Yoga off the mat means actualizing our Yoga practice into a life with awareness, filled with love, selflessness, compassion, surrender and higher purpose.
This is best expressed by the famous slogan of Sathya Sai Baba: 'My life is my message'. As per the subtle but unmistakable energy laws, preaching something one doesn't live eventually leads to imbalance and illness. That is why true yogis and Yoga instructors by default, become the living ambassadors of a yogic lifestyle - and this is definitely much more than one's practice on a Yoga mat.
Yoga off the mat is not equal to yoga postures off the mat. Down-dogging in tight or transparent pants in the effort of seductive attention-seeking is not yoga. Similarly, yogic lifestyle does not include any degree of 'holier than thou' attitude rooted in spiritual ego. Yoga is all about being natural, a steady effort of embracing and living our highest version and our highest potential. The number of complex Yoga asanas one can conquer does not reflect the depth of yoga. The way in which we live our life, the energy we radiate, the beauty of our relationships and our ability to snap out of the negative states of mind much faster than before (braving the blockages within through awareness and the ever-active inner witness), are the true signs of a sincere and deep yoga practice.
Moreover, the inner balance, alignment, lightness and fullness that true yoga practice brings inevitably include non-violence. When awareness is applied to postures, movement and breath, we become real practitioners; when awareness is applied to our food choices, we become vegan.
This text is my small contribution to a natural and inevitable link between yoga, ahimsa (non-violence, one of the critical yamas of the yogic sage Patanjali) and social service (Karma Yoga, an active expression of love and unity consciousness) which I embrace, live and breathe.
Given the fast approaching International Day of Yoga (IDY) on 21 June, I would like to start with a historical description of yoga by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, who firmly placed yoga onto the international stage in 2015 by initiating the world-wide celebration of IDY:
"Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies the unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in wellbeing. Let us work towards adopting this on International Yoga Day."
By living the five precepts of social conduct (yamas), one of the eight limbs of yoga defined by Patanjali almost 3000 years ago in his famous Yoga Sutras —non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, non-excess and non-possessiveness—one gains a clear compass of universal morality. By following these precepts, and by expanding one's individual practice to include the remaining seven limbs of yoga (niyama, asana, pranayama, dharana, dhyana and, ultimately, the state of samadhi), one can achieve actual yogic presence in his/her daily life.
Non-violence (ahimsa) stands out as the number one precept among the yamas because violence and yoga morally and experientially stand in direct opposition to each other.
There are different dimensions to ahimsa – from eliminating physical violence at the level of thought, word and action, absence of any self-shaming/emotional hate, to no killing and no harming of any sentient being – in all these ways, the principle of ahimsa helps one awaken to a new level of subtlety and love. There is no compromise, no degree of violence any Yogi could ever embrace and still remain one, as non-violence creates the very base of yogic practice.
What I love about yoga the most is that yamas, the socio-moral precepts, are not some punitive measures that members of a global Yoga community are threatened by. The ancient sages who gave us the knowledge of yoga firmly placed the focus on the experiential side of yoga, which organically expands one's awareness from within, thus making the outer shackles of dogma wholly unnecessary and redundant. There is no stick of hell in yoga, only expansion in awareness and intensity of the inner experience. Just like a fruit that naturally falls off the tree when ripe, after the direct experience of prana (the subtle life force energy) and inner fullness, a sincere Yoga practitioner can't but become subtler, more sensitive and loving, more connected with nature.
Yoga endows us with the steady development of a loving disposition and sense of interconnectedness with all that is.
I state this with absolute conviction: any fellow being from the animal kingdom, breathing the same air and vibrating with the same prana that connects all creation, can't be eaten with indifference by a sincere Yoga practitioner.
When I started my Yoga practice in 2005, I had already dropped red meat and chicken, but still continued to consume seafood, eggs and dairy products. After another couple of years of practice, and especially after becoming a Yoga instructor in 2007, I finally took the plight of all animals off of my plate. That was the time when I freed myself up to truly and deeply connect with each and every animal—not as a product of the meat and dairy industry nicely served on the shelves and plates, but as a fellow being. By embracing the vegan diet, I consciously renounced the confinement, abuse, and killing of animals. In this way, I was able to disengage myself from one of the most common and grossly overlooked forms of violence on our planet – factory farming. Such cruelty cannot be supported by our food choices. This fundamental shift happened after the realization that we are indeed interconnected, that at a deeper level their suffering is my own, and that I can no longer bring myself to the necessary level of insensitivity to be able to ignore it.
