"The true essence of yoga is to cultivate compassion for all beings." – Seane Korn
“Yoga off the mat” refers to the application of yogic principles and practices in our daily lives, beyond the physical practice on the yoga mat. It involves taking the mindfulness, self-awareness, and compassion cultivated in yoga and applying it to our interactions with others, our communities, and the wider world.
Yoga has always been more than just a physical practice; it is a holistic approach to health and well-being that includes ethical principles, breathing techniques, and meditation practices. These practices help us develop awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and actions, and cultivate a sense of connection to ourselves, others, and the world around us.
In this sense, “yoga off the mat” is essential for social advocacy because it helps us develop the skills and attitudes necessary to become agents of positive change in the world. By applying the principles of non-violence, truthfulness, compassion, and self-discipline to our interactions with others, we can create a more just and compassionate society.
For example, “yoga off the mat” can inspire us to become more aware of our privilege and biases and take action to dismantle systems of oppression. It can also help us develop the resilience and empathy necessary to confront social injustice and work towards social change.
5 Pioneers of Yoga Off the Matt
There are many pioneers of “yoga off the mat” groups and programs who have brought the principles and practices of yoga into their communities to promote mindfulness, social engagement, and well-being. Here are five notable pioneers in this field.
Seane Corn is a yoga teacher and social activist who has been at the forefront of using yoga as a tool for social change. She co-founded Off the Mat, Into the World, https://www.offthematintotheworld.org/ a non-profit organization that uses yoga and mindfulness practices to promote activism, social justice, and community engagement with Hala Khouri (see below).
Hala Khouri is a yoga teacher and social activist who co-founded Off the Mat, Into the World with Seane Corn. She also co-founded Yoga for Trauma, a non-profit organization that provides yoga and mindfulness practices to individuals who have experienced trauma.
Matthew Sanford is a yoga teacher and author who has been using yoga as a tool for healing and well-being since the early 2000s. He founded Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit organization that provides adaptive yoga to individuals with disabilities that has been instrumental in promoting the use of yoga for trauma recovery.
Beryl Bender Birch
Beryl Bender Birch is a yoga teacher and author who has been practicing and teaching yoga since the 1970s. She founded The Hard & The Soft Yoga Institute, a non-profit organization that offers yoga teacher training and continuing education programs, and has been a leader in promoting the use of yoga for stress reduction and well-being.
Ana Forrest is a yoga teacher and author who founded Forrest Yoga, a style of yoga that focuses on physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. She has been using yoga as a tool for healing and well-being for over 40 years and has been a leader in promoting the use of yoga for trauma recovery.
7 Ways to Include “Yoga Off the Mat” in Your Daily Life
- Mindful Breathing: One of the fundamental principles of yoga is mindful breathing, which can be practiced anywhere, anytime. Take a few deep, conscious breaths throughout the day, especially when feeling stressed or anxious.
- Practicing Gratitude: Cultivate a sense of gratitude by making a daily practice of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in your life, however small they may seem.
- Mindful Eating: Eat mindfully by paying attention to the taste, smell, and texture of your food. Savor each bite and avoid distractions such as the phone or TV.
- Kindness: Practice kindness and compassion towards yourself and others. This can involve offering words of encouragement, doing a kind deed, or simply smiling at someone.
- Mindful Movement: Incorporate gentle stretches or movements into your daily routine, such as standing up and stretching after sitting for a long time or taking a short walk during a lunch break.
- Mindful Listening: Practice active listening by giving your full attention to the person speaking without judgment or interruption. Try to understand their perspective before responding.
- Mindfulness Meditation: Take a few minutes each day to sit quietly and meditate. Focus on your breath or a particular intention and bring that intention into your daily life.
Community Programs that Promote Well-Being
Community programs can be an effective way to bring people together to practice mindfulness and promote community well-being. Here are some community programs you can use:
- Yoga Classes: Offer yoga classes in community centers, libraries, or parks to bring people together to practice yoga and mindfulness. These classes can be led by a certified yoga instructor or by trained volunteers.
- Mindful Walking Groups: Organize mindful walking groups that meet regularly to walk and practice mindfulness together. This can be a great way to connect with nature and each other while also promoting physical activity.
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Programs: MBSR programs are evidence-based programs that teach mindfulness practices to reduce stress and promote well-being. These programs can be offered in community centers, hospitals, or other public spaces.
- Mindful Eating Groups: Organize mindful eating groups that meet regularly to share healthy meals and practice mindful eating together. This can be a great way to promote healthy eating habits and connect with others over shared values.
- Meditation Groups: Create meditation groups that meet regularly to meditate and share experiences. These groups can be led by trained volunteers or by a certified meditation teacher.
- Wellness Workshops: Offer wellness workshops that focus on mindfulness, stress reduction, and self-care. These workshops can be led by experts in the field or by trained volunteers.
