Our popular contributor Kara-Leah continues her home yoga practice series, looking at how yoga practice can happen off the mat as well. In time, yoga is about how we relate to our entire life, and the mindfulness we bring into every moment.
by Kara-Leah Grant, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice.
It’s one thing to consistently and persistently practice our yoga on the mat, it’s another thing to take our yoga off the mat and apply it to our general life. But at some point, we begin to realise that yoga isn’t just something we do on a mat, it’s not just something that we do with our bodies, but a way of living life – of interacting with life.
Yoga becomes the way in which we relate to everything around us.
For example, when we practice asana we listen to our breath, we let it guide us into postures, we accept ourselves right where we are, and we surrender into our body.
Can we take those four principles and apply them to our lives?
Do we take the time to stop and listen to our breath? Do we allow our breath to take us into situations that we might find stressful? Do we accept ourselves as we are? Do we surrender into the moment?
One very small way to start to take your yoga off the mat is to pay attention to the words that come out of your mouth. Pay attention to these words the same way you would pay attention to your breath during a practice. Words are very powerful compact units of energy.
As one exploration of relationship to the Divine starts:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
This reminds us that all that we see before us and all that has ever been created began with language – everything began with the word. Language is instilled with the power of creation, and the words we use every day create the world we see around us.
Or at least, create the filter through which we see the world ;-).
Listen to the grey, doubting, negative words of a pessimist and know that he inhabits a grey, doubting, negative world.
Listen to the up beat, happy, positive words of the optimist and know that is the world she inhabits.
Just as our external worlds and the filters we perceive it through are constructed via our thoughts and actions, so too can we delve into our inner worlds using our language as signposts along the way.
Witness the struggling artist who proclaims in frustration;
“But my art should just be inspired. It should just arrive on the page fully realized”.
The word ‘should’ stands out in neon, advertising deep held beliefs about the artists’ life. Who is the voice inside proclaiming ‘should’? Where did the artist pick up that belief that is creating their artists’ block?
Or listen to the housewife and mother who replies when asked what she does;
“Oh I’m just a mother”.
Just a mother? That four-letter word illuminates an internal belief that to be a mother is somehow less than… where does that belief come from?
Paying attention to the words we use is a powerful practice. Just as we get curious about how our body reacts to asana on the mat, we get curious about the words we use in conversation and self-talk.
Why do you chose to use those exact words? What does your choice of language reveal about your inner beliefs?
As you listen to yourself with curiosity, don’t forget to be kind and accepting, just as you would on the yoga mat. There’s no need to judge yourself for the words you use – it’s just a way to uncover unconscious beliefs and limiting ideas. Often, once we can see clearly those beliefs and ideas, they fade away. Acceptance and surrender are powerful practices, both on the yoga mat and when we investigate our internal worlds.
Be mindful too that the richness of our language allows us to find the precise word to describe an event or emotion. Take the word “precise”. I could have easily substituted that word for any of the following: exact, accurate, specific, particular, clear-cut, defined… yet while those words have similar meanings, none of them was the precise nuance that I wanted.
Words can inform our mind, caress and comfort our feelings, excite and thrill our spirit, or warm and kindle the flame of our hearts. They can also slap our face, punch us in the stomach, rattle our nerves, kill our desire and destroy our self-confidence.
At school we teach our children, sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.
Our children know this is a lie, we know this is a lie, yet we hope that by convincing them words don’t matter, we will save them from the damage of verbal abuse.
For words are weapons as surely as sticks and stones ever are.
Words persuade and befuddle and cajole and admonish.
Words become a weapon when they are separated out from truth and used to achieve an aim – whether that is to belittle a competitor, embarrass a sibling, harass a co-worker or take a nation to war.
Often it is not the words themselves that do the damage, but the intent with which they are spoken.
Witness the evolution of the word gay.
Once upon a time, used to reference a ‘gay old time’, indicting fun and frivolity was enjoyed by all.
Then the word morphed into a description of sexual identity. But even then, the word gay could be used as an insult, or as a benign description, depending on who wielded the word.
Witness the 19-year-old boy nervously approaching his parents, clutching the back of a chair as he declares with false bravado.
“Mum, Dad, I’m gay.”
Or, witness the denigrating put-down of a fashionista as she checks out her friend’s ensemble.
“Omigod, that is so gay!”
Same word. Different intention.
For ultimately, while language is powerful, and the words we choose to use can illuminate subtle nuances of meaning, it is the intention with which we speak that arms our language.
It is intention that creates our world.
The dieter that proclaims to her family one morning; ‘That’s it, I’m losing weight, I’m going on a diet’, is attempting to create a world where she is slim, but unless there is intention behind her words… they are nothing more than empty letters scattered on the wind.
Intention is our will to make things happen. Intention is that which goads us into action. Intention is the fuel of creation. Intention is the prana that activates our body in a yoga pose, and it is prana that activates our words when we are off the mat.
So the next time you open your mouth to engage the power of language, take a moment to consider the words you are about to use.
Do they accurately reflect the meaning of what you seek to communicate? Or are you grabbing at any old words, thinking they’ll do?
And then consider your intentions. Are you about to wound another with your words? Or are you about to carelessly proclaim something you have no intention of following through with?
By watching our words off the mat the way that we watch our breath on the mat, we create an opportunity for mindfulness that allows us to step fully into a power as a creative being. We take responsibility for the power of our words, the power of our intent, and what they create.
When you gossip, what does that create?
When you talk about the financial situation using words like ‘Market Meltdown’, what does that create?
When you talk about how much you hate a situation you’re experiencing right now, what does that create?
The idea is not to judge yourself for your words, just as you would never judge yourself for your breath on the mat. The idea is to be conscious or your words and their power, just as you are conscious of your breath and it’s power on the mat.
In this manner, just as we harness the power of an inhale to lift us up into Virabhadrasana I, so too can we harness the power of our words to lift a friend out of a slump. And as we harness the power of an exhale to surrender in balasana, so too we might harness the power of a giggle gossip over the latest fashion to surrender in a fit of laughter.
So today, just as you would be aware of your breath during a practice, be aware of your words, the intention behind them, and what they might be creating. This too is yoga. This too is a practice.
In this way, our home yoga practice bleeds out from our mat into our entire life. We begin to relate to ourselves and our life as we do in yoga. You may not always get on your mat, but you can always practice yoga.
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and has just published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice. She’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.