Practicing Life Off the Mat

“A yoga practice off the mat is one worth keeping, simply doing a yoga practice will never give you the results you are truly hoping for.”

Lately my yoga practice has been much more spiritual and life orientated – “off the mat” – than ever before. I used to do a lot (I mean a lot) of physical practice, and now, almost 12 years later, I have come to really realize and appreciate that those poses I did so diligently were teaching me something far greater than to be physically flexible, toned and strong. I have realized that only gaining the physical benefits and nothing more is beside the point of, well, yoga.

Now, these last 12 years of practice have been very much a spiritual and mental based one, but as some of you may have discovered, we learn in layers. If you think that you can learn something all at once, you really have not learned anything at all. If you think you have the answer one second, the next you will not. And for me this used to be a deal breaker; it used to be what would break me down and spit me out. I told a friend the other day that when you keep repeating the same mistake (or choice) or you keep picking the same wrong guy, it’s life’s way of “just checking” to see if you really learned, if you really “got” what you promised you would never do again.

Yoga also helps us realized that we tend to work out of the ego (and remember the ego and fear are the same thing). Sometimes, we feel too good for something, that we know it all, that the beginner class we are taking is far below us, or the teacher we are stuck with is not good enough to offer us what we came to our mats for. And, my journey – a wild one at that – has slapped me in the face saying (in pretty much these exact words), “Get off your high horse; you ain’t getting nothing more in life than this until you learn from what is in front of you in this moment.”

As you step into whatever is in front of you, whatever is coming your way, recognize that no one is too good for anything, that the chip on your shoulder is only bringing you down, is only holding you back, and is only making you look like the fool. And, the only reason I speak this way is because I used to be that fool, that insecure person with the chip on her shoulder, being critical of others because I was bitterly critical of myself to the deepest degree.

Allow your mat to bring you to a place (and it will most likely take years and lifetimes) where you feel you have nothing to hide, that honesty is not based on what others think or only what you want others to think; but based on the honesty and decency in your deepest heart. I spent several of my first years in recovery hiding that I was an addict, that I struggled with severe depression and anxiety, and that I have been to hell and back in what at first seemed to me a very shameful way. And looking back, I think that was merely a protection mechanism for my fragile body, mind and spirit to actually begin recovery. But after a while, I discovered you have to shed that protection layer and start to own it.

That owning brings me back to the ego. It brings me right back to the reminder of what is in front of us, right at this moment, good or bad, confusing or easy, boring or enlightening, agreeable or disagreeable; it’s necessary for each of us to move forward. And, we as a people are only kidding ourselves if we think that we can cheat this life code.

I wish you openness and honesty in all that you do.

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