More people than ever before are practicing yoga, and nearly anywhere you go, you can find a yoga studio offering classes in a variety of techniques. However, in too many cases, yoga is presented as an exercise, a series of poses to complete. While this kind of yoga still feels good, it is missing some essential elements that can bring you maximal benefits.
Here is a tool-kit to bring with you into any yoga class to make sure you are getting the most out of it:
1. Breathe – Breathing is more important than whether you get an asana right. Tuning in to your breath, and staying tuned in, is actually an advanced practice, because even though it is so simple, many beginner yogis neglect it. The sooner you make that your first priority, the more benefit you will take from your practice, and the faster you will master everything else.
2. Flow – Give as much attention to the movement in your transitions as you do to the asana itself. And once you arrive in the asana, live in it fully, experiencing every sensation. It is common for yoga students to spend the entire time in one asana thinking about something else and/or awaiting the next instruction. By giving your full attention to every movement, you can get into a heightened state of awareness. You will be more able to notice small adjustments in your posture, balance, or breathing in this state.
3. Love yourself – Like anything else in our lives, yoga can be an opportunity for self-criticism, and that is the opposite of what yoga is for. Resist the temptation to compare your asana to that of the person on the next mat. Notice what is pleasurable, what is difficult, and where your own edge is, and generate gratitude for your own personal edge, and for the pleasure that your body can give you in yoga. Offer compassion for parts of your body that may complain with old injuries, they are just as beautiful as your loveliest curves or strongest muscles.
4. Take away a lesson every time – Allow your experience of breathing, flowing, and loving yourself to walk off the mat with you into the rest of your day. That is the real point of yoga, not whether you can do a perfect handstand. Yoga gives us the opportunity to practice these three things in a physical context, and our limitations offer us the perfect microcosm in which to study the nature of our mind, and cultivate well-being from the inside-out.