Practical Benefits of Yoga off the Mat

Written by Amanda Whittal.

As I continue dedicate my life to the exploration and teaching of yoga and holistic health, I continue to learn just how vast the field is. For every aspect we come to understand, there are thousands of branches of knowledge and application that we don't yet know or comprehend.

beach yoga mat

For instance, one of the foundational elements upon which a yoga practice is built is the breathwork, yet just as we begin to feel that we have mastered the breathing, it is brought to our attention that this is only one style, and there are in fact hundreds of different techniques, each serving a specific purpose. Likewise, there are many different styles of yoga...hatha, ashtanga, kundalini, kripalu, anusara... where does one even begin?

The array of avenues, and practices in needn't be as intimidating as they appear at first glance. Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that they are merely unique paths to the same destination. The underlying goal of each is to enhance your own inner awareness and aliveness, subsequently cultivating more presence and peace. However you get there and whatever means works to ignite this in you is irrelevant.

If you find inner peace and focus through hiking, that's your yoga, if you experience union in mind body and spirit playing football, then that's your yoga, etc. The asanas (postures) are heavily emphasized because they are the physical application of the experience, and therefore come with the physical health benefits that we all enjoy, such as greater overall well being, enhanced circulation, decreased stress, etc.

What I'd like to turn your attention to aside from these more obvious positives, are the other aspects of yoga, and how they translate off the mat into daily living.

Many styles of yoga will emphasize the focus on your witness state, or centre: this refers the still place within that notices the physical experience of your asanas, where your thoughts are on a given day, and how you're feeling emotionally. With the use of breath work and meditation, your capacity to connect with this part of you increases, and you develop a more grounded and peaceful approach to interacting with the world, as you begin to live from this place more frequently.

Living from here means your are able to feel your experiences fully, while at the same time rather than getting consumed by them, recognizing that all things, no matter how intense, will eventually end, but the part of you watching will remain: strong, steadfast, calm.

As you learn to reach this place in your yoga practice, you more regularly begin to experience it in your daily life. Yoga helps us recognize our habits, good and bad, and allows us enhance the positive ones, while releasing the non-supportive ones. It should be noted, that while the physical practice does play a large role in this, there are other facets worth exploring that round out the discipline, bringing more attention to the investigation of our mental and emotional states.

As I said, the knowledge is vast and the branches many, but here are a couple of main things I recommend if you're interested in the exploration:

Breath work and mediation: incorporate these both into your practice and on their own. When you have some time, even 5 minutes, pause, focus on your breathing, and allow your mind to take a rest from its normal flurry of activity. Discover stillness. During your practice, direct your attention to staying on your breathing as you move, notice the ease it brings to each posture.

The Yamas and Niyamas, also known as the 8 limbs of yoga. These are not rules or laws, but suggestions for ways to live a better, more centred and peaceful life. The Yamas are moral principles about how you treat others and the world around you. There are 5:

The Niyamas are inner observances about ourselves and our beliefs/actions. There are also 5:

These other sides of yoga further allow us to live more consciously, more aware of ourselves and our thoughts and actions. Bringing this awareness into life empowers us to come more fully into our unique expression of ourselves and what we bring to the world, with integrity, grace and energy. Namaste (I honour the light within you).

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