Sunday, January 9, 2011

9) Yoga Beyond the Mat

While most of us are aware of the type of yoga to be done on the mat but when it comes to practicing Yoga beyond the mat many of us are confused as to how it should be done . Some consider Yoga to be just what is being done on the Mat and nothing more than that . So when someone says that they are practicing Yoga they mean that they are practicing Yoga on the Mat and nothing more than that and they evaluate themselves as to how far they have progressed in Yoga by how many postures they have learnt , how long they can hold the postures , how many rounds of Surya Namaskar they can do , whether they can stand upside down in Headstand or  do advanced balancing postures like Peacock ( Mayur Asan)  , Scorpion , Crow etc . Some measure their yogic life by how many time a week they practice Yoga , how many times a week they take sattvic food , how many times they meditate , how many yoga sutras or Bhagavad Gita verses they have mastered  etc etc .First of all we must understand that Yoga means joining or integrating and hence when we say that we are practicing yoga we need to include in it all aspects of our life and not just confine it to yoga on the mat .While Yoga on the Mat is the very visible part of this journey ,there is a larger invisible yogic journey that is happening beyond the mat but since it does not have a structure like Ashtanga , Iyengar , Sivananda ,Anusara etc it is never discussed much and many do not know what it means to practice yoga beyond the mat . Yoga beyond the mat varies from person to person and situation to situation and there can be no standard yardstick for the same .Take for example the topic on Being Honest or Truthful . While we need to be honest and truthful in our speech most of the time but there are circumstances where we need to lie ,say for example your friend/family member  is seriously ill and admitted in the hospital and while the Doctor says to you personally that he/she will not be alive for long but request you not to reveal the same to the patient , you must not say No No I practice honesty in my speech and if the patient asks me what they Doctor is saying ,I will reveal to him the truth that he will not live for long . This is the most cruel way of practicing Honesty or truth in speech .So in each and every situation in life we need to weight the pros and cons and act accordingly and there is no standard rule for everyone /every situation .While scriptures like Bhagavad Gita , Yoga Sutras talk about Good /Bad , right /wrong ,standard set of universal values  like Yamas ,Niyamas etc etc but kindly note that  life is no black and white where all things are either all  black or  all white and there are hundreds of shades of grey between them and it is these  grey situations that are tricky and need to be handled and no scripture can come to your Guidance under these grey circumstances .So what is to be done under these circumstances ? There is no easy answer but Sages of the past have given 2 tools to be used when we are confronted with a difficult situation :
1) Put yourself in the shoes of the other person and see what you would do in a similar situation 
2) Introspect yourself as to your  motive behind doing anything i.e are u doing it for some seeking some rewards ( monetary or otherwise ) , are u doing it to seek love , approval or appreciation from the other .

 Putting urself in to the  shoes of the other person and verifying whether you are doing anything for selfish reasons will help you un condition your mind and give your more mental space and this extra mental space will help you get the necessary clarity to take proper decisions appropriate to the situation . But this is easily said than done as the mind has been conditioned  for centuries to think in terms of what benefit it will get directly or indirectly and suddenly asking it to revert to an unselfish situation will not work so easily .But all said and done this is the only way we can see things for clear as they are and not what we want it to be .

While the entire yoga market is flooded with Books and DVDs related to yoga postures only few are related to practicing yoga beyond the mat and I found the following 2 books very good ( links given above ):
1) Bringing Yoga to Life : The Everyday practice of Enlightened Living by Donna Farhi 
 2) Living your Yoga : Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life by Judith Lasater

Both Donna Farhi and Judith Lasater are seasoned yoga practitioners and teachers and have a rich experience of  not only yoga in general but life itself in particular and the wisdom accumulated by them in their many years of teaching yoga to people from various walks of life in various countries world over  are very much reflected in both these books and  I suggest every serious Yoga practitioner / teacher  to have these books as a guiding tool in their yoga journey as many of the tricky situations we encounter in our yogic life either as a practitioner / teacher have been already encountered by them before and they have given their own insights as to how they have handled them .

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