How to Take Yoga Beyond the Mat to Enhance Your Wellness

by: Gracen Morris, RGF Ambassador and Yoga Teacher at Midtown Yoga

How can you make Yoga a part of your everyday, beyond the mat and asana?

More than likely, you’ve probably come across or seen the hashtag #yogaeveryday on social media. And you may also recall that it was perhaps associated with pictures of yoga practitioners and instructors demonstrating inspiring poses that illustrate what could be possible by committing to practicing on your mat every day. I will admit that as a teacher and as a student, I have noticed myself at times getting caught up in the hype of the posture race and forgetting the true essence of the practice that matters most, which is the practice we live off our mat and in our daily lives.

It’s so important to remember that Yoga is far more than just the asanas (posture/shapes) that we perform or create with our bodies. It’s also important to remember that Yoga shows up in all shapes, sizes, times, and places; and sometimes, it’s in taking our yoga practice off our mat and into our world that create the biggest shifts and changes.

Here are a few ways you can make Yoga a part of your everyday life, no matter where you are or what situation you may be faced with:

Gracen Morris, photo by Nieto Photography

1. Practice Gratitude

Gratitude is the feeling of being grateful and practicing it is a conscious choice that becomes part of our overall attitude and energy. The benefits of being grateful are endless. Those who practice gratitude regularly experience more positive emotions, feel more alive, sleep better, express more compassion and kindness, and even have stronger immune systems. Overall, they are just happier beings! A few ways to help you to develop an attitude of gratitude on a daily basis that have helped me are below:

  • Write down things you are grateful for. They don’t have to be big things; it’s actually more beneficial to find gratitude in the small simple things in our lives such as a job, a home, a friend, family, a pretty afternoon, a beautiful sunset, a wonderful meal, time to rest and time to play, a call from an old or new friend, a good cup of coffee on a cold day, etc.

  • Start looking for things to be grateful for and to appreciate during the day such as: good things that happened, things you enjoyed seeing and doing, spending time with people.

  • Show and communicate to others that you appreciate them! Communication is so important and it has a trickle effect on others as well.

  • Say thank you whenever you can!

  • Write thank you notes… they don’t have to be long, but just enough to express your gratitude sincerely.

This maybe a harder one, but try finding gratitude even in things that may seem as challenges for us. There is always something good to find in everything and this practice leads to an overall positivity on all aspects of our lives. For more inspiration on how to turn a challenge into something positive, check out my #mindlfip story with Brit Guerin.

Gracen Morris, photo by Nieto Photography

2. Practice Mindfulness

The time we spend on our mat is an opportunity to teach us patience, compassion, empathy, persistence, dedication, awareness and acceptance. So, in order to truly “live” your yoga, it makes since to take these same qualities off your mat and into your life. This is called Mindfulness in Action! So what exactly is mindfulness? Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present.

When we are mindful, we carefully observe our thoughts and feelings without judging them as good or bad. It means living in the moment and allowing our present experience to be awakened, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. The practice of mindfulness has many positive benefits, including lowering stress levels, improving our overall health, and protecting against depression and anxiety. The key is to learn how to pay attention and focus on the here and now. Mindfulness is a tool that can allow us to be more aware of our physical and emotional conditions without getting bogged down in self-criticism and judgement.

Sometimes a guided meditation can be helpful to enhance mindfulness. You can check out guided meditations through Audible, Yoga Download, and apps like Calm and Headspace.

3. Practice Kindness

Kindness always starts with yourself. If you are not kind and loving to yourself first, you most likely are not going to be this way towards others. Being kind to yourself can be very simple, yet so powerful! Little things like taking time to check in with yourself before saying yes; giving yourself a compliment; getting on your mat; going for a walk; trying something new; taking time to rest and restore; letting go of things that do not serve you; forgiving yourself and others; surrounding yourself with uplifting, supportive people.

By practicing compassion and kindness to ourselves, we naturally begin to strengthen the relationship we have with our own self (mind, body, soul) and every other relationship we encounter is a reflection of that. Therefore, when we are in harmony with our own self, it reflects on all other relationships in our life- with food, nature, animals, friends, family, colleagues, strangers, etc.

The Dalia Lama famously said, “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Regardless of whether you are religious or not, practicing kindness can go a long way toward improving your overall state of mind and sense of happiness. Here are just a few, simple ways you can practice kindness towards others:

  • Ask your friend, neighbor, roommate, acquaintance how they are doing

  • Offer up a smile to someone

  • Tip at least 20%

  • Give someone a compliment

  • Offer an empathic listening ear to a friend or co-worker

  • Let someone go ahead of you in line

  • Be considerate with your cell phone use

  • Let people be who they are without casting judgment

  • Encourage someone who may be going through a hard time

  • Say THANK YOU!

4. Practice Conscious Breathing (pranayama)

Breathing is one of the simplest kindness things we can do for our bodies. Don’t underestimate the power of your breath; it’s a sacred experience and should be cherished because your life literally depends on it. By staying conscious of our breath, it helps us to be more mindful of the present moment which in turn makes everything we do more efficient.  Conscious, mindful breathing ultimately helps us to sleep better, digest food better, love better, and have more energy and endurance. It just helps us to feel better, overall. 

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