Yoga is a practice done both on and off of the yoga mat. The physical practice of yoga is just one of the eight limbs of yoga attributed to Patanjali in the sacred text Yoga Sutras. With so much emphasis on the postures, many in Western cultures are surprised to learn seven other yoga practices. Let’s explore additional ways to take training beyond the mat and bring yoga into daily life.
Ashtanga yoga includes eight pathways that, when practiced, lead to a more purposeful life. The eight limbs work from the “outside-in,” allowing one to bring yoga into daily life.
8 Limbs of Yoga: Practices to Bring Yoga Into Daily Life
- Yamas – restraints or guideposts to living in the world
- Niyamas – perspectives or personal promises we adopt as a way of being
- Asana – yoga poses or postures
- Pranayama – breath work
- Pratyahara – withdraw from the five senses
- Dharana – focused concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – enlightenment
Asana is the most well-known of these eight limbs and is used to help ease the mind and body in preparation for stillness. Dhyana is the point at which our focused concentration (Dharana) dissolves, and everything becomes one.
“In meditation, all borders, boundaries, and separation between ourselves and the universe begin to disappear. We begin to realize the inherent oneness of all beings and all of creation.” – Puja Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji
Samadhi occurs when we lose the separation between ourselves and all that ever was or ever has been. It is a state where all viewpoints and perspectives exist simultaneously and harmoniously.
By focusing on the other five limbs – Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharna – we have the opportunity to explore 5 ways we we can bring yoga into daily life.
- Nonviolence – do not harm ourselves or other living beings.
- Truthfulness – speak the truth.
- Nonstealing – outside of the obvious, this guidepost offers the opportunity to explore things like “stealing time,” “hoarding opportunity,” or taking anything else that doesn’t rightfully belong to us.
- Nonexcess – many have interpreted this to mean “celibacy,” and the literal Sanskrit translation means “walking with God.” Since individual beliefs vary from person to person, we find this best to represent accepting that what you have is “enough.”
- Nonpossessiveness – this restraint invites us to channel our inner Elsa and “Let it Go!” Letting go of material possessions or clutching on to people or relationships with the expectation that those things provide happiness is the essence of non-possessiveness.
How can we take these concepts of the Yamas to help bring yoga into daily life?
Together, let’s walk through an example of a typical morning in for a working adult with children.
- It’s Monday at 7:30 AM – the alarm goes off; not the one you should have set (and forgot) but the one in your brain that wakes you up in a panic, knowing you should have been up and at em’ an hour ago.
- You swiftly jump out of bed and begin to wake the rest of the house – the spouse, your children, and the animals while simultaneously beating yourself up in your mind. “I’m such an idiot. How could I have let this happen again?”
- “There is so much to do I don’t have time to get it all done,” you think to yourself as you go through your mental checklist – make breakfast, make lunch, walk the dog, feed the dog, kids on the bus with their homework done, find a favorite jacket to wear for an important meeting.
- You promptly begin barking orders to the rest of the house – you tell them what needs to get done and how to do it – nothing is going to get completed right, if at all, without your guidance!
- Your partner is moving slower than you’d like – you question why he doesn’t approach the situation with the same urgency as you. You contemplate that he cannot possibly care about you or the family in the same way as you.
- As you think about him being inconsiderate, you trip over his slippers – more proof that he cares about himself more than others around him. “You are such a slob,” you utter as you pass him.
- Instead of making you feel better, you now feel worse – shameful for calling your partner a name…
How to Apply Yamas to Your Mornings
I could go on, but just describing this is making me stressed. How many of us have gone through these motions or some variation thereof? By applying the Yamas to our morning, we can bring a little zen to our life – or take our yoga from the mat to our morning.
- Give yourself some grace – don’t beat yourself up over a mistake. Nonviolence goes for the way we treat ourselves too!
- Tell your partner what you need – be honest, direct, and truthful. Maybe not now, in the heat of the moment, but plan to schedule some time to be genuine and communicate how you feel. Truthfulness and direct communications will help to keep you from passive-aggressively snapping in the future.
- Allow other people in the house to own the outcome of their morning in a way that best serves them (and is age-appropriate). Taking ownership of everything for everyone can steal the opportunity for growth and maturation away from others.
- It may not feel like it on a morning like this, but peace and tranquility may come more easily by accepting that there is enough time (because you cannot magically make more minutes appear). There is enough time, space, and energy to accomplish what needs to get done.
- Finally, try not to get into the trap of judging yourself. Let it all go. Let go of the attachment to the outcome. Additionally, let go of all of the expectations you’ve placed on others without their knowledge. Let go of the self-judgment and the should haves and would haves. Detach from the stuff and enjoy the liberation it offers.
If the Yamas guide us to how we react in relationships with others, it is natural to explore our most intimate relationship. The Niyamas offer an opportunity to dive deeper into our relationship with ourselves.
- Purity – cleansing of our minds, bodies, actions, and thoughts.
- Contentment – an acceptance and appreciation for what is
- Self-discipline – the effort that we put into becoming a person of character and traits we admire most.
- Self-study – by becoming more aware of ourselves, we can assess what we appreciate and want to change.
- Surrender – trusting that life is happening for us instead of to us.
Perhaps, after mastering the Yamas, we begin to cultivate some version of self-love. One way to honor that love is to explore the Niyamas. Since we are with ourselves 100% of the time, it is easy to find opportunities to practice the Niyamas.
Opportunities to bring yoga into daily life with the Niyamas:
- Sauna sweat session
- Intermittent or medically supervised fast
- Remove a specific food that doesn’t work well for your body
- Ditch alcohol, soda, or other sugary drinks for some time – or forever
- Reciting a mantra to replace negative thoughts
- Start a simple gratitude practice – 3 things from the day before for which you are grateful.
