Many people have an image of yoga that involves a person with perfect proportions contorting themself into positions that look more similar to a pretzel than a human body. And that is a totally valid expression of yoga, but there are many ways to practice and reap the benefits of these ancient teachings without possibly sending yourself to the hospital. In fact, the physical postures (asana) are only one of eight parts of traditional yoga, leaving lots of room for anyone to find a practice that resonates with them. Here are four ways to incorporate yoga into your life without ever stepping on a mat:
Kindness closely relates to the first principle of yoga—ahimsa. Ahimsa is commonly translated as non-violence but encompasses much more than not punching someone in the face. It is applied to others as well as yourself, and includes both physical and verbal actions. It can be overwhelming to think about all the areas “violence” is present in our lives (what goes into the food we eat, the clothes we buy, the car we drive, etc.) so you can start with choosing one area to focus on; perhaps how you think/speak to yourself. Being kind to yourself and compassionate when you make mistakes can help bring a sense of peace into your life that will extend to others you come in contact with.
Mindfulness seems to be pretty trendy right now and for good reason—it works. Being present is really, really hard when there is so much external stimulation and pressure to multi-task in order to get everything done. However, focusing only on what is currently happening and moving through it intentionally rather than on auto-pilot will help you be more productive and you won’t waste time having your brain flip back and forth between tasks. Again, it would be very overwhelming to try to be mindful 100% of the day, so start small and pick one task where you can be fully present; notice the discomfort and urge to fidget or preoccupy your mind with other thoughts and try to resist. With enough practice it will get easier, but until then be understanding of yourself and don’t get frustrated if your mind drifts.
Stillness is similar to mindfulness but you really are doing nothing. That sounds pretty easy, but sitting and just being with yourself and your thoughts is extraordinarily challenging. You’ll want to check the score of the game, your Instagram feed or engage in a number of other distractions. So start small and try to spend just a minute sitting distraction-free and see what comes up; it will help you get to know yourself better and can become a place of refuge when things get chaotic in life.
Gratitude for even the smallest things in life can help improve your mood. If you’re reading this, you probably have access to a computer and the Internet, you have the ability to see, the ability to read and comprehend, free time to read articles for pleasure, etc. These are all things that a large proportion of the world does not have and shouldn’t be taken for granted. Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to keep count of things you are grateful for and when you’re having an off day you can look at it and maybe put your situation in perspective.
So whether the idea of touching your toes seems impossible or you can press yourself up into a handstand from crow pose, try incorporating some of these yogic principles into your life and see if they bring a little more peace and ease in your day. NAMASATE.