Taking yoga off the mat
Skill in action: how yoga’s lessons can transform our everyday lives. Taking yoga off the mat. By Kat Farrants
Yoga has been defined as ‘skill in action’. So how on earth is it that so many of us still feel that we aren’t adept yogis unless we’re rolling out our mats and achieving certain poses? There really is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when you’re able to get into Bakasana for the first time. But what does that feeling have to do with yoga? Is that really the ‘yoga’?
The yoga asana is the shorthand for what most people see as yoga today. It’s what you expect when you sign in for a yoga class at a studio or a gym.
But what do the physical postures have to do with yoga, defined by the Bhagavad Gita as ‘skill in action’? Well, for me, the physical postures ensure that my body is healthy and limber enough to have a comfortable seated meditation practice. The physical postures sure do make me feel light but strong, confident and resilient. The asana beautifully move the body and breath for us to feel more magical for the rest of the day; we feel happier, we feel freer from emotional or physical tension. There certainly is a place for the asana-focused yoga.
Skill in action
But that kind of yoga, for me, is the less interesting part of the practice. The more interesting part is how we can interpret yoga as ‘skill in action’ and take our yoga through our daily lives - in other words, taking yoga off the mat. How can what we do on the mat be carried into the rest of our days? After all, you’re no yogi if you set your alarm for your daily rigorous 4am practice and then for the rest of the day you are unkind to yourself and the world around you.
The ‘skill in action’ part of yoga, the taking yoga off the mat, I see as less a ‘what’ we’re doing with our lives, and more a ‘how’ we’re doing what we do with our lives. After all, we can be a wonderful yogi when we do the dishes, when we do our work, no matter what that is. But it is more a question of ‘how’ we choose to live our lives. How do you wash those dishes? Is it with a sense of resentment?
Do you do them quickly to just get it over with? Or are you really focusing on being there, now, focusing on that precise action at that moment? And how are you at work and in your relationships? Are you kind and connected to others? Staying open and vulnerable? Listening and compassionate? Aware of the beautiful interconnectedness of life and each other? Do you make decisions that are grounded in compassion for the earth and all other living beings? And how do you face your own mental states? Are you able to face your fears and anxieties in a compassionate way? That is the skill in action of being a connected yogi.
Life of freedom
I see that the skill in action of the Bhagavad Gita actually enables us to transform, to live a life of freedom for ourselves and for others. We can do this through our thoughts, our words and our deeds. We are able to live our yoga off the mat via Karma Yoga, or selfless service. That is, doing things for others with no expectation of any personal benefit.
We can live our yoga off the mat through Jnana Yoga, the yoga of wisdom, the ability to discriminate between the real and unreal in life. I see this as crucial, as it’s the ability to see the world of injustice, inequality and endless consumption as something which does not contribute towards happiness and freedom for all. So that we can do the practices and the work which does contribute towards a better life for everyone. And skill in action is also Bhakti Yoga. The yoga of surrender. The ability to know when to let go and surrender.
The real yoga begins when we put our mat away and carry on our lives. How we choose to live every moment of every day, both within ourselves and in the way we are with others and the choices we make in the world. Now that for me, is yoga.
Kat Farrants is the founder of Movement for Modern Life. Find its Yoga Philosophy Course, taking Yoga Off the Mat, as well as 1,300+ classes and courses at: movementformodernlife.com