If you've been doing yoga for a while now, these tips will help make the most out of your practice. If you are relatively new to yoga or are looking to start a practice, they will help you get off on the right foot. Leave me a comment with your thoughts! Let me know if these tips help.
Don't do everything your teacher tells you to do. Yoga is a very personal journey and no matter how amazing your teacher is, they can't always tell what you are going through- physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually! The truth is, only YOU know that! That means YOU are your best teacher. Realize that your teacher is only there as a guide. They can only speak from experience. Of course, if your teacher instructs you to do something that hurts..... don't do it! Beyond that, use each pose and piece of instruction as a guideline. Bend the rules. Say, for example, you don't quite feel a stretch where you should. Wiggle around until you find it! Perhaps your teacher suggests to stay still, but you know when you are still, your mind runs wild ........well, then find a way to subtly move!!! If one your right quadriceps is WAY tighter than the left, stretch that side twice instead of fostering that imbalance. A good yoga teacher will be HAPPY that you are listening to your body's messages and honoring yourself. You have to realize, in group classes, the yoga teacher is teaching to the group, not to you personally. Some of your biggest breakthroughs can happen when you step outside of the box and create and explore.
Close your eyes more often. Once you know the general structure of the poses, there is seldom a reason to keep your eyes open! Closing your eyes takes away a major source of stimuli for your mind. With the eyes closed, you become much more attuned to the workings of your body- its holding patterns, its imbalances, and how it responds to the yoga postures. Armed with that self-knowledge, you are left empowered and in control of your yoga experience. Every once in a while, I encourage you to try to do a practice with your eyes closed 75% of the time. It allows you to check-in and re-examine your body and your practice. You may find that the tightnesses in your body have shifted from the right to left or your mind is racing when you thought it was still. Once you are comfortable closing the eyes in held postures, consider closing your eyes during transitional movements as well- that's where you notice a lot about yourself! That said, it is not usually a good idea to close your eyes until you are confident in your balance- in the pose or through the movement pattern. Similar effects can be achieved by merely taking your eyes off your teacher & off of the students around you. If you fix your gaze on one particular point and let everything else become slightly blurry, this will limit stimuli for your mind too. Yogis call this "drishti".
Ask questions before or after class. If you find you don't know how to modify a pose to make it comfortable for you or are wondering how to work deeper, while the rest of the class works on something more preliminary- ask. Maybe you would like advice about something that comes up consistently in your thoughts during meditation. Discuss. You are not getting the full benefits of your practice or your class purchase if you don't ask your instructor for assistance or communicate your goals with them. We already discussed the fact that YOU know more about your body and mind than the teacher does. Arm your instructor with the knowledge they need to help you! Good teachers look forward to these questions and connections with students. If you they don't know the answer, they will try to figure it out with you or refer you to health care or wellness professional who is specialized in that area.
Don't skip Savasana (the final meditation). When you practice at home, it's more tempting to skip savasana. In a group class, you're forced to do savasana, but you may not place much weight on it. That final meditation is arguably THE most important part of your yoga practice. After so much physical exertion, it's vital to take rest and use that time to observe. Traditionally, the end goal of yoga is to work towards "samadhi"- bliss/enlightenment. There are 8 steps, or "limbs", of yoga that help you get there: restraints, observances, POSTURES, breath work, sense withdrawal, one-pointed focus, meditation, and then......bliss. As you can see, the physical practice (the postures and breath work) are only a small portion of this path. But, during a short savasana, you work on HALF of the necessary steps in yoga: sense withdrawal, one-pointed focus, meditation, and maybe a glimmer of samadhi. The bulk of the class is just preparing you for those final moments. Don't miss out on the time to reflect and rest. See how the practice made you feel. Do you notice any changes? In your body? Your mind? Your spirit? Your whole being!? This information gives you POWER. Power to change what you want to change. Power to take action and show up in your life, instead of letting life have it's way with you. After you've asked these questions, you need REST. Taking time to let the physical practice settle, in your body, will give your muscles time to recover and enable you to hit your mat again and again.
Stop trying so hard. Yoga is a system. A systematic way to slough off tension, negative energy, pessimistic thought, and to come back to a feeling of balance and equanimity. As such, it's very different than other forms of exercise. It's more than exercise. While you may be tempted, in your aerobics class, to give 100% of your effort and "push through the pain".... yoga is different. In yoga, the goal is to let go of extra effort. If a yoga pose challenges you, acknowledge the tension (the "excess effort") and find places to soften. Instead of trying to "muscle through it", trust your breath and proper structural alignment to take you where you want to go. Only engage the muscles you need to engage, but don't clench. Interestingly, the mind works the same way. The minute you try to meditate, you lose it! The mind gets wrapped up in thought again! The wheels turn as you repeat the thought "Try to let go." over and over again. So, how can you move past your thoughts while still holding onto this one all-important thought? How can you reach a state of meditation in this way? You can't. Your mind clenches around this thought and won't let go. The body may tighten too, in response. Acceptance of your current state gives you freedom. Instead of using the phrase "stop trying so hard" as a mantra, meditate on the word "acceptance".
Now go practice! Let's do the work together. Though the practice is personal, we are all on a similar journey. We're a community. I'm here to help.