Are you getting the most benefit from your yoga practice?
Here are 3 mind-opening suggestions to access deeper dimensions and improve your life
So you rush through traffic stressing about getting to your yoga class on time. You race into the studio, unfurl your mat, grab your water bottle and plop yourself down fighting your body to sit cross-legged. Whew! Your heart is still pounding. The class begins. You watch others glide effortlessly into forward bends, side-angle twists and balance perfectly in tree pose and you’re wondering what’s wrong with you that each posture is a struggle to get right. You’re irritated by your poor performance. Then you start wondering when you’ll feel the magic. If you’ve experienced moments like this during your yoga practice, you’re missing so much of what yoga has to offer and you’ve lost the real health benefits.
Yoga today is misunderstood as it is often viewed as only a physical exercise of postures or asanas. Yoga is far more. It is a way to mindfully cultivate consciousness activating an inner dimension of harmony and well-being. Anyone can do yoga. It doesn’t matter if you’re inflexible, out of shape or have never done yoga. What matters is how fully engaged you are in each experience as you practice. Each gives you a powerful opportunity to learn how to halt your reactions of self-criticisms or self-judgments and instead develop heightened awareness about how the energy (prana) is moving through you. As you learn to practice these skills on a yoga mat, you can subsequently interact with your life off the mat in a more productive way. You’ll improve integration of mind and body to connect to increased confidence, good health, creativity and purpose.
So slow down and consider 3 things you can do to get more benefit from your yoga practice:
- Let go of all preconceived notions about what yoga is.
Let go of perfection. Yoga is about freeing yourself physically, mentally and emotionally from all that may hold you back in your life. It’s not about good or bad, right or wrong. The key is to practice regularly with intention and awareness without doing harm. Yoga is a way of accessing who you truly are. It goes beyond fitness. It integrates mind, body, heart and spirit opening a clear pathway to happiness and fulfillment. Yoga poses are tools to ignite your personal power within. Many beginners never get introduced to this understanding and often abandon yoga all too quickly. They lose the miraculous life-changing benefits. For the most value, explore the adventure with an open mind and heart.
2. Get connected to this moment.
The real secret lies in practicing to accept what is present in any given instant without criticism. Here’s an example: Begin in a comfortable seated position on the floor, yoga mat or a chair; with your legs extended in front, cross-legged or underneath. Sit tall. Close your eyes. Notice feelings in your body. How does the floor or chair feel beneath you? Focus on your breathing; inhaling and exhaling — a natural function that animates body and mind. Deepen your next inhalation and on the exhalation, open your mouth and express the sound of OM, emptying your lungs. Notice how the vibrations feel on your lips and in your body. Repeat the sound two more times allowing yourself to let go into the tones. Resume your normal breathing and bring your attention to the Third Eye, a spot in the middle of your brow center. Without expectations or struggle, continue to watch what comes into your awareness for 30 seconds or a minute. When ready, open your eyes. You’ve just practiced awareness and a sense of integration. This is a helpful start towards getting present and becoming centered. Were you thinking about what you’re having for dinner later or worrying about something that may or may not happen tomorrow? With repetition, you’ll stay focused and committed to your experience in this present moment. Some days will be easier than others and that’s okay. It’s all part of learning the process of acceptance.
3. Become the observer when you practice and use two parts to every posture.
In the yoga of consciousness that I practice and teach (from Kripalu Founder, the world-renowned Yogi Master Amrit Desai), there are two parts to every pose. The first is the traditional Hatha Yoga, an active, dynamic pose. The second is Raja Yoga, a pause to feel the internal effects of the physical movement and enter deep silence. By combining the two, you connect to the observer, the consciousness. Watch your thoughts and reactions without judgment. Your ego wants to criticize with a constant chatter of comments like: “I’m no good.” “I didn’t do that right.” You are not your ego or your thoughts. You are the witness, the watcher of those thoughts and emotions.
Let me demonstrate this integrated approach using Tadasana or Mountain Pose as an example:
First Half of Pose: Hatha Yoga
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart. Bring your palms together in prayer position in front of your heart.
- Press your feet into the ground and extend your arms up over your head and slightly back.
- Look straight ahead. Interlace index fingers and point them toward the sky. Your chin is parallel to the floor. Relax your shoulders. Breathe.
- Be mindful of sensations you’re feeling in your shoulders, arms. Direct your attention to the energetic press points by dropping your tailbone, firm through the buttocks and inner thighs as you press into the feet, extend up through the spine and out through the fingers. Relax shoulders slightly. Breathe several slow, uniform breaths. The channels and meridians in your entire body are opening. Notice all sensations. Resist the urge to think about what’s next or whether or not you’re doing it perfectly. Just keep focused on feelings, on energies.
- To release: lower your hands in prayer position in front of your chest.
- Relax your arms at your sides.
Second Half of Pose: Raja Yoga
- Close your eyes. Breathe normally.
- Give your undivided attention to the released energy as it appears to you in the form of sensations in your body. Experience totally the energy field that is actively expanding and spreading throughout.
The deepest practice of yoga teaches you to calm the restless mind by shifting from thinking to feeling and being. You learn to accept whatever is showing up in any given moment. You may label an event as good or bad but the reality is that it is what it is. It just exists in space, time and on the screen of your awareness. Reactions result when you judge and become disturbed or irritated; the source of which is often from a preconditioned pattern that hides in your subconscious.
When you truly integrate mind and body in your yoga practice, you’re free. You enter a more expansive dimension that allows you to use your body to connect to the divinity within. In this way, you align with your higher self and effortlessly find your path to wellness, passion and purpose. When you bring this posture of consciousness into every aspect of your life, you recognize the transformational benefits. In this wondrous way, you discover self empowerment.