If you've been practicing yoga for a while, you likely realize there is much more to it than the postures you do in your weekly yoga class. Maybe you've heard your yoga instructor talking about “practicing off the mat” or mentioning a sutra or Yama related to yoga philosophy. Your teacher is describing some of the studies and practices you can delve into outside of class so you can learn how to live a yoga lifestyle for total mind and body wellness and balance.
The beginning of the yoga journey brings many questions, like “How do you practice yoga off the mat” and “What does it take to become a true yogi?”
You'll be pleased to hear you can lead a yogic lifestyle without moving to an ashram or totally cutting yourself off from society. In this article, I'll explain what a traditional yoga lifestyle looked like 5000+ years ago and how you can apply these same principles to your modern-day life.
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Is yoga a religion or exercise?
Yoga is neither a religion nor an exercise regime. It is a mind-body practice designed to be incorporated into your daily life. Aside from practicing poses on the mat, the ancient yogic philosophy guides us to make positive changes in our everyday life.
While yoga is associated with the Hindu religion, it is not a religious practice. Anyone can practice yoga, regardless of religious beliefs. You do not worship any god through yoga unless that is your intention.
Yoga incorporates various Hindu teachings but also links to Jainism and Buddhism. Certain aspects of yoga can make people feel like the aim is to worship a god, such as using Sanskrit words or the prayer mudra. However, these are spiritual aspects of the practice rather than religious ones.
Traditional yoga is a spiritual practice, but some styles of modern-day yoga make it seem more like a fitness activity or exercise. While yoga can be diluted to be purely a physical practice, it's essential to remember that for centuries, it has been an integral part of many people's spiritual practices.
Is yoga a lifelong practice?
Yoga is considered a lifelong practice and something you commit to and devote yourself to rather than a hobby you dabble with. Traditionally, yoga was practiced as a path to enlightenment and inner peace. Of course, this takes a long time as you slowly progress to higher levels of consciousness.
Yoga is much more than a physical practice. By following a yogic lifestyle, which means practicing off the mat and on it, you can experience significant personal and spiritual growth. A yogic lifestyle can help you uncover who you are and become your best version.
But what exactly does it mean to live a yogic lifestyle?
Living by the Yamas from the Eight Limbs Of Yoga
The principles of a yoga lifestyle stem from Patanjali's yoga sutras, particularly the eight limbs of yoga.
The ancient sage Patanjali taught that asana practice (yoga postures) is just one of the eight aspects of yogic life. Moreover, practicing physical postures is considered less important than following the Yamas and Niyamas (ethical codes of conduct).
The Yamas are guidelines or moral codes on how we should behave in the world, specifically, how we should treat others.
Let's take a quick look at the 5 Yamas and how they relate to living a yoga lifestyle
1. Ahimsa (non-harming)
Ahimsa teaches us not to harm any other living thing (including ourselves) through our words, actions, and thoughts. So, a yogic lifestyle involves being compassionate to others, including animals. This is why many yogis refrain from eating meat or buying any product/service that contributes to animal cruelty.
2. Satya (truthfulness)
The second Yama helps us be more honest with others, which can improve our relationships. It also guides us to be truthful to ourselves, which is crucial to our self-improvement and overall well-being.
3. Asteya (non-stealing)
This Yama goes well beyond stealing physical possessions that don't belong to us. When we apply Asterya to how to live a yoga lifestyle, we learn that this Yama is guiding us not to steal time or energy from others and not to steal from ourselves by partaking in self-sabotaging behaviors.
4. Brahmacharya (energy control)
Traditionally, brahmacharya refers to celibacy, something ancient yogis would practice. However, in a modern yogic lifestyle, brahmacharya relates to abstinence, restraining from overindulging. When we apply this to our daily routine, we gain control of our urges and energy, allowing us to cultivate more energy and, thus, a healthy body and mind.
5. Aparigraha (non-attachment/non-greed)
One way we can practice aparigraha daily is with our eating habits. This Yama encourages us to make healthy food choices and eat in moderation rather than binge eating. A traditional yogic diet is clean and nutritious, easy on the digestive system, and eaten intentionally.
