Yoga is one of those crazy beautiful experiences where you can receive whatever you need. Some people attend yoga classes to chill out, others go to work out. Many people gravitate to yoga because it truly is a healing experience, both emotionally and physically.
This is how yoga works. It gives back however much you invest. It teaches and transforms us however much we are willing to allow.
Regardless of what draws you to yoga, you’ll get the most out of your practice if you fine-tune it. Over the years, I’ve discovered some factors that really help me as a yoga practitioner, so I’m passing them onto you. Because sharing is caring. And I fricking care.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY:
Let’s just get this one out of the way early, because it’s obvious. Consistency is the key to everything in life, but it can be one of the more challenging things to obtain. Yoga brings out everyone’s inner tortoise or hare. You know what I’m talking about: the story of the race between the super slow tortoise and the zippity fast hare. The hare starts the race off with a blast and quickly gets ahead, but soon gets sidetracked because #ADHD #CheckingSocialMedia #NetflixBinge. The tortoise, on the other hand, keeps plodding along at a slow and steady pace. And what do you know, kids! HE WINS THE DAMN RACE. I personally hated this story growing up, because I am definitely a hare. Actually, I like to think of myself more as a cheetah, because cheetahs are sleek and fast, and make adorable chirping noises that some might argue are creepy.
The point is, it’s easy to get obsessed with yoga and then over-do it or burn out. Commit to at least three days a week, and when you show up to class, be fully present. If you’re faithful to your yoga practice, you’ll see the best results and experience transformation from the inside-out.
MOVE WITH INTENTION:
Most yoga practitioners either power through asanas, or they lackadaisically move in and out of poses. If you plow through a sequence using sheer adrenaline and force of will, chance are you might be missing out on deeply connecting to your breath and finding stillness within your mind. On the flip side, if you tend to not fully engage in a posture, you limit your body’s ability to deeply inhale and exhale. It’s also difficult to get energized when we don’t fully extend our arms and activate our limbs. We all lean towards one of these two styles at any given time, but to make the most of your practice, explore a steady pace as you link breath, body, and movement. Move in and out of postures with intention and purpose. By mentally and physically engaging throughout your practice, you’ll discover how empowering and rejuvenating yoga truly can be. Quality matters when it comes to yoga. Forget about perfection, but instead strive for progress each time you’re on your mat.
TAKE RESTING POSTURES WHENEVER THE HECK YOU WANT:
But for real though. Just do it. I know for many fire-Pitta-super driven yogis the idea of skipping a chaturanga seems like anathema to your very soul, but it’s more than ok to come into child’s pose whenever the heck you feel like it. Take it from me, a fellow fire-Pitta-super driven yogi. Resting postures aren’t a cop-out, and it’s not lazy to take a resting pose. Yoga is about being present and honoring your body. There is never a wrong time to take a resting posture to reconnect with your breath and calm the mind. The breath is the practice. We use asanas as a vehicle to find moving mediation of the body and mind. Knowing when to explore stillness and rest is a key part of making the most of your yoga practice. You’ll see even the most advanced practitioners do this, because our bodies and energy levels and change from day to day. Resting postures also prevent muscle fatigue, and tired muscles can lead to yoga injuries. Honor your body and yourself by resting, refocusing, and re-centering with a resting posture whenever you need to in your practice.
INCORPORATE SELF-STUDY INTO YOUR LIFE:
One of the most beneficial things you can do for your yoga practice is to dive into self-study. This is actually an essential concept in yoga, and for good reason. When you take a bit of time to learn and practice on your own, you truly flourish within your practice because you can move at your own pace.
So where do you start? Learn and practice asanas and the proper alignment through books, Youtube, or a yoga channel. Your practice will thrive like crazy if you invest some time throughout the week to study a particular yoga topic or asana. Learn a little about the philosophy or concepts of yoga through books and podcasts. Resources abound, and you can find great information on any yoga topic your heart desires. The internet and social media are often giant vortexes of horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad energy drains, but they can also be an amazing go to’s for learning more about yoga. One of my favorite resources for books is the good old library (it’s so freaking FREE! I love it!), and a site called Scribd, which is like Netflix for books.
