Fitness Magazine

Practicing Yoga Off the Mat

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina 

Practicing Yoga Off the Mat

Rock Close Up by Brad Gibson

This sutra prescribes a kind of mindfulness or mental cultivation off the mat, so to speak, that is, in day-to-day affairs outside of the context of citta-vritti-nirodha-type meditation. Cultivating the higher qualities of sattva is a continuous and constant requirement of the yogic path and spills over into all aspects of life’s affairs and social interactions. It speaks to the fact that yoga need not be perceived as a world-renouncing tradition but is perfectly compatible with engaged and benevolent social action in the world. —Edwin Bryant
In my home practice, I’ve worked on some pretty challenging yoga poses in my day (dropping from headstand into a backbend, for example), but the most challenging yoga practice I’ve ever attempted is something I’ve taken up lately, off the mat. In fact, it’s the practice recommended by the yoga sutra that Edwin Bryant was referring to in the above quote:
Yoga Sutra 1.33. By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind. —trans. by Edwin Bryant
In classical yoga, the intent of this practice is for cultivating the peace of mind (“lucidity arises in the mind”) that is a necessary prerequisite for achieving the union with the divine that is yoga. However, I’m adopting this practice (or trying to, anyway) for other reasons as well. One of my main reasons is to help me maintain good relationships as I age. (I want the richness of life that comes with that, not just the health benefits....)
In talking with some of my older friends, I’ve been noticing that many of them seem to be getting fed up with each other. They talk about this one being angry all the time or that one being lonely due to his or her own bad behavior in the past. And I can’t help but feel a little more compassion might go a long way to preserving these long-time friendships. It’s something Brad and I have been discussing, and we have agreed to try to cultivate more compassion for those in distress (as well as all that other stuff in the sutra 1.33) for the benefit of all our relationships in the long run.
I have to confess practice is very difficult for me, however. I tend to very judgmental, probably because that’s how I raised. My parents were very snobbish—although that’s a word they wouldn’t use themselves—about people who didn’t share their values and tastes. I wonder now if that was a result of them both being the children of immigrants, and the hard times they had as children fitting in to the American mainstream. It’s not the stereotypical story—they were artistic types who taught me to distain people who had a lot of money but no taste—but it’s still a story of people who used their judgments of others as a shield for their feelings of insecurity. I also tend to be very envious of other people’s successes (rather than happy for them). I don’t know if this was also a family pattern—I do know my father suffered from feelings of failure because he never lived up the expectations that he and others had for him when he was a young art prodigy—but it’s something I’ve observed about myself time and time again. And all these samskaras  (thought patterns) run very deep.
So how am I beginning my practice of this challenging form of yoga? For now, I’m starting with mindfulness in my thoughts and feelings about others. And when I catch myself moving toward (or leaping to) judgment, I remind myself that there is another attitude I can take: compassion. As Stephen Cope says in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self:
I have said that samskaras are like ruts in a road, and that as the ruts deepen through repetition, it becomes inevitable that the car will slide into them unawares. Any intentional effort to restrain the car from slipping into the rut is called tapas.
Tapas requires a particular kind of attention—precisely the kind required when driving on a rutted road. We need to be awake. We need to be concentrated in order to avoid the edges of the ruts. And sometimes we need to pull the car wheels—with considerable effort—out of the ridges in the road.

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