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Shrink on the mat: To leave the mat or not?

June 15, 2012

“Is there ever a time in one’s life when the stress or personal challenges are too heavy that one should just leave the mat and return when feeling more grounded? Or is it best to continue no matter what the personal emotional and mental state?”

I really have had to ponder this question…it’s a great one.

Because we come back to what exactly is yoga. Is it a practice that only happens on the mat or is it a means to bringing more consciousness into our daily lives? Is it about being “good” at yoga, or is it about pathways to Truth, Compassion and Freedom?

So I would say that it boils down to our intentionality and attitude. If we are in a stressed out state and force ourselves into practice and find that we feel worse after the session….is that more freedom, healing and compassion or less? If we are in a difficult time in our lives and we practice with the attitude of we should and it’s the “right” thing to do, is that going to bring about degrees of healing, wisdom and compassion?

Life itself is the teacher and the yoga practice teaches us how to navigate the waves of life. When those waves are particularly choppy, we might find ourselves literally shipwrecked off our yoga mat, and unable to be present to the magnitude of the personal challenge or trauma. It is at those times that we need to find a way to navigate our way back to the mat gently and carefully.

Sometimes it is useful then, if we are really finding that the yoga is not helping, that the yoga practice comes off the mat and looks like taking a walk on the beach and standing in Tadasana for five minutes watching the sea and feeling the sand under our feet. Or it might mean lying in baby pose or another restorative posture. Or it might mean simply feeling the breath from time to time as we move our way through the day.

If we chose to continue our practice on the mat, it is useful to notice what postures and practices work to restore balance and grounding. It’s a question of choosing our practice wisely. At times what is needed on the mat might be a gentle calming yin practice. At other times the exact thing one needs might be a stronger practice. We will only know by trying various options and seeing what works.

In my opinion, it is the awareness of the body and the mind that we cultivate in yoga is that is important, the body will reflect back what is right for us. And of course the awareness of the fluctuations of the mind will help us create more spaciousness and wisdom around our suffering, This awareness can be cultivated whether we are on the mat or off it.


Linda Kantor is a psychotherapist, yoga teacher and practitioner who has been in private practice for the past 15 years.
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