Yoga — Off The Mat & Into Life

Practice on the mat is only scratching the surface without the conscious application of the underlying principles of yoga. In the popularization of yoga and mindfulness practices over recent years, there’s been a glossing over of the depth of contemplative practices and often unwitting ignorance of their depth and subtlety.

Photo credit: Isabell Winter on Unsplash

Over many years of teaching yoga, I’ve seen that what happens during practice is only worth something if we carry the principles off the mat and into our lives and relationships intentionally. Without understanding the why of practice and making conscious applications of the underlying principles, yoga, mindfulness exercises and meditation cannot show their true or lasting potential benefits.

Meditation, yoga, and mindfulness exercises, like any potentially transformative practices, are tools for cultivating greater awareness and integration in ourselves, for a clearer perspective and a more connected way of life. They’re paths, not a destination.

Let’s examine a handful of the myriad principles meditation, yoga and mindfulness practices point us toward, and how to apply those principles to consciously improve human relationships. This is without moving into the spiritual and ethical teachings in any depth — subjects that can, and do, fill many books over centuries.

Breathing into the edges of your strength, flexibility, and awareness in yoga postures

Aim for a combination of strength and flexibility in your interactions with others. This means, if you don’t agree, stay kind and flexible rather than trying to be right. Say what’s important to you and be clear about what you need and prefer, without being rigid, or critical of the differences between you.

Listen, as you’ve learned to listen to yourself in practice, and be compassionate even when you’re being assertive in interactions.

Breathing into your limitations, rather than forcing and straining can help you to deeply experience non-violence as a more powerful path for deep change and transformation, than aggression or forcing, which typically lead to damage.

Mindful observation of your breath

It’s helpful to know how to take a breath and pause, before going with an unhelpful reaction, and instead offer a more mindful response.

Utilizing your mindful breathing consciously in off-mat interactions has a tangible steadying effect on your thinking and emotional state.

Modelling staying cool and taking a breath, rather than flying-off-the-handle, helps those around you, especially children, to feel more nurtured and connected to you, especially when things are challenging. You inspire trust that you are more often steady and assertive under pressure, than emotion-driven and chaotic.

Breath and emotions are inextricably linked, and being able to apply breathing practices consciously is a powerful life skill.

Staying in the present moment, observing your thoughts and feelings non-judgmentally

Love is a very special kind of attention. You must be present emotionally for someone to feel loved by you.

That is how fundamentally important presence of mind and heart is to our relationships — with ourselves, with others, even with our own passions.

To be able to give our full attention and be present in the moment is a non-negotiable skill for good relationships.

Distraction and short-attention spans are becoming more the norm. Love requires us to stop and give our most precious commodity — our focused, caring attention. Our presence. Nowhere do we learn and practice doing this more effectively than in meditation, or on the yoga mat, integrating focus with breath and movement.

Contemplative practices are tools that have the potential to teach you a different approach to yourself, others and life, a different way of seeing your inner and outer worlds, where there’s more space around thoughts and feelings.

That extra space gives you the time and mindful awareness to make better choices.

Those better choices mean that more often, your behaviour is consistent with your deepest values so you feel clearer and more emotionally free.

Once you understand what you’re really being taught through yoga— it’s all up to you to apply, apply, apply in every moment and aspect of your life, especially when you’re challenged by a person or a situation and under pressure. That’s when you know whether what you’ve done on the mat has been integrated, become part of you and your perspective of the world.

Why do you practice yoga? Why do you meditate, or practice mindfulness exercises?

Are you clear that the real practice begins when you leave your mat?

Let it be so, and every aspect of your life will be enriched, especially your relationships.

Originally published at on January 26, 2019.

Dr Debra Campbell is a psychologist and author of Lovelands, a self-help memoir about becoming your own hero. You can find out more at

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