I'd wager that most of us think the core of our yoga practice takes place on a mat. When we unroll that mat, whether at home alone or in a studio with our kula (community), we take a breath and begin. Our attention is focused on our asanas, and within those movements we seek to find our deeper, truer selves.
What's easy to forget is that our practice is not limited to that particular rectangular-shaped spot on the planet. Yoga extends outside of Warrior
I, outside of the peaceful studio, outside of our cute stretchy yoga pants.
The first person we make eye contact with after our asanas are completed might very well receive a tranquil smile: this is yoga. Being able to understand and communicate with your golf-loving father, because you both have a centering practice in your lives: this is yoga. When we're injured and can't practice asanas, but instead channel that connective energy into kirtan (singing devotion): this is yoga.
Offering a office mate a suggestion on how to gently stretch around the pain in his lower back: this is yoga. Organizing a yogafest to raise money for a community in need: this is yoga. Closing our eyes and taking five conscious breaths in the whole day, or making soup for our neighbor when she's ill: yoga.
And all of these things have the ability to transform... not only ourselves or the people we're closest with, but the world outside the small social networks we create. Our yoga practice-- because, after all, "yoga" translates as "union"-- unifies us with our sisters and brothers around the world. We are all wise grandmothers and we are all newborn babies, with equal capacity to give and receive, share and teach and learn. When our yoga is limited to the mat, we cheat not only ourselves but the bigger world outside our vision.
And really, how cool is it that a practice we usually do for ourselves-- to calm down, to tone up, to realize a deeper understanding about our lives-- has the power to positively affect other people? So the next time I'm "too tired to practice" or invent some other excuse to avoid swan-diving into Uttanasana, I'm going to try to remember how these stretches and bends and breaths may alter a life besides my own. And that might just be the motivation I need to pull on my cute stretchy yoga pants, unroll my mat, and start again.
Jenn Sturiale completed her 200-hour teacher training at Solstice Yoga Center in 2010, and has been living, teaching, and practicing in Mexico ever since.