Since 2007, the practice and teaching of yoga have had a profound impact on my ability to understand and enjoy life. Yoga helped me sail through some really tough challenges of life, avoiding deeper scars, while continuously cleansing deeply buried emotions and blockages. Prenatal yoga helped me a lot during pregnancy, ensuring smooth, natural delivery of my daughter Mila. Moreover, after being diagnosed with post-delivery Hypothyroidism, the daily practice of Yoga and Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) in particular, helped me get off the Eltroxin medicine that doctors said I was doomed to take till the rest of my life. Hypothyroidism was also connected with my dissatisfaction with a career within the stifling system of the corporate world where I felt that hardly 10% of me was alive and being expressed. While some people find their place and expression in the corporate world, I am definitely not one of them. Since then, you will never see me in black and grey clothes again.
My illness disappeared entirely after the shift from a corporate lifestyle to Yoga teaching and conducting life transforming retreats took place in 2014. This shift helped me realize and embrace my uniqueness and allowed me to express myself fully. I started to really enjoy what I do. I am forever grateful to Mohanji, my husband and spiritual teacher, for encouraging me to take the plunge and leave the false comfort of my office job. With yoga, everything suddenly made a lot of sense – my postgraduate Peace studies, life challenges during the war in Former Yugoslavia, my dreams and aspirations. A whole new dimension of life flowered within me when I started teaching yoga full-time.
The blissful expressions of my students after coming out of Yoga Nidra at the end of a Yoga session are one of the most beautiful moments of my day. I invest all my love and energy into teaching Yoga through Himalayan School of Traditional Yoga (and specific other methods like Conscious Dancing, Awakening Yoga Nidra, Mai-Tri Method, etc.) and truly consider it a privilege to be in a position to serve as an instrument of this profound ancient science in the fast-paced world we live in.
I strongly feel there has never been a time when Yogic wisdom was needed more. Our lives have become so hurried, food and lifestyle habits so unhealthy and planetary energy changes on Mother Earth so great, that a practice like yoga (coupled with non-violence, feeling of unity and sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of our planet and all sentient beings), is not only needed, but vital for the inner balance, health and inner fulfillment of an individual.
Finally, while Yoga practice alone may not guarantee one's complete spiritual awakening, it surely provides one with a solid sattvic (balanced) base for the same. Social service (Karma Yoga) is an incredibly important aspect of yogic practice and lifestyle. As the awareness expands, the cup naturally overflows and the desire to help the helpless and extend our financial support and/or offer our time, talents and loving presence in support of the needy, comes as natural. As a president of a globally active charity ACT Foundation, dedicated to selfless service beyond all man-made barriers (including the boundary of species), I bear witness to the tremendous transformation that social service blessed me with over the last eleven years.
It was with selfless service, vegan lifestyle, clarity and inspiration that I receive through Mohanji, that my yogic practice and meditation deepened manifold, enabling me to experience the divine blessing of a deep Samadhi state (the eighth limb of Yoga that Patanjali defined in his Yoga sutras) several times thus far. With the practice of yoga, I got empowered to truly live my higher purpose, as revealed to me during a near-death-experience in the year 2000. Amid an experience that the mind would find scary, I somehow left my body, started expanding in multi-point awareness. Indescribable bliss of a vibrating Light was all around me, until a point when I was sent back to my body with a message that took me time to understand it in its true multi-dimensionality: "It is not your time yet. You have not fulfilled your mission, and your mission is to serve the unity. "
I hope this text will serve its purpose of offering clarity and inspiration to many beautiful souls on the path of awakening to the Unity that Is, to the essence of yoga as both, the path/practice and destination/the permanent state of yoga, when a drop becomes the ocean...
While celebrating the beauty of endless diversity that surrounds us, may we develop the maturity to recognize the source and living reality of our true unity. May we be blessed to live in yoga - both, on and off the mat.
Most loving Namaste,
Devi Mohan is a certified Yoga Instructor (E-RYT 200), Director and senior teacher of Himalayan School of Traditional Yoga (HSTY) and the Global President of an internationally active charity ACT Foundation. Devi has been an integral member of Mohanji Foundation, the international spiritual mission of her husband and spiritual guide Mohanji, since its formation in 2007. She represents the Foundation as its Global Ambassador at various international events.
During Devi's search for her own self, she learnt yoga while in India in 2007. Since then, she has augmented her training through multiple special and advanced courses. Her passion for the yogic way of life led to the creation of the Himalayan School of Traditional Yoga (HSTY), of which she is the main proponent and lead teacher.
For more information about Devi Mohan please visit www.devimohan.com/about/