- Adopt a mantra for tough times – “and so it is” is a personal favorite.
- Make a list of all of the things you appreciate about yourself and your life right now.
In Michael Hyatt’s book, “Living Forward,” there is an exercise aimed to sort out our true desires vs. those things we think we “should be.”
- Make a list of all of the people who are important to you
- If you would die tomorrow, how would you want each of them to remember you?
- Write your eulogy of what you want others to say about you when you are no longer on this earth.
- Examine these qualities – what do you have today, and what are you missing?
- What can you put into practice right now that will help you achieve those traits?
- Turn up the self-discipline heat and start doing it!
The best opportunity for self-reflection comes from our moments of hyper-reactivity to a response. An overreaction can happen in response to a negative comment or criticism. It can come in judgment of someone else’s decisions. It can occur as the result of being wronged (someone pulls out in front of you). A response that is disproportionate to the action always provides us with information about things inside us.
Significant reactions can often lead to feelings of embarrassment or shame. If you can move past those emotions, take some time and space away from the situation, and then revisit in your mind, the chances are excellent that you may find something about the situation that reflects something in you that you’re interested in changing.
Self-study isn’t only about finding those secret hidden parts of ourselves we loath. It’s also about finding those things within us that we love and appreciate. Notice characteristics you admire in others and write them down. Journaling and meditation are excellent tools for self-exploration. In Deborah Adele’s book, “Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice,” she tells us this:
“We cannot love or hate something about another person or the world unless it is already inside of us first.”
Self-examination is a lifelong adventure and typically peels back like layers of an onion. It often seems that when we thought we had changed something about ourselves or brought to the surface a gift to share with others, the same challenges and advantages bubble up again. Additionally, each time this happens, we can explore it with new depth, understanding, grace, and appreciation.
In yoga, savasana, or corpse pose, comes at the end of a practice. This relaxation pose signifies rest and release. Those new to yoga practice can find this time wasteful—many fight to relax or surrender fully into the posture.
Restorative yoga is one of the more challenging practices because it requires surrender and softening for an entire hour or more.
Complete physical surrender to relaxation can be a metaphor for life. How many times do we try to fight the waves crashing in on us? We do our best to will away any perceived adverse circumstances.
Fighting the wave always has a bad result – we become swallowed whole by the water, disoriented, can end up hurt, and possibly drown. We can ride the strong current by surrendering to a wave (or anything unchangeable). Only with surrender can we find acceptance. Only with compliance can we appreciate the beauty that results from the situation.
Ways to Practice Surrender:
- Practice a release ritual – write a letter and burn it or throw it away, yell your thoughts and concerns out into the universe or speak them into a jar and release them into a river, have a good cry.
- Meet the moment with action – while you may not like something going on, is there a way to refocus your energy into something constructive that helps move the event forward?
Example: A friend of mine’s son was born with a complex heart defect and needed to undergo open-heart surgery at just four years old. Rather than fight the inevitable, they organized a virtual 5k superhero run to be done while he was in surgery. They asked participants to send them pictures of the event. Not only did this give them something else to focus on leading up to and the day of surgery, but it also allowed them to show their son pictures of supporters dressed up as superheroes during his healing process.
- Express gratitude – Often, it is only in hindsight that we can see the gifts that result from things that scare us. Write some possible alternative endings resulting from our surrender to the inevitable—practice gratitude for the future contributions to be delivered – often better than we first imagined.
Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharna are three practices that can easily be incorporated into our routines and helping to bring yoga into daily life.
Breathwork is a unique practice with so many benefits. It is one of the few practices that can provide relaxation or energy; it can rejuvenate our skin and help our thyroid function. We encourage everyone to incorporate a breathwork practice to help bring yoga into daily life. Our breath is always with us and can be leveraged wherever we are. For inspiration, please visit our beginner’s guide to pranayama.
This practice encourages us to withdraw from our senses and turn inward. A daily ritual aimed at “tuning out” is essential in a world in constant competition for our five senses. There are many health benefit studies of float tanks, which support total sensory deprivation.
If a float tank doesn’t sound appealing, you can always find small ways to “turn down the volume on all of your senses:
- Sight – begin by closing your eyes. Adding a weighted eye pillow will also help cancel out any visual distractions from light, and the heft will help you turn inward more quickly.
- Sound – earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, or a white noise machine – followed by turning the white noise machine OFF can quickly produce a relaxing effect.
- Touch – draw a bath that is as close to your body temperature as possible.
- Scent – lay a warm washcloth over the bridge of your nose.
- Taste – swish water around your mouth.
Intense focus and concentration help us to prepare the mind for meditation. Practicing Dharna immediately following a Pratyahara practice can be pretty impactful.
Options for intense focus:
- Light a candle or fireplace and stare at the flame
- Repeat a mantra
- Count to 100 by 1’s, 2,’s, 5’s, 10’s, 20’s, and 50’s forward and backward
- Pray the rosary or practice inhalation and exhalation while holding a mandala.
- Focus on the breath – breathe in saying, “inhale,” release saying “exhale.”
- Close your eyes and make an asterisk with your eye movements – eight times up and down, eight times left and right, eight times diagonal in one direction, and then the other.
Beyond the Poses: Use Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana to bring Yoga Into Daily
Bringing practices of yoga into our daily lives encourages mindfulness and presence. There is much to be learned and explored about yoga and its eight-limbed path. We hope that bringing focus to the Yamas, Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana allows a deeper exploration of the yogic benefits available to us all beyond the postures.
This article was re-posted with full permission. You can find the original article, Beyond the Poses: 5 Ways to Bring Yoga Into Daily Life”, HERE at L’Aquila Active (laquilaactive.com)