Thursday, January 26, 2012

Off My Mat


In yoga class at Hot Yoga Nashville, my teachers are constantly saying how important it is to take our practice off of our mats - that attending a yoga class is just a part of our yoga practice. Practicing yoga includes looking for ways to incorporate the principals of yoga into everyday-life. One of the many reasons I practice yoga is to maintain flexibility. ON my mat, that translates into being able to place my forehead onto my knee during a stretch, or grasp the soles of my feet while seated on the floor, legs outstretched. OFF of my mat, that attitude of flexibility might allow me to move through the course of a hectic day, taking a traffic tie-up in stride when I've got an important appointment, or finding that I've chosen the wrong (ie: SLOOOOW) check-out line at the grocery store when I need to get home and work on a paper and choosing to NOT be grouchy about it.

Balance is something that I've been thinking about a lot lately - on and off of my yoga mat. It is interesting how easily swayed we are by the people and circumstances that surround us, whether we want to believe it or not. Our social circles not only have a direct effect on our own actions and behaviors, but on the actions and behaviors of our friends' friends (for information on this, check out Connected: How Your Friends' Friends' Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think and Do, by Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD and James Fowler, PhD). In other words, when you choose to surround yourself with unbalanced, stressed out people, you become unbalanced and stressed out, too - contaminating others around you with unbalance and stress... It's important to be aware of your surroundings, and whenever possible, choose the best options available. When it's not possible to change difficult surroundings, it is of utmost importance to find a "focal point" - your goals, or your strengths - and continually focus on that.

Have you ever been in a yoga class attempting to achieve a difficult balancing pose? In "dancer pose", you stand on one leg, grasping the foot of the other leg with the arm on that same side of your body, and raise it up behind you in a graceful arch while simultaneously reaching forward with your other arm, keeping your standing leg straight - ultimately being able to raise your foot above your head while your body is horizontal to the floor... oh, AND you hold this position for a full minute. Concentration and balance are key in this position. It's funny to be in a class where you've done this pose a hundred times, and all of a sudden, one person stumbles or totters. Suddenly, one by one, most everyone is stumbling or tottering. Perhaps, the day before, in the very same class, no one stumbled or tottered, but all it takes is one stumble or totter, and someone else noticing, then they stumble and totter, and suddenly there is an epidemic of stumbling and tottering all around the room. Everyone's energy and focus affects the energy and focus of everyone else. Only those with a great ability to block out the distractions from their immediate surroundings seem to be immune.

I want that ability to be immune. I want to be able to carry that ability off of my mat and into my daily life. I want to choose my circumstances and surroundings wisely, but I also understand that I live in a world surrounded by lots and lots of other people with a plethora of goals that may not be in any way similar to my own. If I focus on them, I may get distracted and lose my balance. When I can't control my surroundings (which, no surprise, is the MAJORITY of the time), I want to maintain focus, and by maintaining focus, I'll be better able to keep my balance - on and off of my mat.

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