Guest Blog for Quiet Mind Yoga (Reprinted by permission)
2012 Intention: There is No “On” or “Off” the Mat
Life’s ironies are entertaining, no?
At the beginning of each class, I invite students to set an intention for their practice. “This ‘Sankalpa’ is a positive reflection, affirmation or dedication that brings purpose to your time on the mat,” I say. At the end of each class, I encourage students to live their Sankalpa in everyday life. “Make a gentle intention to carry this purpose off your mat and into the rest of your day.”
As a DC-area Community Builder for nonprofit Off the Mat, Into the World, I use “yoga off the mat” terminology frequently. To be frank, however, I am not comfortable with the idea of dividing my yoga practice into two separate entities – “On” or “Off” the mat.
To me, yoga is life, and life is yoga.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early 90s, my messy life was emotionally painful. Yoga was something I did to feel better. I didn’t think about how the practice might affect me after class – much less how it might affect the world around me. My 1st style was Kundalini (funny thing – there are no mats in Kundalini yoga!). Although I may not have realized it then, our closing song planted a seed about yoga’s potential beyond the room where I was practicing: “May the long-time sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide your way on.”
Around 1999, I started practicing Hatha yoga and the teacher’s closing dedication said, “May our bodies and minds be healthy, may our thoughts be filled with love. May our practice be free of obstacles, and may we carry its benefits into the world.” This same teacher talked about yoga’s Eight Limbs, which I understood as a process of growth from intention, through action, and to manifestation. That seed planted in the early 90s? It started to sprout conscientiousness about my responsibility to somehow share the gifts that I had so generously received from this healing practice.
In November 2008, I completed my Yoga Teacher Training at an Ashram, where for four weeks we were immersed in yoga – everything we did with our bodies, hearts and minds came from ancient origins. The trainers’ primary advice as we ran off into the wild blue yonder of teaching yoga? “Be a yogi.” And the seed grew into a tree whose cycle of life would organically nurture its own needs and nourish the earth from which it came.
At my very 1st teacher meeting at my very 1st yoga studio job, we were asked to introduce ourselves, describe our yoga style, and then say what we do “off the mat.” In other words – what do we do in our non-yoga life? I was stumped. Because it’s all yoga – whether I’m practicing flexibility in a studio or with co-workers…whether I’m practicing balance in a pose or in planning my commitments…whether I’m practicing compassion for my own pain or for unhappy people around my neighborhood…or whether I’m practicing presence in my breathing or with a loved one.
So my 2012 yoga intention is to nourish the roots that stem from my early days of practice, and re-commit to living yoga day-in and day-out. No mat required.