But dropping it just like that to a class of people whose names you don’t even know, is sure to be misunderstood. They are very likely to understand “ I washed my dishes mindfully today, I did my yoga”.
Reaping the benefits of the practice of yoga (the asanas) takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of practice and self-observation on your mat. One of my teachers once said that under five years of practice, you are a beginner. I remember thinking he may be pushing it a little, but now being ten plus years into my own practice, I totally see what he meant.
Most people come to yoga for the physical benefits (becoming more limber, stronger, to de-stress, etc…). And that’s perfectly fine. In the process of just showing up to class and doing the practice, they are getting much more, even if they’re not aware of it. They learn to observe the sensations in their own bodies, listen to their breathing patterns, watch the avalanche of thoughts that come and disrupt their concentration, identify emotions and watch them appear and vanish as if they never even existed (and in fact, they never existed, they’re just constructions of our minds.But that’s another story).
After a few years of steady and dedicated practice, without realising it, these observations start to show up in their daily life. For instance, in a situation where they would have been overwhelmed by anger and immediately reacted to it by screaming or throwing something, they’ll identify the emotion, pause, and give themselves the time to choose a different, more appropriate reaction from usual. The discipline you maintain in your practice gives you the freedom to sit back and choose a different response to the event.
This happened to me on various occasions. One day my daughter dropped and broke a cup full of milk on the kitchen floor. Before starting yoga I would immediately have screamed at her, holding her responsible for something really annoying (breaking a cup and spilling milk) and I would have gone on and on about how clumsy she is and who knows what other mean thoughts would have crossed my mind, making her feel really bad about herself, and planting the seeds for low self-esteem and its consequences for the rest of her life. The better, improved Me now says, “it’s ok, it could have happened to me. I’m annoyed that I have to clean this mess so please come help me”. End of the story. The even more advanced yogi doesn’t even worry about it and moves on without feeling annoyed. I’m working on that version.
So yes, yoga is a way of life, and practising it off the mat is only a natural consequence of having spent a ridiculous amount of hours on your mat. At some point, the practice becomes an integral part of who you are and guides most of your thoughts, actions, and words. Yoga off the mat, whether you are a beginner or advanced is by no means a replacement for the actual physical practice. There is absolutely NO WAY of getting around it. You HAVE to do the work and follow the process. It is an experience that no book or lectures will replace. And if you’re only into this for the physical aspect, the same rule applies. Physical ailments don’t magically vanish. They get worse over time if not attended to. So, here’s what you need to do:
GET. ON. YOUR. MAT.