Sometimes your yoga mat is a rectangular piece of rubber in a studio with four walls. But sometimes your yoga mat is the shore of the Pacific Ocean, the trail of a canyon hike or even the seat of a road bike.
You see, the practice of doing physical postures (asana) is just one limb of yoga. It's an important aspect to align, repair and restore our bodies, but it's only a part of our practice. Yoga is an experience. It can occur just as completely in the orange glow of a sunset or under the infinite stars illuminating a campsite.
I like to place yoga inspiration all around my apartment as a reminder. I plastered a favorite quote on my freezer so I would see it every time I reach for my coconut-banana ice cream:
"And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it."
Whether he knew it or not, Dahl was talking about the experience of yoga. Just like we have to tune our bodies to feel sensation and strength, we have to tune our eyes and hearts to see magic.
Whether you live in sunny California or walk the concrete streets of New York, you can experience yoga off the mat. It can be a simple act: appreciating your barista or smiling at strangers you pass on the street (a workout for the soul). It can also be a physical practice that strengthens the body alongside the heart and mind.
Here are some accessible and practical ways you can practice yoga without ever unrolling a mat:
Rise Above It All
Sometimes, when we're right in the middle of things, it's easy to get overwhelmed and lose focus. Shift your perspective by getting above it all -- literally.
Whether it's a heart-pumping uphill sunset hike or a glute-busting climb up 15 flights of stairs in the urban jungle, find your way to the top of something and look at the world from a different perspective.
A simple shift in how we view things can really open up possibilities. Rather than wishing external circumstances were other than they are, change your mind-set about them instead. Rise above it all and choose to find the joy, change or opportunity for growth in any situation.
Get elevated beyond the overwhelming distractions of texts, emails and people who want your attention. Look down on it all and see how small everything seems when you are far enough removed. In yoga, we call this "vairagya," or non-attachment.
Disengage from what weighs you down and notice the freedom you find. Be open to the beauty that is revealed to you -- stop looking at buildings or people. Look for magic instead. Breathe it in. Bring it with you as you descend back down to everyday life.
Turn off your cell phone when you're eating dinner with friends and family. Don't bring your iPod on your next outdoor run. Eliminate external distractions and pay attention to sensations.
Get outside and do something. Take a walk down city streets and observe the activity and energy around you. Hop on your bike and listen to your breath and feel your heartbeat as you ride. Rather than trying to distract yourself from what you are experiencing when working out, try to connect with it instead.
While you're at it, take in your environment as well. Allow yourself to feel the strength of your body and the pounding of your heart. Breathe in gratitude for what is going right in your life and consciously exhale out whatever thoughts are weighing you down. This way, you can turn a simple run from a chore to an absolute moving meditation.
By getting out of the gym we can become the present moment and enjoy exactly where we are, even when it's challenging. We're training our mind to fully connect, and we start to turn the mundane into the divine.
See the Magic Everywhere
Hop on a skateboard and ride down the neighborhood sidewalk. Strap on some rollerblades and go as fast as you can down the side streets. Take the kids to the playground and join them for a swing on the monkey bars.
We can learn a lot from the way kids move through life. For them, a ride down the slide is an epic adventure and a bucket full of sand is hours of entertainment. We've been conditioned by life to focus on what is practical or functional and have forgotten how to see the magic that is all around us.
The world hasn't changed since those childhood days when a cardboard box became a spaceship or a submarine. The only thing that has changed is our perceptions. We've narrowed our view to the literal. We have to retrain our eyes to see the spaceship in the cardboard box.
Einstein said, "There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."
In my experience, the latter is a more joyful and fulfilling approach. So rake your yard (practical) and do a cannonball into the pile of leaves (magical). Tune your eyes to see the miracles and your heart to embrace the joys and the world will become a little more magical each day.
What Do YOU Think?
Do you practice yoga inside and outside the studio? How do you connect with your surroundings and "be present"? How do you center yourself when life begins to feel overwhelming? Leave a comment below and let us know.
An innovative and inspiring mind-body professional, Elise Molinelli is the founder of EliseJoanFitness.com, a groundbreaking website that allows members to mix and match videos in yoga, fitness and Barre to create customized workouts and yoga flows and save their favorites as playlists. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.