A traditional yogic lifestyle closely follows the Yamas and Niyamas and involves daily asana, meditation, breathing exercises, and other rituals. Yogis would lead simple lives and dedicate their time to improving spiritual well-being and connecting to their higher self.
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What is yoga in the modern era?
While traditionally, yoga was seen as a lifelong practice, many people today practice it simply as a hobby. As the practice has evolved to meet the needs of the modern era, it is not necessary to follow yoga as a lifestyle, although doing so will surely increase its benefits.
Nowadays, the main focus of yoga is the physical and mental health benefits. People come to yoga for various reasons, including to reduce stress, increase mental focus, deal with chronic back pain, or build strength or flexibility.
As all modern yogis have a unique intention for practicing yoga, the frequency they practice varies. While regular, consistent practice will enhance the benefits of yoga, many people find practicing once a week is sufficient for meeting their needs.
That being said, if you seek something deeper from yoga, such as personal or spiritual development, you will likely feel called to follow a yoga lifestyle or even take it a step further and complete yoga teacher training. A modern-day yogic lifestyle encourages you to live a healthier and happier life, treating others and yourself compassionately and mindfully.
What are the yogic principles of healthy living in modern day life?
Nowadays, people can follow a yogic lifestyle in various ways, but it typically involves respecting the body and mind to ensure they function optimally. This may include regular yoga practice, mindfulness activities like meditation, and following a healthy diet.
Or it could mean making specific lifestyle choices like not consuming animal products or changing your location. For example, you may decide to move out of a busy, polluted city and into a peaceful nature-rich place to cultivate a calm mind and healthy body.
There is no right or wrong modern yoga lifestyle. Instead, the daily routine you decide on and the lifestyle choices you make will depend on where you are on your yogic journey. Typically, as practitioners embark further along their spiritual journey, they make more significant changes to how they live.
This is due to the conscious shift that occurs over time and explains why many yogis report their values and priorities changed after practicing yoga consistently.
Traditionally, people would lead a yogic lifestyle by living in a yoga ashram and following the rules and guidelines set by that school.
While ashrams are still prevalent across India, and many dedicated Western yogis visit and stay there for short to long periods, this is not considered the modern way to live a yogic lifestyle.
If you are new to yoga and interested in applying yogic principles to your daily life off the yoga mat, here are a few modern yogic practices you can consider incorporating into your life to get you started.
6 ways to live a yoga lifestyle
- Practice yoga regularly – aim for a daily routine but remember, you don't have to practice for hours each day; 15 mins is better than nothing.
- Prioritize your physical well-being through healthy food, sufficient rest, and regular movement.
- Cultivate a calm, focused mind through regular meditation and pranayama.
- Connect to nature regularly to increase presence, calm, and positive thinking
- Study yoga philosophy – read ancient texts (and their modern interpretations) like the sutras and the Bhagavad Gita.
- Practice gratitude daily to cultivate a compassionate heart.
Takeaway on how to live a yoga lifestyle
Many modern yogis wonder if they are practicing yoga enough in their day-to-day life. They may also question whether living a true yoga lifestyle outside an ashram is possible. So what is the truth?
The world has evolved immensely since the first Indian yogis began practicing it over 5,000 years ago. So it is evident that we cannot practice it the same way today as before.
Moreover, nowadays, most people's goal with yoga practice is not to reach enlightenment or gain spiritual knowledge, which is ok. Whether seeking to gain more self-awareness or simply enjoy yoga's physical benefits, it's fine to tailor the ancient yogic principles to fit your modern-day lifestyle!
FAQ about how to live a yoga lifestyle
Is yoga a way of living?
Yoga is a way of living, which many people may not realize! Yoga is much more than the physical postures that many of us know and practice. The yoga sutras, provide an entire blueprint for how to integrate yoga into the mind, body, and soul practices.
Can yoga really change your life?
Absolutely! Yoga has the potential to impact every single facet of your life in a positive way!
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