Applying Yoga to
the "Real World"
Recently I was asked by a student (Joe) if there was a "transition" guide. "Yeah, you know, of how we adapt from Anamaya back into the real world".
So how do we apply the lessons of yogic lifestyle into "the real word" that many of us live in? First, let me define what I am calling in quotes "the real world". It is not to mean that it is exclusively urban, but it's the world where we have responsibilities like social obligations and bills. Home is often not waking up in the morning and being catered to with a light fruit snack before going to a first yoga class, and then have all subsequent meals catered as well after a full day of fun activities that are located in a Costa Rica paradise. I live here, but I get it. I used to live in an urban setting and I had to figure out how to dedicate myself to the yogic path. My solution was what I call "infusion". For me, that was developing an "at home" or "self-practice" and is what I try to teach - the skills to do that. Developing a self-practice is a way to always have "yoga" available to you and are not solely reliant on studios or teachers (although it is great to be in a class setting and have a yoga community).
Infusion also means taking the lessons and applying them "off the mat" and into your daily life. The truth is that I don't spend an hour or 90 minutes every day on my own "yoga" routine. My priorities are: moving first thing in the morning, setting intentions for my day, ensuring I squeeze in a meditation, and right now above yoga postures for movement, I am interested in belly dance. Blasphemous? No... yoga is not about standing on a mat for an hour and half. It's about a lifestyle of health, expanded awareness, connection to Earth/ Spirit (yes, the demarcation by only a slash mark was intentional but I will have to elaborate on that in a completely separate blog post).
To infuse yoga into your life, let's first start by going over
First of all, we have what I will refer to here as your "Fierce Fundamentals". I teach how to:
- Fold (bend over)
- Flex (your spine)
- Open your Heart
"Uh, okay thanks, J, but how do I infuse these into my life?"
Well, we are sitting or standing most of the time. If we are not then typically we are bending to pick something up. So think of the tips I had given you. Sitting and Standing (like a yogi/yogini) are actually fairly similar. Remember these cues? "Tuck your tailbone, slight engagement of the core, pull the energy up your spine, open your heart (by rolling the shoulders back and away from the ears), feel pulled to sky through the crown of your head." Unfortunately I don't yet have a video on how to sit (I filmed it but haven't put it together), but I do have one for how to stand. The cues are the same so you can check the standing video out here.
That covers sitting and standing. Breathing... that comes automatically (lucky us - ha ha). Try to breath deeper a few times during the day in a conscious manner and I'll write a longer blog post on that in the near future (stay tuned!).
Folding. Remember "Hinge from the hips (hip bones), lead with the heart". A couple other tips would be to always have a slight engagement in the core. I do this personally as I have dealt with chronic back pain since teenage years. It's a way to protect yourself in the moment and mitigate more permanent damage caused by unconcsious movements in bending, and lifting over the years.
Flexing the spine. I have a little video on spinal flexing, watch it. You can do so many different variations of this and I'll make more media around this later. The essential elements are lifting the heart on an inhale, exhaling you pull the navel in and drop your chin to the chests as you round your spine like scared cat.
Opening the heart. Simple ways to do this in your "everyday" are to master sitting and standing. Sitting and standing like a yogi involves a slight lifting of the chest. By keeping your shoulders away from the ears by rolling them back and down (and letting them soften or melt away from the head), you will have natural expansion in the chest and thus heart opening. However, I teach (and LOVE) the posture called "supported fish". Can't remember what that was? Here's the video I made for that asana.
Before I go any further. I want to remind you that I did develop a few mini-routines which you can find on my YouTube. I might suggest attempting the one that I call "Siren Core". It's a short pratice that you can make only 5 minutes or extend by doing slower, deep (intentional bliss/ocean/oujai) breaths with long holds, and also doing the routine 2 or 3 times through. Watch "Siren Core" here.
Although "service" to the world is part of opening the heart, we work on ourselves first until we are ready to dedicate energy in a sustainabile way to the world. We are not in service to the world, to our partners, family, or friends if we cannot first manage our personal energies (including emotions) in a sustainable way. More on this later...
