Taking Your Yoga Practice Off the Mat

Rec & PE Blog

This blog feature is a write-up from Maria Finnegan, Full Time Instructor in the Health, Wellness & Physical Education academic department.

When we think of a yoga practice, we often think of the physical postures and poses (asana). While asana is one component of a practice, I find myself reflecting more and more in my day to day life on the other “limbs” of yoga, and especially the Yamas and Niyamas. The Yamas and Niyamas are 10 guiding principles for how to relate to the outside world and how to take care of ourselves. We can apply these guidelines when we roll out our mats and move through various postures, and we can also incorporate them into our everyday lives outside of the yoga studio. In my courses at Duke, I enjoy teaching students about yoga both “on and off the mat.” Below is a simple guide to the Yamas and Niyamas and how we can apply them to our lives outside of our physical practice.

Yama Definition Applying This to Our Lives
Ahimsa non-violence/kindness Be kind to ourselves and others in our actions and our thoughts. Avoid talking negatively about others. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. Treat yourself the way you would treat your friends/family.
Satya non-lying/truthfulness Express your truth. Speak your truth. Be honest with ourselves. Be honest with others.
Asteya non-stealing/generosity

Notice where/how we spend our time. Try being present in the moment with whatever you are doing or whoever you are with. Minimize distractions that take you out of the moment and “steal” from the present.

Brahmacharya moderation/continence Find a sense of balance in how/where you use your energy. Work hard, and also rest. Cultivate friendships, and take time for yourself.
Aparigraha non-greed/accepting

Let attachments to negative thoughts or energy. Avoid comparisons to others. Recognize and celebrate your strengths/differences and those of others.


Niyama Definition Applying This to Our Lives
Saucha purity/cleanliness Keep your room/space tidy. Clean up after yourself. Be mindful/respectful of your things.
Santosha contentment Accept and appreciate what you have and what you are.
Tapas discipline/austerity Find ways to have elements of discipline in your day. Carve out time for yoga or exercise. Have one more glass of water. Get to bed 10 minutes earlier.
Svadhyaya study of self/spiritual texts Take time for self-awareness.Try 5 minutes of meditation. Listen to your breath and feel your body being still. Find moments to be still. Reflect and make choices that are good for you.
Ishvarapranidhana Surrender to/contemplation of a higher power/being Take time to see the bigger picture and notice life around you. When possible, shift your mindset/perspective in moments of challenge. Let go of the ego and the focus on “I”.