Beyond The Yoga Mat

Beyond The Yoga Mat

Written by

Yeesha Prakash

Content warning: The following article mentions mental illness and eating disorders.

We associate Yoga with physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation - all things practised on a mat. However, the principles and benefits of Yoga extend far beyond the mat, and can be applied to various aspects of everyday life.

“Oh, there’s a storm inside,” says Myra Khanna, betraying the calm in her voice. Whenever I write about something, I like to experience it firsthand on my own. You could say I was looking for inspiration when I booked a class with her or I was simply procrastinating actually sitting down to write (writer’s block is as unpredictable as my anxiety). Perhaps, this time I was looking for something to take my mind off of the countless rushing thoughts in my head - work deadlines, uncomfortable conversations to be had, where to find the best tiramisu in town - it goes on. Luckily for me, June comes with a gift - International Yoga Day.

A few minutes into the class, I found myself in a very uncomfortable position in more ways than one. Sweat dribbled down into my eyes, making a stop on its journey from my nose to the mat, drop by drop. My legs wobbled as I tried to hold the pose and I thought - “Why am I doing this to myself at 6 am on a Friday?” Every part of my body wanted me to give up - and yet, I didn't. I shifted my weight to the back of my heel, and exhaled slowly, through the nose, as instructed. I focused my drishti (vision) in between my eyebrows - and there it was! The balance. I found myself balancing my weight between my two legs, between my two hands, between my feet and my hands. I found my centre - but the thoughts started to rush in again. How is it that my mind wanders for a split second, and my legs give in immediately?

The term ‘Yoga’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘yuj’ which means "to join", or "to unite", symbolising the unity of mind and body and emphasising the interconnectedness of all aspects of life. It’s a journey that welcomes people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities; meets you wherever you are and offers a path to growth, healing, and self-discovery. Yoga is so much more beyond the physical postures and breathing techniques - it seeps into our daily lives, reminding us to live with compassion, kindness, and gratitude.

At the end of the class, I found myself lying in my favourite pose - Savasana. I let everything I felt simply flow through me. My breathing was a lot calmer; my hands not fidgeting; my mind blissful and clear. There was nothing but the sound of my breathing.
This is why you do it.

I got in touch with some Yoga teachers and practitioners to understand what Yoga has done for them on and off the mat over the years. Let’s talk to them, shall we?

Sujay Reddy, Yoga Teacher Trainer

“Most people start their yoga journey with an intention to enhance their physical strength and performance, which is great on its own. It gets people moving and linking their breath with movement.” Sujay says. He believes that when yoga is seen as solely a physical activity, we’re only deriving a small amount of benefit you can from the practice.

“When you try to stay in a posture for a sustained period and regulate your breath in the posture, you become aware of your thought patterns, and your current emotional and mental state. In Yoga, we subject ourselves to austerity and pain internally in order to become stronger. It’s done in a controlled manner - you use your breath to calm yourself down and help you stay with the discomfort a little longer. You begin to understand what frustrates you and where your strengths lie. For me it's crucial to meet and breathe with the challenge of a posture, and not fight it. It increases your resilience, patience and understanding of yourself. The physical strength and flexibility are just by-products of this approach to the practice.”

For a long time, Sujay barely practised Savasana for a couple of minutes in each session, but now he’s convinced that this particular asana is one of the most important aspects of a yoga session. “It allows you to activate your parasympathetic nervous system. In this fast-paced world, we need such tools to go into deep states of relaxation without external stimulation. It enhances good digestion, good sleep, rejuvenation and helps with elongation of the breath,” he says.

Myra Khanna, Student of yoga & teacher

Before finding Yoga in 2018, Myra was a scuba instructor in the Andamans. A couple of years into her life in the Andamans, she looked for a movement based practice - something she could do everyday since she couldn’t practise Kathak with her mom anymore like she did back in Delhi. Myra started her practice in Mysore with the intention of enhancing her strength and flexibility, but she started feeling the effects practising Yoga had on her mind a couple of months into learning with her teacher, Bharat Shetty.