Then we have the concept of PLAY. This may have been more subtle for you unless you took my workshop as I consider the ability to play and allowing ourselves to be silly, non-sensical, or have right-brain fun, part of self-love. Teaching is not alwasy about having discussions. Part of teaching is what is demonstrated so we allow the student to figure out some things on their own. I could tell you everything but what fun is that? However, let me remind you of how I may have demonstrated "Play". The clothing I wear is playful. It's bright colored and fun. It doesn't mean that I expect my students to do the same but my presence alone gives you permission to allow yourself to be more free-spirited.
Part of "Play" is "discovery" and the reason why I chose the picture above. We didn't get into it much but there were definitely a few times I encouraged your own personal exploration even if it was simply figuring out how to warm up your wrists before downward facing dog or develop your own version of spinal flexing. You can't really do too much wrong when it comes to movement. I mean, you can if you repeat it forever, but just to move in a way that is not painful but playful... well, I'd call that dance. Be mindful of your breathe, meaning move with breath intention. Pay attention to the breath as you move or make deliberate choices to move certain ways on either inhales or exhales and remember these two tips:
- Inhaling is good for bringing vitality and energetic strength into the body. Breathe in to help you hold.
- Exhaling is good for twisting and engaging in any kind of release or increased flexibility. Exhales help you fold.
Now surely, if you are a person that has actually been in a class with me, you are probably saying "but you taught us all about certain alignments". I know. But I can't address that in one blog post and this gets into another aspect of "Play" which is not taking yourself too seriously. Yes I did teach things about alignment and which I do think are really important, but sometimes it's okay to throw away all the rules. I give you permission to say "F it, I just wanna dance".
And another note on "play" ( in the context of not taking life too seriously).... So often we get caught up in the stresses of life. Take a break. Turn off your phone. Walk out into Nature and take a few mintues for deep breathing. You will either decide to spend more time playing hooky or you will go back to what you were doing and realize there are always many realities of experience we can tap into at one time. Holding onto stress is unnecessary. Although stress can be a reality, it does not have to debase our permanent mental (and thus physical) health. You might want to review my little 1 minute video on "acceptance". Although I have to say, I am way too serious in it (ha!) - I'll just make a more playful version of it in the future.
It's okay to be a panda sometimes, though maybe don't drink as much as this one.
What else did I teach you?
You could say I taught at least two other major things though one them is part of the Fierce Fundamentals. I teach how to meditate and how to set intentions.
Let's touch on meditation first as I want to really get into intentions and leave on that note. Meditation is taught at the beginning of classes and also encouraged at the end of classes. Meditation can be done sitting, standing, (dancing or walking as I teach in my workshop). Many times meditation involves conscious awarenss of the breath or we use it as a tool in form of sound (like a mantra) to bring our awareness back to the space between our cloud-like thoughts and not the "clouds" themselves. Breath, afterall, is part of that space. Remember, you don't have to only sit still for meditation. Do you remember the vigorous breath / feeling exercise I call "Power Breath" ?It counts as meditation since we consciously balance the "doing" with the "being" in that exercise.
So what were those intentions, anyway? Well I have a mini-3 part series just on intention! (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). Essentially they are goals. Yes, I taught you how to set goals... Now in yoga, we qualify the meditation and asana (movement / posture work) as work that esoterically / with spiritual energetics counts toward your goal. So part of yoga is about goal setting, knowing what you are working for, and then working for it. The work being the meditation, mindful playfulness, self-love, and asana/ movement. Again, this warrants an entirely separate blog post but part of intentionality is embodiment. I ask many of my students to go home with an asana/ posture that they want to not just work on but "own" aka "embody" (be good at, feel as if it defines their character to some degree). In the last retreat I taught, I had some people pick "supported fish", "open-hearted warrior" (aka warrior II), folding, downward facing dog, and spinal flexes. What is my favorite embodiment asana? Glad you asked, you can watch it here. Don't know what a Bodhisattva is, do an internet search ;)
So what did you go home with? What do you remember about me specifically or the classes? The memories will teach you something.
Review of my teachings
For simple recap, I've made two categories only:
FIERCE FUNDAMENTALS (sitting, standing, folding, flexing, breath for aid in postures or meditation, intention)
PLAY (discovery, dance, silliness, mystical/creative right brain unicorn / panda outfit thinking allowed, (all of this is part of self-love which I will delve into more thoroughly in another blog post).