Staying on Your Mat: A Life Practice
You may have heard your yoga teacher say something like, “This is your practice. What your neighbor is doing is irrelevant, stay on your mat”. What does this mean really? And how does this practice find its way into our everyday lives?
Of course, even if you’ve never stepped foot inside of a studio or onto a yoga mat you can still practice this unbelievably important aspect of joy: NEVER compare yourself to others. This is your practice, stay on your mat.
One of the most dangerous and fastest ways to lose your way in your yoga practice, or your life practice is to look to other people as a gauge for how successful (a word only YOU can define) or unsuccessful you may be. This is something I have struggled with for many years, and still am working on. When we live without comparing ourselves to other people we drastically enhance our ability to live in joy and santosha (one of Patanjali’s 5 Niyamas, or Personal Observances, the second limb of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which translates to “contentment”).
There are many detriments in comparing ourselves to others.
We lose sight of our abundance and blessings
We find jealousy instead of happiness for others. Asteya falls under Patanjali’s 5 Yamas (Universal Morality and the first limb of the 8 limbs of Yoga) and means non-stealing or “…abiding in generosity and honesty…” (The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi). When we are jealous we are in turn energetically attempting to steal or undermine another’s accomplishments, or have decided they do not deserve what we deserve or want, and they certainly don’t deserve more than us. But this is an illusion of the ego (the part of ourselves we hope to diminish with a consistent yoga practice) and it is not up to us to decide what someone should or should not have or if WE feel they’ve earned it, that is their life, stay on your mat.
When we find jealousy we lose sight of how to manifest our best life. My new mantra has been “no
jealousy, manifestation!” Instead of concentrating on what someone else has, why they have it, and why you don’t you instead seek joy for the other; the Sutras mention “kindness to those who are happy”. Find in you the solution to what ails you, and work toward it. None of this comes quickly, but when you put forth effort the universe will continually send you winks, and you will feel empowered.
Don’t say to yourself “but it all seems so easy for “, why doesn’t it work that way for me? One, it might, but because you’re so wrapped up in someone else’s apparent reality (we don’t know what happens behind closed doors) you miss it, or you are unfortunately fortunate and destined for a trickier path, a more challenging divine teacher. Perhaps you are seeking more clarity, therefore finding greater duhkha (suffering, a sense of being restricted or squeezed, sadness) than another. Desikachar tells us in The Heart of Yoga that when one’s eyes are open more dust gets in, and of course more tears fall, but ultimately much more is seen. When one is not searching, their eyes are closed, dust cannot get in, and tears will not fall, but ultimately much less is seen.
We become bitter toward or resentful of friends and family we love dearly, instead of celebrating their joys and accomplishments (along with ours). We lose sight of how much we love the other person, and how much we want them to find happiness. It’s important to remember someone else’s happiness or success does not keep you from achieving the same thing. There is room for everyone. When bitterness seeps into your heart, you will slowly close off more and more, leaving you lonely, angry, and confused-believe me, I have been there! It is important to remember this domino effect can be far reaching and extraordinarily damaging to you, as the more we close off, the more our lives close off. If you feel a bit bitter, sometimes the best thing to do is a have a piece of candy or an ice cream cone! Sweets make us sweet and sweetness breeds joy instead of contempt.
We lose sight of the control we do have, of our ability to find our dharma (life purpose). If we are constantly concerned about someone else’s finances, love life, job—how are we going to create our best life? We must be concerned with only ourselves, our practice, and our mat so that we can see clearly what we must work on to manifest santosha (contentment).
When you hear your teacher say “stay on your mat” they are reminding you that yoga is personal, and that looking around to see someone else’s perfect Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior) when your knee is splayed and you can barely hold the pose for a breath, is doing yourself a disservice. This is where YOU are, there is no timeline or goal to be met. Life, like asana(yoga postures), is not a competition, it is a practice, experience, and journey—each day different, surprises constantly arising—it is how you meet those surprises that will let you know where you are in your yoga, where you are in your life, and what you still need to work on.
YOU are capable of creating whatever it is you want, just stay focused on YOUR mat, find gratitude always, and remember “no jealousy, manifestation!”
Stay on your mat, follow your path, and observe the beauty of your life.
blessed be + om shanti, beauty one!