She realised that she started becoming more aware of the way her body functions, her sleeping patterns, how her food habits affected her. “Whether you’re uncomfortable or nervous, looking for happiness or mental stability - it all starts with awareness of your mind. Most often, it's not that we don't know how we feel, it's that we don’t pay attention to why we feel the way we feel. How do you deal with uncomfortable situations or demanding asana you've never done before? Are you going to get agitated? Or are you going to take it in your stride, do your best and then do better each day? There’s always effort in the beginning before it becomes effortless. And this is how you apply learnings from Yoga to real life situations.”

Myra sees lots of similarities between yoga and diving or dancing - the environments are different, but she senses a state of meditation with all of these activities. “When you're diving, you only see what’s in front of you with complete awe, when you’re dancing you can only focus on the rhythm and the beats, and when you’re doing yoga, you focus on your breath. And that’s what union is, to be completely immersed in the now and the present with no worries.”

The first step, Myra says, is to always recognise how you're feeling in the present moment. “Some days you wake up not in a good mood. Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and let it flow through you without disrupting someone else’s day. It's not always about getting to the root of it. Maybe you didn’t get a good night's sleep. Sometimes we just need to accept how we feel, not over analyse it and be neutral about it. We all long to be happy. When we laugh, we don't deconstruct our laughter, we just accept and enjoy it, so why do we try and go into the root of sadness and anger. Sometimes it’s important to know how to drop it. You accept it, you don’t neglect it but at the same time, you do not give it too much attention and just let it flow through you. Try not taking yourself too seriously!”

Surbhi Sachdeva, Yoga Teacher and Ballerina

As an artist, Surbhi has always been captivated by different forms of movement that allow her to connect with her body on a deeper level. The allure of Yoga captured her attention and led her to embark on a transformative journey in 2018 when she undertook her first level 1 teacher training course at Indea Yoga in Mysore. “This experience opened my eyes to the vast dimensions of Yoga beyond mere asana practice. The practice of Yoga had an immediate and lasting effect on me.”

“Physically, Yoga worked wonders for me. It not only enhanced my physical health but also brought about positive changes in my mind and body. My posture improved significantly, allowing me to stand tall with confidence. The regular practice of Yoga infused me with boundless energy, revitalising me from within. Witnessing these physical transformations made me realise the true power of Yoga.”

“On a spiritual level, Yoga helped me forge a deeper connection with my inner self. It became a gateway to self-discovery and self-realisation. Through my practice, I tapped into a wellspring of inner wisdom and gained a profound understanding of myself. This spiritual journey fostered a sense of interconnectedness with others and the world around me, bringing a profound sense of fulfilment.”

Yoga became a sanctuary for her mind. It provided her with invaluable tools to cultivate mindfulness and awareness. As she delved into the practice, she discovered the art of letting go, allowing her mind to find peace and tranquillity. Yoga became a safe space where she could retreat amidst life's challenges, finding solace and clarity. It became a transformative practice that nurtured her physical, spiritual, and mental dimensions.

While a lot of people think yoga is slow and boring, Surbhi feels there is something for everyone - whether it's a power-packed flow or slow restorative practice etc. “Asanas are just the tip of the iceberg; yoga teaches you to be a good human being, it inculcates discipline, self-study, and other great human values. It’s an instant mood-enhancer and has the power to change a person and take them towards peace, calm and serenity.”

Witnessing the growth, learning, and transformation of her students brings Surbhi immense joy. Her goal is not only to help them cultivate physical strength, awareness, stability, and flexibility but also to guide them towards embracing Yoga as a holistic way of life.

Akshit Chawla, Yoga Teacher and Founder, Genix Yoga

Akshit was 13 years old when his grandma introduced him to the practice of meditation. Yoga came to him with his tennis career; he was a national tennis player and Yoga was a part of his training at national tennis camps. He started practising with a trainer only in 2019 and that’s when he took a teachers training course. In 2020, he went to Bangalore for a year to further practise yoga in an ashram. It was during these two years that he really began to understand the dynamics of Yoga at a deeper level.

“There’s no question that Yoga has a profound impact on our mental and physical well-being, but tangible change only comes with persistence and patience over a period of time. We, of course feel great after practising yoga momentarily but it doesn’t last if we aren’t regular. Hormones you release during your yoga practice stay with you through the day if you’re persistent over the years.”