“Yoga Off the Mat” and Social Causes
“Yoga off the mat” can be an excellent tool for promoting awareness of social causes and fostering a sense of community engagement:
- Yoga for Social Justice: Yoga for Social Justice is a community program that promotes awareness of social issues such as racial injustice, gender inequality, and environmental degradation through yoga practice. This program can involve themed yoga classes, workshops, and community events that focus on social justice issues.
- Yoga for Trauma Recovery: Yoga for Trauma Recovery is a community program that provides yoga and mindfulness practices to individuals who have experienced trauma. This program can involve classes, workshops, and support groups that focus on promoting healing and resilience.
- Community Outreach: Community outreach programs involve taking yoga and mindfulness practices into underserved communities, such as schools, hospitals, and community centers. These programs can provide individuals with the tools to manage stress and promote well-being.
- Yoga for Veterans: Yoga for Veterans is a community program that provides yoga and mindfulness practices to veterans and their families. This program can involve classes, workshops, and support groups that focus on promoting healing and well-being.
- Mindful Activism: Mindful Activism involves using mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga to promote social change. This program can involve themed yoga classes, workshops, and community events that focus on specific social issues and promote community engagement.
The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali
The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Sutras_of_Patanjali are the key to living “yoga off the mat.” Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga provide a framework for the practice of yoga, both on and off the mat.
- Yama: The Yamas are moral guidelines for ethical behavior in our interactions with the external world. Living off the mat, we can practice the Yamas by cultivating compassion, honesty, and integrity in our relationships with others.
- Niyama: The Niyamas are personal observances that help us cultivate inner strength and self-discipline. Living off the mat, we can practice the Niyamas by engaging in daily practices that support our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, such as meditation, journaling, and mindful movement.
- Asana: Asanas are the physical postures practiced in yoga, and they help us cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance in our bodies. Living off the mat, we can practice the principles of Asana by taking care of our bodies through healthy eating habits, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene.
- Pranayama: Pranayama is the practice of breath control, which helps us cultivate greater awareness of our breath and its impact on our physical and emotional well-being. Living off the mat, we can practice Pranayama by taking deep, conscious breaths throughout the day to help us manage stress and promote relaxation.
- Pratyahara: Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from external stimuli, which helps us cultivate greater inner awareness and focus. Living off the mat, we can practice Pratyahara by reducing our exposure to external distractions such as social media and technology and cultivating more time for quiet contemplation and self-reflection.
- Dharana: Dharana is the practice of concentration, which helps us cultivate a focused mind and greater clarity. Living off the mat, we can practice Dharana by setting clear goals and priorities, and focusing our attention on what is most important to us.
- Dhyana: Dhyana is the practice of meditation, which helps us cultivate greater inner peace and awareness. Living off the mat, we can practice Dhyana by taking time each day for quiet reflection and mindfulness practices such as meditation or mindful breathing.
- Samadhi: Samadhi is the state of ultimate bliss and enlightenment that comes from a deep and sustained practice of yoga. Living off the mat, we can cultivate the principles of Samadhi by living with greater awareness, compassion, and gratitude, and by seeking to cultivate a greater sense of connection with the world around us.
“Yoga Off the Mat” in Action
Before we go, let’s take a look at how all this “Yoga Off the Mat” information can be applied to your life with an example of a woman I will call Sarah.
Sarah has been practicing yoga for over ten years and has recently taken her practice off the mat and into her daily life. She has always felt that yoga has helped her to cultivate a sense of inner peace and connection to something greater than herself, but it wasn't until she started living “yoga off the mat” that she truly began to see the transformational power of the practice.
In her daily life, Sarah strives to embody the principles of yoga in everything she does. She makes a conscious effort to be kind, compassionate, and non-judgmental towards herself and others. She practices mindfulness and is present in the moment, whether she is at work, with friends, or simply walking down the street.
One of the ways that Sarah lives “yoga off the mat” is by practicing seva, or selfless service. She volunteers once a month at a local homeless shelter, where she helps to prepare and serve meals to those in need. Through this work, she has developed a deep sense of empathy and compassion for those who are less fortunate, and it has become a meaningful and rewarding part of her life.
Another way that Sarah lives “yoga off the mat” is by practicing ahimsa, or non-violence. She is an enthusiastic animal rights advocate and has recently adopted a vegan diet, which she feels is a natural extension of her yoga practice. She believes that living a life of non-violence means extending compassion not just to humans, but to all beings.
Living “yoga off the mat” has been a transformative experience for Sarah, allowing her to deepen her spiritual practice and live a more fulfilling and meaningful life. Through her practice, she has learned that the true essence of yoga is not just about the physical postures, but about living with intention and purpose in all aspects of her life.
Ultimately, we can all strive to be like Sarah. The yoga of action of service, karma yoga is so needed in this world today. The practice of “yoga off the mat” is not only about personal transformation but also about social transformation. It encourages us to use our skills, knowledge, and resources to create a more just and compassionate world, one that is in alignment with the principles of yoga.