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Yoga Off the Mat: Journey of a Yoga Teacher

Life's journeys take interesting turns and show us roads--and states--we never knew existed. Once upon a time, I was a Micro-Biologist and a Business Analyst for an apparel company. Now, I am a Yoga teacher in New Jersey. I have taught Yoga for years now, and although it was not part of my identity years before, it is integral to who I am today.

For me, Yoga is not so much about postures, positions, and twisting like a pretzel as it is about how and who we want to be, particularly when stressful or uncomfortable situations arise. My Yoga teacher calls this practice "Yoga Off the Mat." According to him, it is through developing posture, breathing, and meditation techniques that we learn to ride the waves that life will inevitably send us.

The aim of the Yoga student is not to avoid stress or conflict but to move through life's ups and downs with openness, compassion, and equanimity. In our stress-wrapped culture, where immediate gratification and efficient productivity are valued above inner peace and personal transformation, this intention is not simple to achieve. As anyone who knows me well can verify, I am far from being the serene Yogi. But I value the lesson of "being with what is" and relearn it daily, both on and off the Yoga mat.

How can Yoga postures help you ride life's waves? What does sitting in Baddha Konasana (bound angle posture) have to do with self-acceptance and compassion? The concept of the "edge" and a form of self-observation called witness consciousness are the Yogic links between posture and personal transformation.

The "edge" is any physical or emotional sensation that is challenging but not overwhelming. For example, suppose that as a student in my class you are sitting in bound angle posture, in which you place the soles of your feet together and allow your upper body to hinge forward with a straight back. Rather than counting the seconds as you hold this posture, eagerly awaiting the moment when I announce that we are “gently come up” you are invited to breathe and to notice the feelings in your inner thighs and back. If you push beyond a gentle sensation into pain, the muscles tighten, defeating the purpose of the stretch. Conversely, if you don't go deep enough to feel any stretch at all, the body is not challenged to open and loosen. Between these two extremes lives the "edge" of sensation, where you feel movement and openness in your muscles. The edge is the "just right" place where the body feels simultaneously safe and challenged in the posture.

In Yoga as well as in life, everyone's edges look different. In the bound angle posture, for example, one student may be sitting completely upright, whereas another has their head close to the floor. And some postures that feel easy and natural for you may be challenging for me. Off the mat, your edge may be speaking up in a group, whereas mine is learning to speak less! What is important is not how the posture looks or what the edge is but whether or not we are attuned to--and compassionate of--our body's own limits in that particular posture. For me, self-acceptance continues to be a difficult lesson to learn, both on and off the mat. It is one of my many "edges."

Just as we use the edge to listen to the body, we use witness consciousness to observe the mind. Witness consciousness is the part of your mind that watches the rest of you with--and this point is important--a nonjudgmental and compassionate gaze. Yoga encourages us to develop our witness to see that we are not merely our racing thoughts and busy mind. One can practice being the witness in Yoga as well as in life's postures. As you move into a Yoga posture during my class, I might ask you not only to find your edge but to watch your mind.

Become witness to the ideas and thoughts racing through your head, and you may hear things like: "This hurts"; "I wish this would be over soon!"; "I hate my teacher"; or "I wonder what I'll have to eat after class." As witness, we can watch our minds travel at their lightning speed, trying as hard as they can to escape the moment, the now, the lived experience.

The witness responds to the busy mind's comments about pain, hunger, irritability with thoughts such as "Wow! I am really thinking a lot today," or "I seem impatient with this posture right now." Witness consciousness is not a judgmental experience. You would not be practicing it if, for example, you sprinkled your observations with, "Why can't I quiet my mind?"; "I am so bad at this!"; or "I wonder if the other students are better than I am." The witness simply observes the thoughts in a detached way with interest but no judgment. If you do find yourself involuntarily judging, then let the witness enter here, simply witnessing the judging.

Practicing being the witness has helped me realize that my active, busy thoughts are not all of who I am. There is a part of me that is calm, centered, watching, and loving, which can steady me as I move into postures--in Yoga and in life--that are challenging or uncomfortable for me. Rather than avoiding these postures/situations, Yoga encourages me to enter the postures of life with compassion for myself and interest in my own reactions rather than with stress and judgment.

Witnessing your response to the stress of a challenging posture on the Yoga mat is practice for inviting the witness to life's challenges "off the mat." I could listen to my thoughts and observed the secure, insecure, wandering and focus competitive parts of myself. Needless to say, the witness is still a posture with which I struggle. But I learn from its edges and practice it daily.

The off-the-mat philosophy considers life to be one rhythmic Yoga practice, with each of us assuming posture after posture, beat after beat. The challenge in life is to find edges in each posture that we practice. We are encouraged to live in the place where growth and openness can occur, neither shying away from nor going away from our natural rhythm. For example, perhaps one of your "life edges" is public performace. Yoga off the mat would encourage you to find the place in the discomfort that neither avoids sensation (never being in a crowd of people), nor forces you beyond what you are currently capable of (creating a performance to a large group). Instead, you might take a small step that challenges but does not overwhelm you, like making an informal presentation to a small group, all the while being witness to the experience, just like in Yoga class. By living on the edge of challenging "postures" in life and in Yoga, we grow, learn, and accept our minds, our bodies, our selves."

Studio Info & Directions

The studio has changing rooms and bathrooms, as well as a place for your personal belongings.

There are no showers in the studio.

Please arrive to class 10-15 minutes early. Arriving on time shows respect for the practice.

Please turn off or silence your phone when you arrive. All cell phone use is to be done outside of the studio and reception area.

No shoes in the studio, please. Remove your shoes prior to entering the studio.

Please do not apply perfume, scented oils or lotions prior to entering or in the studio. Some students have odor sensitivities and/or allergies.

Classes are offered at $10 to $15 per class.

Yoga classes are not only physically demanding but also mentally challenging. Do bring a sense of humor. If you don't laugh, you'll cry!
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Parking & Mass Transportation Options

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2) Street parking

3) Parking garages