Yoga Beyond the Mat

Yoga Beyond the Mat

Navigating Life's Twists with Zen Techniques - By Emma Smallman

Reading time: 3 minutes

These are the moments...

All our yoga practices are different and unique to us, maybe you are a dabbler or maybe for you it’s a lifestyle choice. Either way when practicing you’ll be aware of the physical benefits, the way it can positively impact your mental health as well as deeper ways in which it can affect how you interact with the world.

You may already be aware of the concept of the three bodies in yoga. First there is your physical (gross) body, often this can be the initial motivation to access yoga. Then there is the astral (subtle) body which encapsulates the mind, the senses, the energy channels. Working with the subtle body can move us into a different realm with our practice. Delve beyond that layer and we reach the most subtle which is our spiritual (causal) body, the essence, our soul, the seed of the astral and physical body. These layers make yoga so much more than just exercise, just as much an ‘off the mat’ practice, impacting and supporting us way beyond the layers of our physical casing.

Deep learning and growth can take place as you tap into this more through the everyday. Lately I am increasingly tuning into those elements.

Recently, of all the places, this has been happening for me via public transport.  A time where we are often faced with situations out of our control. The seed of this article came whilst on an extremely busy train home from Manchester to Birmingham. At the time of writing, we’d been sat at Stoke on Trent for an hour, a woman was trapped in the toilet and the fire brigade were on board trying to open the door. These are the moments, surrounded by strangers, tensions heightened, there’s an uncertainty and I become acutely aware of my internal process alongside other people’s external ones. Some get angry and vocalise it, I stay quiet and internalise it “I hope she’s ok, I’m glad it’s not me, I really need the loo, I wonder how long we will be here” etc, then I settle, she is in safe hands and my delay is minor. In such moments our responses are tested.

With time on my hands, I reflect about the teachings of yoga and meditation, a regular practice is wonderful but how do they then fair when we are faced with life’s minor stresses? From all the reactions I have at my disposal will any change the situation. Doubtful. So instead, I treat it as an opportunity to put some yoga techniques into action. Focus on the breath, change my inner dialogue, take some stretches. How useful to know these options are always there for us, a moment to practice off the mat.

You may start to see a theme emerging here but the weekend after I was travelling by car from Birmingham to London with my brother. Google maps was sending us via the M1, and I intervened and suggested the M40 was better. The eta was the same at that point but within 30 minutes we were stuck in traffic and the journey took 4 hours 30 minutes, 2 hours more than it should. Three lanes down to one and pure congestion. My intervention led us there, so I felt there was surely something to gain from the experience.

Now, I realise I might sound annoying here as I said to my brother “I wonder what we are meant to learn from this?”. His response with a hint of sarcasm was “maybe we are learning that sometimes you get stuck in traffic”. Fair point, I get it, however for me these are the moments, the ones where you have to find strategies to manage yourself rather than getting annoyed which does nothing but aggravate the situation. Another test to a yogic approach, an opportunity to reframe, to flip a situation to one of insight, enquiry and curiosity.

A chance of heightened awareness where we can observe our processes and work to find a more harmonious response. In the big scheme of things these situations really are irrelevant but, in the moment, they can flood our system and provoke a stress response activating our sympathetic nervous system of fight or flight, not the best idea on a busy train or in a traffic jam. That’s when coming back to breath serves us so well, steadying the system and allowing us to drop into the parasympathetic state. Steady conscious breaths can be a game changer for both the physical and subtle body.

Life will continue to throw challenges and situations beyond our control where our only choice is how we respond to them. Sometimes an outburst is entirely appropriate and just what we need to clear the air but other times a little check in can make all the difference to reroute yourself. Just like the natural pause at the end of the exhale and before the start of the inhale. Gifting yourself that juncture before reacting to step into your power.

I am still merely a student in the vast world of yoga, but my hope is that with regular practice in our daily lives we then then become better equipped physically, subtly and spiritually to manage life’s twists and turns.

Oh, and the delayed train, well the good news was the women got set free from the toilet and we eventually landed back in Birmingham. I grabbed my bike to cycle home and just as I got out the station was greeted by biblical rainfall on a wintery Sunday night. As I cycled back in the pouring rain, I chuckled to myself and thought…these are the moments.



Emma Smallman

The founder of 'drum n bounce & dubstretch fitness' providing uplifting drum & bass aerobics and flow yoga to mainstream and marginalised populations.