If you’ve been practicing yoga for any length of time, or have not been living under a rock, you will have experienced or at least heard about the wealth of benefits to be gained from a regular yoga practice. Yoga is not just another exercise class you schedule in between lunch and client briefings.
Your favourite class at your favourite local studio reminds you of this from the moment you roll out your mat to the moment you say Namaste. However, different classes, styles, teachers and studios can leave us struggling to find inspiration and even stealing glances at the clock. Not all give you that “take on the world” kind of bliss that you seek. Furthermore, our bodies are different each day, each downward dog, each twist, and each breath. We simply cannot expect our bodies to move through the poses the same way each day. So what can you do to establish a deeper connection with your practice and get the most out of your classes, regardless of teacher, style, or your body?
Read on, we’ve got you covered!
1. No expectations.
Your teacher will not give you the secret to life. Your tired body will not be able to hold side plank, warrior II or even downward facing dog for 10 full breaths if you were up till the wee hours of the morning answering last weeks emails – don’t expect it to. Moving into each class with an open mind allows you to fully experience the moment instead of wrestling with what you had hoped it to be. So much is out of our control anyway. Dealing with the unexpected is part of the practice. Beginning without expectations gives you a fighting chance. Let it all go, so you can stay.
An intention is about the state of being during, not about the final result. This is a beautiful way to start class. In the middle of your fifth round of Sun Salutation B, when you are sweaty and possibly losing control of your breath, an intention can bring you back to why you came to class in the first place. So pick an intention to keep your mind focused on every breath of the practice. Repeat it. It will bring you back to your peace and your purpose
3. Rushing and Distractions.
Instead of running a yellow light to make to class right on time, try and give yourself 15 extra minutes to settle on to your mat before class begins. This will help you quiet down, stay focused, and settle your minds chatter. Clear away any distractions before you get to class. Don’t wear your cutest yoga top if you have to keep dropping out of crescent pose to pull it down over your belly. The bottom line is, if you’re distracted, you are not present in the practice. It’s that simple.
4. Honour physical limitations and restrictions.
Firstly, no one else but the teacher is looking at you during practice. If you feel like a star floating up into ardha chandrasana, or if it’s your first class, even balancing on one foot might not be in your repertoire yet – it’s all the same journey, so make sure you are there for yourself and yourself only. That being said, tell your instructor if your lower back hurts, or that you have an old shoulder injury. Part of their training is to offer you modifications so that when everyone else presses to upward bow you aren’t capsizing wing because you were too shy or had too much of an ego to speak up about your needs.
5. Honour your inner teacher.
Let the instructor be your guide, but let your inner voice determine your true practice. Your instructors are trained to guide, not drill. You can learn a lot from them, but the ultimate goal of yoga is to strengthen and balance so you can honour your own inner teacher. If something they says resonates, take it in. If something doesn’t, let it go. It’s your practice.
6. Listen to your body.
If you are more concerned about looking good than being good to yourself, you will ignore or not hear your hamstrings when they are screaming at you. Become subtle enough to detect that voice whispering, or breath held and know it is time to drop down to child’s pose. Respect your Self.
7. No Cell Phones…duh.
Respect the time devoted to the practice. Don’t bring devices that connect you to the outside world. Let go of those thoughts that drag you out of the studio and into the office. Take advantage of the time you dedicated to yourself. In yoga, you are nowhere but there, so stressing about how much time is left of class so you can get to the meeting, takes you out of the moment and the yoga is lost.
8.Get a Mat.
Practising consistently on the same mat can teach your body and mind when it is time to relax and chill out. Over time it will become much easier to slip into that calm, anything goes state of breathing and moving each time you unroll your mat. Try a new spot in the room next time – it could give you a new perspective, literally, and possibly transform your entire practice.
Simple, powerful, important: breathe. On the mat, and off, you’ll get more out of whatever you do and think if you inhale and exhale mindfully. It will keep you balanced, grounded, practicing within your capacity, and mostly, will allow you to fully experience and appreciate the moments in your practice.
10. Be grateful.
Feel thankful for getting yourself to the studio, onto the mat, and into the moment. This will help ensure that what you’ve gained in class will remain with you long after you’ve rolled up the mat and walked back into the world.