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 10 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. 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.
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.
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 19th century 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.
10. Follow Routine
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.
What is your favorite way to apply the yoga mindset to everyday life? Please share!
Photo: Mary Hood; Auntie P via Flickr