Tuesday, January 25, 2011

applying yoga to everyday life

Take a moment to imagine how you feel in savasana at the end of a Yoga class… Personally, I feel blissful, relaxed, peaceful, non-reactive and at one with myself and the world. Now imagine 30 minutes later after you have left the class and headed off into the rest of your day. That feeling is almost completely gone, isn’t it?! If you agree that it would be nice to be able to retain the feelings and mindset found during your yoga practice then read on.

Part of the reason we feel so calm and composed throughout yoga practice is our regimen of breath control, or pranayama. If you can consciously breathe more slowly and deeply as you move through your day, especially during stressful situations, you will be able to hang on more easily to that sense of calm. If you feel yourself getting agitated, tense, or breathing shallowly in the upper chest, give yourself a moment to breathe. Step away from what you were doing, or close your eyes, and count slowly to five while you inhale, and again five counts to exhale. Try to make the intensity and length of the inhale and exhale similar without forcing air in or out. Repeat this eight to ten times and return to what you were doing. This will send a message to your nervous system that you are not in danger and your fight or flight reflexes can shut off, allowing your body and mind to be more relaxed.

Another reason we feel great at the end of a yoga class is that we are aligning our body in ways that allow energy, blood and oxygen to flow freely. As soon as you hunch forward and drop your chin to send a text message your neck and shoulders will tighten up, or if you sit in a chair for a long period of time your hip flexors will become tense putting strain on your low back. These kinds of physical discomforts will likely translate into general irritation and short temperedness. To counter this, be aware of your posture as you walk, drive, sit, text, etc. Cue yourself to pull your shoulders back and down, chin slightly in and spine tall. If you have to sit for long periods of time, give yourself breaks to walk, stretch, or get a drink of water. Keeping your body upright, properly aligned and comfortable will help you maintain a sunnier disposition throughout your day.

And then there is the issue of driving! This applies to bikers, walkers and train riders alike. How often do I get in my car after a beautiful yoga session only to get cut off by another driver, or hit every red light on my way home, and within minutes I start to feel enraged! It’s true, and it happens to all of us. To make driving a calmer ordeal, make your car a haven of peacefulness. Keep your favourite relaxing music on hand, or use your Ipod if walking or riding transit. Scents are powerful tools that send specific messages to the mind, so leave an air freshener in your car, like relaxing lavender or soothing eucalyptus. Give yourself extra time to get where you are going. Nothing is more stressful for most of us than the thought of being late. Schedule your appointments a few minutes farther apart so you’re not in a rush. If you always leave an extra few minutes then you will have no worries if traffic or other disruptions in your normal route arise.

You can also make a habit of enjoying red lights. Decide that each red light you arrive at is an opportunity to engage in deep breathing, proper posture and a chance to have a little stretch. Instead of internally cursing when you hit a red light, smile and take a mini meditation. The issue of other drivers being careless or dangerous may not be as easy to deal with. All you can do is be alert, physically reactive in the sense of being ready to get out of the way or brake if necessary, but remaining mentally and emotionally nonreactive. For instance, instead of getting angry I have started chuckling or shrugging when someone on the road does something selfish or unsafe, because there is nothing I can do to change the way they drive.

As a matter of fact, this applies to any situation in life. When you encounter a situation that threatens to rile you up you can choose not to react. Imagine yourself in yoga class, holding navasana (boat pose), shaking like a leaf, abdominals screaming for rest, but you simply stay there and breathe. This is a great lesson to take into everyday life. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable place you can similarly decide not to react and choose to just breathe. Your mind will remain calm and clear and you can select a course of action that is reasonable and you can avoid getting into conflicts or acting impulsively which often ends in feelings of regret.

Although we can’t practice yoga or meditation every second hour of the day, it is possible to sustain that yogic feeling throughout daily life. Remember to breathe, align your body properly and move around often, and try to be nonreactive in those less than ideal situations that will likely never cease to exist. Make your car or travel routine a pleasant experience and nurture your peaceful qualities so they will be more prominent. Yoga is not a practice that only exists on a two-by-six sticky mat. The practice on your mat is exactly that, just practice. Take the lessons you learn in a yoga class such as patience, humility, resolve and composure and apply them to your life. This will allow you to feel tranquil, be more receptive to others, and experience that post savasana bliss whenever you wish.

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