What does ‘taking yoga off the mat’ mean in reality? MFML’s fabulous founder Kat Farrants shares her reflection on yoga, physical postures and acting skillfully off the mat.
Taking Yoga Off The Mat
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? What does ‘taking yoga off the mat’ mean?
The yoga asana is the shorthand for what most people see as yoga. It’s what you expect when you sign in for a yoga class at a studio or 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 also strong, confident and resilient. The way that the asanas work seems to really beautifully move the body and breath in ways so that we 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.
Yoga as a way to lead your life
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. 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.
How do you choose to live?
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, focussing on that precise action at that moment?
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 which 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.
Our Actions can Transform us
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.
Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life
Are you inspired to find more ways to take yoga off the mat? Why not sign up to Ancient Wisdom for Modern Life, our latest course exploring Patanjali’s eight-limbed path? This course offers ways in which you can take inspiration from ancient texts and apply it to yoga off the mat.
About Kat Farrants:
Movement for Modern Life’s fabulous founder Kat Farrants lives her yoga. Kat’s own yoga practice informs how she develops MFML. Kat wrote this post using inspiration from the small steps she takes to move into a happier, healthier and more sustainable life. Please do join her on this journey and explore with us your happiest, healthiest, most sustainable life.