Karen Horneffer-Ginter
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Lessons from the Yoga Mat for Everyday Life

In my years of practicing and teaching yoga, I've seen that often what we encounter on the mat reflects what we need to learn in our everyday lives. By reflecting on these experiences, we have the opportunity to bring insights from our yoga practice right into the heart of our daily choices and activities. Here are 7 examples to consider.

Remember your breath:

It's helpful to have encouragement to keep our attention on our breath and to allow our breathing to deepen and lengthen. While we often receive such instruction during a yoga class, it's worth thinking of creative ways to sprinkle such reminders throughout our day. We can use such things as sticky notes or preset chimes on our phone to serve as simple reminders to take a deep breath or to notice our inhalation and exhalation as a way of bringing our awareness into the present moment. We can also reflect on where we most easily notice our breath in our body when doing yoga (in our chest, abdomen, nostrils?) and use this as a focal point in our day-to-day life.

Increase your body awareness:

One of the greatest gifts yoga can offer is to teach us how to bring our attention out of our heads and into our full bodies. We can bring this same type of body awareness into our daily lives, noticing such things as how the soles of our feet are making contact with the ground, how we're being supported by the chair we're sitting on, and what our posture is like. By paying attention to our bodies in this way, we often end up noticing all of our sensory experiences more completely--what we're seeing, hearing, smelling, and touching--and in doing so, we find ourselves showing up in life more fully.

Listen within:

Just as we're encouraged to listen within as we practice yoga, noticing how different poses and postures affect us, this same inner-listening can be brought to our daily life. We can pay attention to how different activities and surroundings affect us, and we can tune into our wisdom about what needs to happen next to best support ourselves.

Pay attention to how you do what you do:

When teaching yoga, I often encourage students that how they do what they do is more important than what they do. It's better to have a less flexible-looking forward bend from the outside if we're relating to ourselves with compassion and honesty on the inside. This encouragement relates to Sharon Salzberg's idea that "the way we do anything can reflect the way we do everything." Both phrases offer a reminder that there's great value in being conscious about how we approach our everyday activities--bringing the best of our intentions to the task at hand.

Find a balance:

We're reminded of the value of balance as we move through sequences of yoga postures that have us bending to the right and then to the left, and as we engage in energizing movements followed by resting poses that allow us to unwind. When we find ourselves feeling out of balance in life, it helps to think about what might serve as a "counter-pose" to what we've been doing too much of.

Learn from your tendencies:

Yoga students are often encouraged to notice their tendencies around holding poses too long, or not long enough, or pushing themselves too much or backing away before they've gained the full benefit of a particular posture. This same type of awareness can serve us well in daily life. We can notice if we tend to work too long without breaks--stretching ourselves beyond our capacities. Possibly, too, we find that we don't stay with projects long enough, metaphorically coming out of the pose before we've reached a point of fruition. Notice what feels true for you--what can you learn by observing yourself on and off the mat?

Set an intention:

Just as we're encouraged to connect with the intention behind our yoga practice and how this reflects the deeper aspects of who we are and what our life is about, bringing such thoughtful intentionality to our daily lives can help to ensure that we continue aligning with what we most value throughout the day.

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