There’s a hashtag I use on my Instagram posts — “#yogaoffthemat” — that categorizes certain kinds of experiences I have — those where I genuinely feel like I’m enacting my practice outside the four corners of the sticky mat. Just as in therapy, I learned that the real work of yoga begins when you leave the safety of the studio, and see how your practice influences you in the world.
Out there, in the throes of everyday life, can you still hold onto the core essence of who you are and want to be? Can you adhere to your principles when everything seems be challenged? Can you find inner peace when your surroundings are in chaos? What do you do with anger? In other words, how can you really learn to practice yoga off the mat?
Recently, I’ve found myself deeply challenged by these questions. Surprisingly, it took one hell of a fight, one in which I was brought to the brink of my anger-potential, to explore my capacity for kindness and forgiveness.
But first, a little background: my husband and I live in an amazing house on Kauai, where we sublease a bedroom to two of our friends (a couple). Months ago when I was still pregnant at the time, we made an oral agreement to revisit the living arrangement once the baby was born. The couple readily agreed.
Fast-forward four months: my husband and I realized that our shared home situation was no longer working. So we asked our friends to move out, providing them ample time to find a new place. While the initial conversation went well, things quickly devolved into accusations, and inaccurately-remembered conversations. So we updated our request with a firm move-out date, to which they went to the landlord without our knowing. They found a loophole in landlord-tenant rights on the island, and received another 45 days in the house.
I was livid. I called a lawyer, the island’s rental hotline, realtor friends, but every approach I took to figure out a solution continued to result in a dead end. It wasn’t a clear-cut case and while we could indeed fight to be in the right, the energy it would require would likely outlast the 45 days.
As a new mother, I wanted first and foremost to protect my new baby and my family, but I suddenly felt myself consumed by anger. Yet I could also see that my anger was only causing me further stress, so much so that I actually became physically ill — and subsequently, so did my newborn baby. At that point, I realized my anger was no longer worth it. I called my friend and life coach for much-needed perspective.
My friend advised me that everything in life can be thought of either as an act of love or a call for love. As a yoga teacher who’s devoted over a decade of self-study, this resonated with me. I’d been surprised at how nasty I wanted to become, especially considering that my resentment wasn’t teaching my friend anything. It was only causing more pain within me.
Of course, anger is not something to be avoided. It can serve as a catalyst for change. Anger can invite us to approach a problem head-on and solve it. So I observed my anger, but I also didn’t let it control me. And in order to stand in integrity, I did what I knew how to do: forgiveness practices, meditation, visualizations. At the same time, I also let my friends know — transparently and firmly — how they had overstepped healthy boundaries, and that there were consequences to their actions. In short, I wanted nothing more to do with them.
Yet when my friend told me to consider the gift in all this, my body softened. I realized that one day, my daughter may do something I disapprove on. It will be her life. She’ll have to learn things on her own. I won’t be able to control everything no matter how much I’ll want to.
I believe “life lessons” like these appear when we’re ready for them — even if it doesn’t feel like it. Some of our greatest growth opportunities come from the heartiest challenges, as long as we show up enough to break old patterns and shift ways of being. While the path toward becoming more enlightened version of who we currently are isn’t always pretty on the surface, it's a deeply beautiful process.
So what’s your latest #yogaoffthemat experience?