Yoga has helped Akshit grow past a lot of things in his life, he says. “I don’t get affected so easily with the circumstances around me. I’m not detached from everything but I’ve begun to understand what’s temporary, and I’ve evolved into a person who knows what really matters. I don’t get wobbled so easily - whether on the mat or off the mat in my daily life. If I have to do something either in my practice or in my life, I make sure I do it in the best possible way! “

Yoga means union. However, there’s a saying that the path to yoga is Viyoga which means separation - of what’s real and what’s not real. Akshit believes that once you know what’s Maya (everything that’s unreal), we begin to understand what’s real; only when we have that understanding, we can start connecting our mind with our body, and that’s when our practice on a deeper level really begins.

He loves Hatha yoga and inversions - hand balances, stands etc. as they challenge his mental and physical limits. He does believe that each and every yoga pose impacts your mental health in a great way when practised on a regular basis. “Breathing exercises, or pranayama like bhramari are amazing for your mental health and stability as they instantly tranquillise your mind!”

Akshay says that yoga isn’t practised only on the mat and that the studies always start with social conduct - yamaz, and personal conduct - niyamaz. Those are the first two of 8 limbs of yoga, and they emphasise that how we deal with ourselves and others comes first, even before the physical practice. “You start becoming easy on yourself and more understanding towards yourself which in turn makes you empathetic to others. Everything starts from you! With regular practice, your worries go down tremendously as it trains your mind to be resilient, and to stay patient towards your body, yourself and everyone else.”

Chanchal Jaising, Functional Yoga Instructor

Chanchal’s journey with yoga wasn’t really something she planned, and it started quite randomly one summer when she found Ashtanga yoga and then also tried aerial yoga for a while. She finally decided to do her teacher’s training, but that’s when the pandemic hit, and the course meant to be a 200hr in Bali, ended up being an online training course. She went for it anyway and is happy that she did. “What I practise and teach now is not the traditional form of yoga. I do functional or awakening yoga that is more inclusive and accessible - something that everyone can do. It involves a lot of movement-based practice, something it has in common with, say, animal flow.”

Awakening yoga flow is a vinyasa based practice with exploration of a creative rhythmic flow with a challenging pace and focus centred to breath that helps build strength, coordination and measures ability across a balanced array of postures, pushing you to overcome mental and physical obstacles.

Chanchal acknowledges the effects her yoga practice had on her are way beyond physical - it made her a lot calmer and helped her show up for herself and others around her.

“There’s so much you can pick from the practice and apply to your life - something as simple as self-love! Yoga showed me how to show love to myself. These little but important things that seep into your life - the transformation that takes place slowly but surely really makes me fall in love with yoga,” Chanchal says.

Apart from being a yoga teacher, Chanchal works full-time as a store designer for Under Armour; I was curious if yoga helps her navigate work-life balance. “I used to be quite impatient and now that has changed. Things that bothered me earlier, don’t really affect me anymore. Yoga has truly made me a lot calmer. I’m now more aware of things that deserve my time and energy. The things we learn on the mat, like being comfortable with being uncomfortable, more patience, focus and resilience, are what we carry forward off the mat, in our lives. Sometimes all you gotta do is calm that monkey mind of yours, listen to your breath and put a smile on your face. " she says.

Ameesha Singh, Yoga and Balance Coach

Ameesha worked as an IT recruiter till 2019 when she realised a desk job wasn’t for her. The long hours took a toll on her physical and mental wellbeing, and she decided to move on from the job. The desire to embark on a more meaningful and fulfilling path encouraged her to take a leap of faith. So, she decided to go for it and got her yoga certification from AYM, Rishikesh, and 200 hours TTC certification through Ayush, India. She’s been teaching yoga for two years now and truly loves what she does.

In Rishikesh, she met like-minded and kind people who taught her that the most important thing in life is to love yourself, and that surrounding yourself with the right people and energy is essential for your growth, in and outside of yoga practice. Yoga gave her the confidence to lead the life she wanted to, and meditation gave her the tools to navigate her emotions and thoughts. She became more aware of how her habits and lifestyle affected her mind, soul and body. Over a period of time, everything started falling into place with ease. Today, she’s happy with the determination, patience and positivity yoga has brought to her life.

“People fail to understand that yoga is more than asanas, pranayama and tricky poses. It’s a way of life which involves doing the right things at the right time on and off the mat, balancing your work and your emotions, optimising your environment, cutting off people and habits that do not add to your happiness and peace. It’s about enabling yourself to live the life you truly want to without outside influence.”

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