Your Yoga Practice Off the Mat – How Yoga Helps Us in Daily Life
Yoga is an amazing practice for our body and mind. But once we step off the mat and out of the studio, we don’t often think about what we learned about life while moving through the poses. The deeper I went in my yoga practice, the more I understood how much what I was doing ON the mat applied to what I was doing OFF the mat. Pigeon pose is an excellent opportunity to show how you can take your yoga practice off the mat.
Doing Things We Don’t Like Can Be Good For Us
It was a long time before pigeon became a pose I loved. And even now, after 6 years of practice, my pigeon does not look anything like the pigeon on Yoga Journal. I avoided the pose quite a lot at the beginning. It felt incredibly awkward. But then, knowing the benefits for my hip joint, I was determined to get comfortable in it. I still use a bolster under my bent leg, but now the pose feels AMAZING to be in.
We wouldn’t grow and move forward if we never did things we didn’t like to do. And we wouldn’t discover what we were capable of if we always avoided the things that made us uncomfortable.
Stress is Not Necessarily a Bad Thing
We think stress is a bad thing. But in yoga, we are technically stressing our body. We are asking our muscles to move in ways that they probably haven’t moved in in several years. Pigeon (when done safely – can’t stress that enough. Ha! See what I did there?) is a beneficial stress on the hip joint and it’s muscles. Tight gluteal and hip flexor muscles cause so many problems for our posture and and daily movement. When we retrain our muscles to move in healthy ways, we are causing beneficial stress.
Stress is only bad for us when it becomes chronic (there is even such a thing as too much yoga!). Otherwise stress literally helps us survive by firing our fight or flight response when we are in danger. But stress also propels us toward greatness. I know for myself, I work best with a tight deadline. Knowing something HAS to get done is when I get most creative and come up with my best ideas. Also – excitement is “stress”. Faster heart rate, quickened pulse, butterflies in the stomach – excitement can be fun! Some of my favourite memories of being on stage are when one of us forgot a line (including me). So stressful in the moment, but oddly exciting as well. How quickly and innovatively we would get through the awkward moment made for great laughs afterwards.
Breathing Through Stress
Ah, the breath. We yoga teachers talk about breathing a LOT. But it’s so important! When we are feeling nervous, scared or anxious, we often shorten or even hold the breath in an attempt to protect ourself. In a challenging pose, we do this as well, thinking that this will somehow make the discomfort end. But it doesn’t. It actually adds to the discomfort because it creates tension. Pigeon pose can be incredibly uncomfortable. Deepening and slowing down the breath while in the pose helps us soften into it and release the muscle.
We face uncomfortable situations all the time – job interviews, life conversations with our partner, getting laid off, waiting for test results from the doctor. Life gets uncomfortable no matter how much we try to avoid it, and the anxiety of it does not feel good. But breathing slowly and deeply genuinely helps. It slows the heart rate and eases the anxiety. Also – when we take a moment to focus on breathing, we give ourself time to actually THINK about what we want to say or do rather than responding with a regrettable, knee jerk reaction.
My Favourite Way to Take Your Yoga Practice Off the Mat – Finding Freedom through Discomfort
Our body has suffered the effects of sitting all day and driving everywhere in our cars. But even if we run marathons or ride our bike a lot, our hip flexors have become short from the constant contraction. As a result, we experience pain in our low back and hips and knees, often pain that never really goes away. When we first start practicing pigeon pose, it can be VERY uncomfortable because of those tightened muscles. But over time, that discomfort fades away and we find freedom in a hip joint that moves with more ease.
We are often faced with situations that we think would be better if we just avoided. Not true. On the other side of discomfort is freedom. That uncomfortable conversation with your boss leads to a better position or a raise. That uncomfortable talk with your partner leads to better understanding and communication. Or these conversations allow you to move on to something even greater. No one looks forward to painful experiences. But I truly find that if I can find a way through the discomfort, on the other side is a freedom I didn’t even know I wanted.
It’s easy to understand the benefits of your yoga ON the mat. It’s pretty amazing when you make the connection to taking your yoga OFF the mat.
Sky Yoga Teacher Training is running it’s next 4 week intensive session in Winnipeg starting April 24th, 2017. Click here for more details!by