When most of us think about yoga we typically picture flexible bodies performing a series of poses, striving to reach new physical achievements. But how often do we consider how yoga can offer us a more flexible mind, or reaching new heights of spiritual experience?

Have you ever felt like your yoga practice, limited to the hour you spend on the mat, just isn’t giving you the brilliant insights and loving connection you are seeking? Or maybe what you feel during your practice is blowing your mind, and you just want to take it even further!

Yamas and Niyamas: Guidelines for Yoga off the Mat

Lucky for us, the ancient traditions of yoga offer insight it the many ways you can take your yoga off the mat and bring it into your everyday life. Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga suggests these practical applications of interconnected restrictions and goals for “right living” that still apply in today’s modern world.

The Yamas

These five “restraints” from the classic yogic text give us some direction in how yoga can help us live better in relation to the world around us, especially the other creatures we encounter on our journey.

1. Ahiṃsā — Non Violence

As you go about your day, pay attention not just to the results of your actions, on yourself and others, but the consequences of your inaction as well. How can you be kinder to yourself? Where can you do more for others?

2. Satya — Telling the Truth

Are you honest with yourself and others about your desires and your motivations? Satya isn’t just about avoiding lies, but owning up to the truth and allowing it to permeate everything we do. How do you bring more truth into the world?

3. Asteya — Non Stealing

This yama is a call to learn boundaries and to fully comprehend our own needs and desires. Where do you take more than your fair share and how can you ensure that others get what they need as well? One of my favorite sayings that brings asteya to mind is, “If you have to give something back, maybe you took too much in the first place.”

4. Brahmacharya — Fidelity

Perhaps the most hotly debated of the ten modes of right living, brahmacharya means sexual continence and relational fidelity. It gets to the heart of keeping your word, maintaining your integrity, and not becoming lost in pleasure, particularly the kind you have with someone else. Sex is an incredible way to open your mind and explore the sacred, but remember that it doesn’t happen in a vaccuum — respect the body, mind, heart and soul of the people who share pleasure with you!

5. Aparigraha — Non Attachment

Life is a long journey with no map. As you are travelling, you might see a mountain peak or a thick forest in the distance and start to head in that direction. But as long as you’re still walking, it doesn’t matter if you actually end up there, or somewhere else entirely. It’s the journey that matters. This is desire without attachment. Walk toward what you want, but appreciate your surroundings no matter where you end up. It’s still your own two feet that got you there.

The Niyamas

Where the yamas are all about your interactions with others, these five ways to enjoy yoga off the mat are offered as suggestions for personal development, living life right solely for yourself. These may sound much simpler than the yamas, but trust me when I say, practicing the niyamas takes just as much of a committment to yoga as the yamas or the asanas we love so much!

6. Śauca — Purity

How aware are you of negative self-talk in your day-to-day thinking? Do you eat a lot of things that make you feel less than stellar? Drink too much wine or coffee rather than fueling your body and mind with the nutrition it needs? Purity isn’t about obsessing over the right diet or running to burn off extra calories. Instead it’s about only putting into your day the best that you can offer. Make your actions the altar of your life.

7. Santosa — Contentment

Be happy! Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? The world can be a frightening and frustrating place sometimes, but yoga teaches us that even in the darkest hour, we can come together and find hope. There is happiness and joy in our hearts, we just need to find more ways to bring it out into the world.

8. Tapas — Austerity and Practice

Nothing to do with Spanish snacks ;). In yoga speak, “taking a tapas” means making or breaking a habit. It’s your ability to say, “I’m going to show up,” and then to actually do it. The more you say you’ll do something that you don’t, the less you’ll trust yourself. Make a committment to do something you absolutely know you can do. When you achieve that goal, you will have more faith in your ability to live up to your own expectations. Then do it again with something bigger!

9. Svādhyāya — Introspection

We live in a busy world. Most of us have to fight just to take the time we do to practice our postures. But if you are constantly frazzled and on the run, trying to check things off a neverending list, you need to take time for introspection whenever you can.

10. Īśvarapraṇidhāna — Contemplating the Truth

There is an old Buddhist saying I repeat often. “Meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have enough time. Then, meditation for an hour each day.” At your heart is the thread that leads to the truth. Not your personal truth, The Truth at the heart of all things. It is your connection to everything and everyone else in the world. Sit with it and everything else will fall into place.

Yoga Off the Mat Gets You On the Mat

The best thing about practicing the yamas and niyamas has been the many ways it reminds me and encourages me to spend more time on the mat, practicing postures or just sitting and letting all my experiences with yoga off the mat work their way through my mind and into my heart.

What ways do you practice yoga off the mat in your own life?

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