Make sure the teacher is someone who has a well-established practice in the style you study.
- Ashtanga: Kino MaCGregor (Omstars, Youtube, published several books) and Laruga Glaser (Alo Moves, Youtube)
- Prana/Vinyasa: Shiva Rea, Simon Park
- Vinyasa: Seane Corn (Youtube, instructional videos via her website), Briohny Smith (Alo Moves, Youtube)
- Inversions, arm balances, vinyasa: Patrick Beach (Alo Moves)
- Forrest Yoga (a beautiful vinyasa style): founder Ana Forrest (Alo Moves, Youtube)
- For additional teachers/styles, click here
CREATE A YOGA RITUAL:
Setting up a pattern before you start your yoga sesh will help instantly shift your mind away from the craziness of life. A yoga ritual sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to shift gears, and more to the point, it’s a simple but effective form of self-care. Creating a consistent ritual helps you become fully present, and it also creates a feeling of sacredness surrounding your practice. You can make this ritual whatever you want, so long as it has meaning to you.
My pre-yoga ritual is the following: 1) I read something inspirational (but short) so I have something to think over as I head over to yoga to teach or do class. 2) I set up my mat and always clean my feet and hands. This cleanliness is part of the 8 Limbs of yoga, but it also helps me feel like I’m preparing myself and my body for something sacred and special. Plus, we grab our feet a hella lot in yoga, and sorry-not-sorry, but I’m an extreme gerbaphobe. Usually, I’ll incorporate essential oils or candles when I’m doing a home practice and set up a cushy, luxe little spot for meditation. 3) I do some stretches, and often offer up gratitude with each part of my body that I stretch. I’ll say something like, “Thank you for how strong my legs are, and how I can walk, jump, and play because of how healthy they are. Thank you for my health. Thank you for this strength.” Then I move on to the next stretch and offer up more gratitude. 4) I don’t eat anything for several hours before yoga. This is also part of traditional yoga practice, but it also makes good physiological sense. Digesting food takes a great deal of energy, and frankly, doing yoga poses on a full stomach feels like absolute punishment. I mean, hell to the no! Technically, you’re not supposed to drink anything before yoga, but I mean, I need to stay hydrated so my skin doesn’t shrivel up into a wrinkly shroud. 5) I meditate before I practice to calm my monkey brain down. My thoughts go at warp speed, and it helps prepare both my body and mind when I shut that shit down. I also use a little time pre-yoga and during savasana to pray and connect to the Divine. My mat has become a sacred, special place for me, in part because these simple rituals shift my focus and make it a special, sacred space.
Some people like to create ritualistic themes around the moon, using crystals and burning sage. Others write down a gratitude list and mentally go through them as they quietly sit and breathe before class. One of my friends creates a little altar in front of her mat, and sets up flowers and important figurines and objects. There’s no wrong way to create a ritual. Just let it be something that works for you.
FIND LESSONS ON THE MAT THAT YOU CAN LIVE OUT OFF THE MAT:
Yoga can truly be a transformative experience. This happens when we stay present in our practice and quiet our thoughts. Without fail, some amazing bit of wisdom will fall into your head/lap/lotus filled life. It might be when you’re dying a little bit in warrior II, and you tap into a place of inner strength and determination and breathe through the discomfort. This same strength that we find on the mat is ours to claim off the mat. When we breathe through uncomfortable postures and find an equanimous state, we learn we can find a place of calm regardless of circumstances or how we feel. When we choose to surrender our ego and recognize our efforts in our practice are enough, we can do the same in “real life” as well. As we learn to control our thoughts while practicing, we find we can rewrite negative, inner narratives we feed ourselves throughout a day.
It’s easy to come to practice with a ton of expectations ranging from how the class will make you feel, to how your body will (or should) perform.You might be expecting a certain teacher and get a sub. You might even be anticipating a certain type of flow, and end up with something that throws you off in the worst ways possible. Let all expectations go. Refrain from placing demands on yourself or your practice. Instead, come to class with an open heart and an open mind, and you’ll be blown away by how amazing you’ll feel. Detachment is not apathy. It’s simply holding out situations and feelings with open hands. If those things stay, great. If they leave, also great.