Yoga Beyond the Mat
The other day my daughter was working in a Covid Vaccine clinic and she messaged me at break saying how tiring it was. So I messaged back to her to be ‘a work yogi’. I advised her to do some stretches and twists, and take some deep yogic breaths. Later she messaged back to say it really helped.
The next day I discussed this on the social media and many people seemed to really like the idea of yoga beyond the mat. Yoga is not just about doing exercise for an hour or two a week on a mat, but something you can apply in daily life. Stretches, twists, bending, breathing…You may get a strange look but who cares! Also the attitude of a mindful yogi, focusing on one posture at a time is a very useful thing to remember when you feel overwhelmed with your task lists.
It’s so exciting now so many people do yoga to gain many practical benefits and there are so many classes and materials available. I truely believe that yoga is the best thing one can do to his/her physical and mental well-being. Having said all of this though, I think it’s a bit of a shame if we end our practice there because I think yoga has so much more to offer.
I want to talk a little bit about the origin of yoga.
In the West, when we talk about yoga, we almost always mean hatha yoga –physical yoga. But in the classical sense, yoga is a school of philosophical system, and it is a means to achieve the spiritual transformation.
Yoga Sutra is one of the most important classical yoga texts, written by Patanjali, in probably about the 4th century. In the very first chapter in the second sutra, Patanjali declares the aim of yoga as chitta vritti nirodha – Stilling of the mind.
Our suffering comes from our ever moving thoughts. Our minds flicker to the past, thinking over our regrets, anger and guilt. Our minds flicker to the future causing anxiety and fear. If you can stop our constantly moving mind, we will achieve inner peace.
I live by the sea, by one of the few surf beaches in the UK. So there are almost always waves in the sea and the water is not clear because the sands are constantly churned by the surf. But just a few days in a year in the summer, the sea may be really still with no waves. Then it is completely different and it’s like a lake. The water is still and you can see the bottom. Our mind is the same. If we can still our mind, we will find peace which is our true nature.
Patanjali goes further. Yoga is not just about gaining personal peace by stilling the mind but how we relate to the world as well. In the second chapter, he writes,
‘Serenity of mind is achieved when one shows friendship towards those who are happy, compassion for those who suffer, delight towards the righteous, and indifference towards the wicked.’
In fact , as pre-requisites for yoga practice, he lists a guidance of moral conducts called yama and niyama, such as non-violence, truthfulness, non-greediness and purity. Although they are listed as pre-requisites, it doesn’t mean you should wait to start your practice until you achieve them. Rather they work in a spiral. Having kind and compassionate mental attitude will help your yoga practice and yoga practice will enhance these qualities. After all, how can you have inner peace if you are selfish and greedy?
Yoga is a truly transformative system of consciousness and it doesn’t only relate to your own inner peace but also the way we relate the world. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think that yoga may have the potential to bring the transformation to this world?
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