Yoga “Off the Mat”


I started doing yoga eight years ago as a way of staying strong and limber while coping with a chronic pain condition. Doing “yoga off the mat” is an expression I have heard frequently since then. It means carrying the lessons of your yoga practice into your daily life. Until recently, the only meaning this concept had for me was a reminder to keep breathing, both in and out.

A few weeks ago, it finally hit me what yoga off the mat means. My yoga teacher had us do a particularly uncomfortable position — a lunge with the right knee bent, the left leg straight back with a block under the thigh just above the knee, and the forearms resting on the floor on the inside of the right bent leg. It looks a bit like this – but more contorted.

She encouraged us to go deeper into the pose. Each time I tried, I felt more uncomfortable and tensed up — which made me feel more uncomfortable, which made me tense up even more — you get the idea.
At one point she said, “Make the effort you can and then just surrender.” I did. I pushed myself a bit deeper, and then just let go and sagged, letting the block under my left thigh support me. I stopped forcing it. The pain lightened, and the light bulb went off.
Surrender doesn’t mean giving up. It means letting go of what is beyond your power to control. In my family, I had learned early on to try to impose my illusion of control onto a very confusing universe. My approach was to pay very close attention and to be prepared for all contingencies. As an adult, these tendencies lingered. I arrive at airports one to two hours early, just in case. I pack an extra sweater, just in case. This yoga experience gave me a new imprint — that choosing to surrender is actually an act of power and opens up possibilities that were not visible before.
There are times when I surrender to the demands of my health condition. That is not defeat. Not any more.
By Barbara Kivowitz ©2008

  • I know of someone who practices yoga and he seems to believe in its power to heal. Loved the quote too

  • It is so difficult to let loose when you deal with the pain assoicated with this stuff

  • Shannon

    Great thought – Chronic pain has taught me more patience than I would ever know otherwise

  • I loved this post. I am an OCD control freak and am learning to let go slowly. This post was a lot of reinforcement for me. Thanks for posting it. I’m in the negative category on spoons so off to do some recliner time and gather more.
    Have a great day.