“ Omg, you look so zen.”
“ Wow you are so peaceful.”
“ Of course you are zen, you do yoga.”
Those are comments I often hear or see about my yogic photos or just about the fact that I practice and teach yoga in general. Because, yoga makes us “zen”, right? Doing yoga once a week at a studio suddenly turns us into these ethereal, celestial, super composed human beings, right? I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem to me that it’s how it works in the real busy modern life.
Yoga is very well known and documented as a practice that promotes relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety. Which is, in fact, quite accurate. Though, I don’t believe that just the physical aspect of yoga, the poses or asanas, that is taught in most of studios or other sports locations is the most efficient way to ensure we get our regular dose of zen. Yes, of course, any recurrent physical exercise will, most likely, help us to deal with stress and anxiety by taking our heads away from its source and by releasing calming endorphins in our system, but, why is yoga the reference when we think of a stress relieving practice?
During a yoga class, the teacher will most likely be encouraging some kind of mindfulness mindset, which is, to me, the single most critical and important key to a stress free, happy life as well as a huge component of the yogic philosophy. Mindfulness is about being able, not to switch the mind off completely, but rather, to focus its attention to one single point. It is about being and feeling present in the here and now, and understanding that the past and the future are not relevant in this exact moment. Yoga teaches us to be mindful about what is happening right now in our bodies in order to achieve the full benefits of each posture. Where there is mindfulness, there is no stress.
Yoga makes us breathe deeply and intentionally. In fact, breath work is one of the 8 limbs of yoga, as taught by the ancient yogis. It isn’t to say that breath is vital, but, well, yes it is! By learning to synchronize movements with breath, the practice becomes richer and deeper. Uring a yoga class, we learn to work with the breath and use it to sustain, deepen or relax in poses. We experience that, even in (quite literally) uncomfortable and stressful situations, the breath is always there for us to tap into and accept the discomfort. Moreover, it is proven that full and deep exhalations is a natural way to calm and quiet the nervous system, therefore reducing the amount of anxiety or stress we might be perceiving.
And then what?
Of course, the setting of a yoga class might include relaxing music, dimmed lighting or other additionally anti-stress goodies, but I think that the two aspects above are the main contributors to the soothing effect of practicing yoga. Mindfulness and breath are really fun (or not, depends…) when a teacher is telling us what to do, but what about a lasting effect? What about after the class? A yoga studio is a beautiful little cozy bubble to experience stress reduction, but what is even more meaningful and perennial, is to find ways to carry these wonderful teachings off the yoga matt! This is what yoga truly is ; a philosophy and way of living that extends way out of your pretty neighborhood studio. The key is to find ways for you to incorporate the things you learn at yoga in your real daily busy off-matt life.
Here are a few very practical tricks that you maybe could use to carry yoga around with you like your favorite backpack :
Asking the teacher for their transcendent playlist and listening to it while commuting to work.
Stopping everything you do as many times as you can think of just to be aware of your breath.
Repeating yourself that inspiring affirmation the teacher shared with you the other day.
Making an effort to be totally present and feeling the sensations in your body while walking from A to B.
Respecting your body and listening to it in whatever it needs to do during the day.
That is how you can slowly but surely become more zen, not by letting yoga happen to you during a class, but by actually taking charge and translating the teachings in your daily life!
Can you think of other ways to lift yoga off the mat?