Yoga is great, you know that already. Do you want to make it better, make the effects last longer or delve deeper into your practice? Here’s my tips for getting the most out of your yoga practice:
1. Expect the unexpected
You’ve heard you teacher say it before, have no expectations of your practice, but by the time the class has started, you may already be disappointed that your expectations haven’t be met. Here’s what I’m talking about:
– your favourite teacher is away and there’s the dreaded new teacher
– someone has taken your favourite spot in front of the air conditioner
– the class is busy when you were expecting it to be quiet or vice versa
Yoga is not a routine. It’s not something to be performed mechanically or on autopilot. Our experience is different each time we practice. How our day went, how our body feels, the teacher and the energy in the room from the other students will all have a bearing on your practice. Rather than getting annoyed or disappointed that your favourite teacher isn’t there or the class is full, appreciate the opportunity to learn something different or to have a different experience.
As a teacher I find it amusing that people were expecting a certain playlist and were then disappointed. I also get people saying ‘oh it’s you’ when I’m covering for another teacher. Having expectations just sets us up for disappointment and creates attachment to a certain experience. It also limits our experience and our ability to make the most from the moment. It goes further than the teacher or the class. Expecting yourself to be able to do a certain pose or to be strong or flexible can also lead to disappointment. Expecting to walk out of class with peace of mind can set you up for disappointment if you don’t do the inner work required to attain it.
2. Timing is everything
I understand that you may be rushing from work or picking the kids up but do try to arrive at least five minutes early – for your own sake. So often I see people waste the first ten minutes of the class when they are supposed to be centering and drawing their senses inward. Instead they are fixing their mat, gathering all their props, doing their hair, picking their toenails, taking their watch off and all sorts of things that aren’t yoga. I then see these people fidget and remain unsettled for the rest of the practice because they missed out on the opportunity to center.
Arriving early is not about getting the corner spot or surrounding yourself with the ultimate assortment of props. It’s about mental preparation and getting into the right headspace for your practice.
The start of the class is just as important at the end of your class. I know you’re thirsty and you need to fix your hair and check your phone, but can it wait five minutes so that you can actually relax? Checking your watch in Savasana and rushing out of the studio onto the next ‘thing’ on your list of things to do won’t ease your stress levels.
Hurrying and rushing is a habit and doesn’t make you more effective or enable you to achieve more in your day. It just creates a stress response, leaving you feeling wired and exhausted. Try not to rush to and from class.
3. Relax and let go
Yoga needn’t be so serious. I see so many people push themselves that sometimes I worry they are going to burst a blood vessel when the veins in their temples are bulging out of their head. The thing is, the physical poses are just a means to an end. They are intended to rid our body of stress and tension. You will just create more tension (or maybe even an injury) if you keep pushing yourself so hard.
I used to be really ego- driven and competitive in my practice. I always did the deepest version of the pose and pushed through, never taking a break when I needed it. But it didn’t make a difference to how I felt at the end of the class. I was still stressed and tense, because that’s how I practiced. It wasn’t until I injured myself and was forced to take it easy that I really experienced ease of movement and deep relaxation. You are meant to be relaxed in each pose. Next time you’re pushing yourself, notice if you are calm and able to breathe deeply. If not, then regardless of your form and alignment, you’re doing it wrong! Yep, that’s right. Irrespective of what the pose looks like, it needs to feel good. If your eyes are popping out of your head or your bandhas are imploding, you need to relax and take the intensity out of the practice. Go to the gym or do CrossFit if you want to punish yourself, there’s no place for it in yoga.
On the flip side, yoga is not easy and your practice is meant to evolve through challenging yourself. Giving up too easily or getting frustrated with yourself because you can’t do something is a sure way for your practice to stagnate. Take breaks when you need to but learn to listen to your body, not your mind.
4. Do your practice and all is coming
Yoga is a practice. Want to get better? Practice. Practicing once a week is better than nothing but you can’t expect fast results. If you are looking for results, practice four times a week. If you can’t make it to class, practice at home. Whether you’re practicing Vinyasa, Yin or meditation, consistent practice is the key.
5. Take your peace with you
You leave the class on a high and then on your drive home, you flip the bird and drop the f bomb on someone who cut you off in traffic. Learning to take your peace with you into your life is one of the greatest benefits of yoga. On your mat, you pay attention to your breath, how you feel and the internal discourse, so why not off the mat? If you’re serious about adopting a yoga lifestyle, you need to apply it to your life too. No point being all Zen in class then turning back into a rage monster in your life.