Yoga is already off the mat. We will revisit this thought at the end of this article. First, let's explore a macro view of Yoga.
According to Vikram Jeet Singh, Yoga is “Liberation from the limited self, the identification with which causes us so much suffering” and a “different ways of loosening the grip of the illusory world we take to be our absolute reality.”
Explore the 8 Limbs
One way to take your yoga off the mat is to explore Yoga outside of your Asana practice. Explore (and maybe even practice) the 8 limbs. See the ways in which they might become part of your everyday lived experience.
A brief description of each of the 8 limbs of Yoga as taught in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, revered text from about 2,000 years ago.
- Yama : Conduct of life in relation to others - avoiding untruth, theft, injury to others, sensuality and greed.
- Niyama: Conduct towards oneself - cleanliness, tranquility, austerity, study and devotion.
- Asana: Stretching, bending, balancing and sitting exercises. These exercises are nowadays collectively known as hatha yoga.
- Pranayama: Breathing exercises which aim to control the mind.
- Pratayahara: Withdrawing the attention from the body senses.
- Dharana: Concentration of the mind.
- Dhyana: Meditation
- Samadhi: Uninterrupted contemplation of reality.
Union within: Self Realization
“Our own self-realization is the greatest service we can render the world” - Sri Ramana Maharshi
Yoga is union, yoking and integration of mind and body. Self-integration is part of the process of self-realization and is another way that yoga can be done off the mat.
The same coming together of mind, body and breath through breath to movement asana practice is the same coming together of mind and body that happens when we open to deeper parts of our person through Pranayama, Dharana, and Dhyana and Samadhi.
Community Union: Service
“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” Coretta Scott King.
Opening to the connectedness of reality and humanity is one of the many gifts of Yoga.
There is a union found in community that opens us up to the union within ourselves.
Communal union is universal. Concepts like the Indigenous African expression of “Ubuntu” call in interpersonal human connection with expressions like “I am because we are” Ubuntu is a Nguni Bantu word meaning “humanity” Humanity is innate to us individually and collectively.
How I took my Yoga off the Mat
I began my own meditation and yoga journey as a means to find reprieve from severe anxiety and depression. I had a tight chest and breathing at times felt like I was sipping out of a straw. Asana practice helped me open up in my own embodiment, move, and breathe better. A few years later, one of my first yoga teachers and mentors asked me to consider Yoga Teacher Training at the studio where we practiced. After a ton of studio cleaning hours, and payment plans for a discount, I became a yoga instructor. One of the last modules of the teacher training was on the business of yoga. An idea came to mind to do yoga for police officers because I’d recently been involved in an incident where a cop pulled a gun on me, this was on the heels of the same thing happening to my father not too long before. I would later learn of individuals who were thankfully already working with local police departments in their area. I think that was my first thought of yoga outside of myself. The second wouldn’t come until many months later when I was co-facilitating a mediation workshop for men. All the men who showed up that day happened to be Black. Being in a room full of Black men meditating changed my life forever and planted a seed in my heart that would later become Black Boys OM. There was a desire to create spaces just for Black male healing and wellness education. Black Boys OM has severed thousands of Black boys and men in 2,100+ spaces of wellness education since 2018 across the United States and internationally. We have a global network of 350+ Instructors.
It’s been a challenging journey navigating creating, and leading an organization and aiming to take care of myself first. I’m grateful however for the fruit of what bringing yoga off the mat and outside of myself has meant for my dharma in this life.
Yoga off the mat is embracing more of who you find yourself to be as you journey in this practice.
Embracing more of who you find yourself to be in your yoga practice brings your yoga from within you into the world around you.
Journal Prompts for Taking Your Yoga off the Mat
What does yoga awaken in me?
What need do I see this awakening meeting in the world?
Do I have the capacity and desire to meet this need?
What would it take to make meeting this need an enjoyable and fulfilling pursuit?
Danny Fluker, Jr. is a yoga teacher, founder of Black Boys Om and author of A Healing Journal for Black Men: Prompts to Help You Reflect, Grow, and Live With Pride. Called a “beautiful and emotionally powerful book is the healing journal we all need today. . . I can’t wait to recommend this book to my Black male clients. This book is by someone who gets it—a community insider who has and is walking the road toward healing.” Available at Amazon.