice of deception and error, the acid test that shows you when you are getting somewhere and when you are fooling yourself. If your meditation isn't helping you to cope with everyday conflicts and struggles, then it is shallow. If your day-to-day emotional reactions are not becoming clearer and easier to manage, then you are wasting your time. And you never know how you are doing until you actually make that test.
The practice of mindfulness is supposed to be a universal practice. You don't do it sometimes and drop it the rest of the time. You do it all the time. Meditation that is successful only when you are withdrawn in some soundproof ivory tower is still undeveloped. Insight meditation is the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. The meditator learns to pay bare attention to the birth, growth, and decay of all the phenomena of the mind. He turns from none of it, and he lets none of it escape. Thoughts and emotions, activities and desires, the whole show. He watches it all and he watches it continuously. It matters not whether it is lovely or horrid, beautiful or shameful. He sees the way it is and the way it changes. No aspect of experience is excluded or avoided. It is a very thoroughgoing procedure.
If you are moving through your daily activities and you find yourself in a state of boredom, then meditate on your boredom. Find out how it feels, how it works, and what it is composed of. If you are angry, meditate on the anger. Explore the mechanics of anger. Don't run from it. If you find yourself sitting in the grip of a dark depression, meditate on the depression. Investigate depression in a detached and inquiring way. Don't flee from it blindly. Explore the maze and chart its pathways. That way you will be better able to cope with the next depression that comes along.
Meditate your way through the ups and downs of daily life. This kind of practice is extremely rigorous and demanding, but it engenders a state of mental flexibility that is beyond comparison. A meditator keeps his mind open every second. He is constantly investigating life, inspecting his own experience, viewing existence in a detached and inquisitive way. Thus he is constantly open to truth in any form, from any source, and at any time. This is the state of mind you need for Liberation.
It is said that one may attain enlightenment at any moment if the mind is kept in a state of meditative readiness. The tiniest, most ordinary perception can be the stimulus: a view of the moon, the cry of a bird, the sound of the wind in the trees. It's not so important what is perceived as the way in which you attend to that perception. The state of open readiness is essential. It could happen to you right now if you are ready. The sound of these words in your head might be enough. You could attain enlightenment right now, if you are ready.
NEVER STOP PRACTICING!