2016 is in full swing and as we come to the end of January’s second week I have welcomed new students and old friends to my classes. One thing I love about teaching yoga is that I am always learning from my students. I have also had a bit of time to reflect on my own practice and one thing I have noticed is that sometimes it is easy to over push yourself, to try to take shortcuts and to fast-forward to the most advanced expressions of a posture. Yoga can teach us to back off when needed and step it up when appropriate. It teaches us to connect with ourselves, work with awareness and to listen to our bodies.
Occasionally though it can be challenging to connect and listen to our bodies and we can allow our ego to get in the way. Egocentric thoughts such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I must achieve the perfect headstand’, ‘I want to be as good as the girl over there’ or ‘I need to get my head to my knees’ can often cloud our judgement. We can ignore certain warning signs to strive for those muscles, to achieve that challenging asana posture and to look pretty. I have to confess this was me when I was first starting out on a regular practice. My head was full of thoughts from my ego and often I pushed too hard in order to try and achieve. This had some pretty challenging results on my body and my ego but eventually I learnt to quieten those thoughts allowing them to sit to the sides. They still pop in from time to time but I have learnt to accept and observe free of judgement and free of attachment.
Yoga doesn’t care if you are pretty or what shape you are and I as a teacher don’t mind if you are tall, big, small, pretty or whatever. I want to provide a space for my students to clear their minds and develop at their own pace. Sometimes this means we need to ease off in our practice and find some softness in the posture in order to progress. When we really push too much we can injure ourselves, our practice needs to take a backseat while we recover and this sets us back a lot creating drama in the mind too.
So here is how to cultivate our practice and step it back in order to step it up:
Connect to your breath
Connecting to the breath enables us to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest state of the nervous system. This counteracts stress and the fight or flight part of our nervous system. This also enables us to stay present and harness a greater awareness, connection to the body and quieten the internal chatter of the mind.
Set your intention at the start of your practice
This could be a particular thing you want to work on in your practice such as working with awareness on the breath or to stay present. By focusing the mind on an intention we can stay present which allows us to cultivate greater awareness and to effectively connect to our practice and our bodies.
Alignment and stability over flexibility.
Always go for alignment and stability over flexibility. So often people say to me that they are not flexible and can’t do yoga. The flexibility will come the more you practice. At the opposite end of the spectrum we have the students that are either hyper mobile in their joints or are very flexible. Either way we want to work on our strength and alignment to support our joints and avoid over stretching, strain or injury.
“Practice and all is coming” – Patabhi Jois
Regular practice and dedication will help us to deepen our practice and there is no avoiding that fact. Our culture today is all about quick results and shortcuts but after one yoga class it’s unlikely that you will reach enlightenment and be able to do every asana at full expression. It takes practice and dedication. The more I practice the more tuned in I become to my body, the better I get at listening and knowing when to ease off and when to step it up. I learn something new about myself with each practice and discover new physical milestones. This is where I find the joy in yoga and where I become more open to the possibilities of what will come.