How to maintain your zen – after you leave the yoga studio
By Kelley Voegelin, RYT
Everyone who’s ever done yoga has been there. We moved. We breathed. We rested in Savasana… And now it’s the end of class and we have a “yoga high” from our practice. In this moment the "zen" sweetly radiates from us all.
We fully intend to hang on to this glorious feeling and carry it forward as we go about our lives but…when we step into the outside world, the zen somehow evaporates. How do we maintain this sweetness after we’ve left class?
Our practice continues as we step off the yoga mat
One of my first instructors always reminded us that yoga is defined as “stilling the fluctuations of the mind,” or yogas chitta vritti nirodha. In everyday life we often surf from extreme highs to lows as we’re pulled back and forth by our minds. Our practice should aim to foster inner balance between the two, or as she called it, "equipoise."
I easily felt this balance while in class.
However, to my frustration, as I walked out the door, my equipoise would expire almost instantly. Someone would cut me off entering the subway and it felt as though that precious zen had been snatched away from me. But, in reality, the person cutting me off probably didn’t even realize they were doing it. Instead, it was my own mind that was responsible for my irritation and lost zen.
I began to wonder, how did my teacher function so peacefully outside of the yoga studio?
Somehow, she existed in a state of being consistently even keeled, with unfettered compassion. Why? Because —she was doing the work! She was working on managing her mind. So I tried to follow her example and eventually, I was able to keep my peaceful vibes post-class. If I caught myself veering toward deeply-wired thought patterns (Samskaras) that were not serving me, I’d remember to call in the zen of my yoga practice.
It wasn’t easy to do and I was not perfect at doing it. I’m still not. I continue to be humbled and challenged by these lessons to this day. But I do know that the yoga my teacher described really does work outside of class — if you’re willing to practice. Let’s talk about how to do that.
Zen takes practice!
Think of the yoga mat as a place to practice presence with your body, mind and the moment itself. This involves self-study (Svadhyaya), self-care and self-awareness. A place to practice patience and compassion -- for yourself as well as for others.
Now, let’s consider the word practice.
We don’t call something a practice if we do it only once. We don’t just one time roll out a yoga mat, do some postures, “observe our thoughts,” “observe our breath” for about 75 minutes… and then leave it all behind.
We show up consistently and literally practice the practice.
We do this so that when we finally do step off the yoga mat and go our separate ways, we have fresh tools to help us maintain and share this state we call yoga.
Using yoga to do the real work
Yoga exposes patterns in our lives: physical, emotional and mental. We can choose to remain held in these patterns or we can decide to continue to work on them once we exit the room. This practice has never been confined to the very specific parameters of the yoga studio.
So whether we are in Pigeon pose or stopped at a red light, and we notice the zen dispersing, we can invoke what we practice in class to keep the peaceful feelings active. We can recognize our own ingrained patterns or mental fluctuations and choose not to be yanked to and fro by them.
One of my students says she wants to make a bumper sticker that reads: “Don’t kill mom’s yoga buzz.” I admit that her idea makes me smile because I get it. But no matter where you go after class, whether you are stepping out into a pulsing city or driving home to your family, the only one in control of your zen is you.
Tips for keeping your “yoga zen”
The yoga studio is surely a positive and supportive place to practice and do this work, but we can’t deny reality. The class will end and we’ll have to continue with the mental work on our own.
Use these tools to help you meet this challenge:
- Time. As you move from point A to point B post-practice, allow extra time and space if you need it. Express these needs to those around you and take what you need.
- Breath. Stepping back into stressful situation? Pause. Take 5-10 deep breath cycles. You know how to do this. You just did it in class!
- Center. Place your hands on your thighs to ground yourself. Use prayer hands to incite compassion. Consciously make a fist to diffuse irritation.
- Recall. Visualize and feel the vibrations you created in class. Your inner state can shift your outer experience.
- Meditate. Watching the mind helps us catch and dissolve negative patterns while increasing gratitude, compassion and kindness.
The domino effect of yoga
I close every class I teach with these words of encouragement: "May this practice bring you much benefit, may you carry that benefit with you into the rest of your day, and share it with all who are around you and all who are beyond you."
We are like dominoes in a long line. If we uphold our yoga and genuinely practice equipoise, patience and compassion once we’ve exited the studio, we will make a profound impression on those around us. This impact has the potential to pass from domino to domino in our circle, family, community, world…
And in that sharing, we preserve the “zen” we’ve created for ourselves and send it out to the rest of the universe.