By: Natasha Uspensky, CHHC
The amazing health, body, and spiritual benefits of yoga are no secret. People with a regular yoga practice are on the whole slimmer, happier, less stressed out, eat healthier, have lower blood pressure, and experience less headaches, pain, swelling, anxiety, and hormonal imbalance. I mean, if that’s not reason enough to get on that vinyasa train, I don’t know what is. But, just showing up to class doesn’t guarantee those results. There’s doing yoga, and then there’s doing yoga. I see tons of people in my classes that bring their phones into the studio, half-ass their poses, don’t breathe, break up the flow of their practice with tons of fidgeting, water drinking, and other distractions, and then leave before shavasana. If you’re one of these people, you are robbing yourself of a truly impactful, effective, and meaningful practice! Make sure you’re getting the most out of your practice by following the tips below.
1. Try not to get wired before class.
If you routinely grab a Starbucks or soda on your way to your yoga class, you’re going to make the mindfulness, deep breathing, and ultimately relaxation (if only just at the end) of a successful routine much harder for yourself. Caffeine speeds up your breathing and heart rate, causes racing thoughts and can increase anxiety, which is pretty counterproductive for yoga. If you need to have your coffee in the morning, have it 2-3 hours before class, or wait until after to get your fix. Better yet, use yoga to help you break your coffee addiction!
2. Put away your phone.
From the moment you set foot in the studio, try to put yourself in a focused, relaxed mindset. Checking your email on your mat creates a stressful environment that makes settling into a mindful practice much more difficult. Plus, it’s distracting and even stressful for everyone around you! Your fellow practitioners are coming to yoga for a reprieve from their busyness and stress, and you being on your phone is a distracting reminder of everything they’re trying to put on pause. So for the sake of your own practice, and that of everyone around, leave your phone in your bag and fully arrive in the space, mental and physical, from the moment you walk in.
3. Set an intention for your practice.
As with most things in life, if you go into your practice with a specific intention, you’re going to get a whole lot more out of it than if you’re just going through the motions. Some great intentions can be “I’m going to do my best and push myself further in my practice today,” or “I’m going to focus on my breath and relaxation today… No stress, no pressure.” You can dedicate your practice to someone in your life that’s in need of a little love and support, or to someone you are struggling with or in the midst of a conflict with. Yoga isn’t just a workout. It doesn’t need to be this whole huge spiritual, om-filled, flowery experience if you don’t want it to be, but completely eliminating the mindfulness component is totally selling yourself short and robbing your practice of the meaning that supercharges it’s effectiveness.
4. Don’t be afraid to personalize your practice.
We can often get so wrapped up in the competitive, comparative aspect of a yoga class (“I can totally get my leg higher than her!”), that we short change ourselves on having a practice that fits exactly what we need on that given day. Don’t be afraid to use props, rest for a moment in child’s pose, not take a bind, or otherwise make adjustments to poses to fit your needs, your body, and what feels best. We often see props as a crutch or a sign of being a beginner practitioner, but B.K.S Iyengar said that “confidence and willpower are built up by props.” Props allow you to progress in your practice and gain correct alignment in your poses, which is so much more important than how you look compared to the girl next to you. Listen to your body.. If you need to take a break in child’s pose, that is always available to you, and knowing when you need to take that pose is truly the sign of a mindful practitioner. But make sure to maintain your focus in your practice. Stopping to fidget, fix your hair or drink water when something feels hard is not staying focused. These are the crutches. Instead, breathe and listen to what your body needs.
5. Never skip shavasana!
So many of my favorite teachers have repeated over and over again that shavasana, or corpse pose, is the most important part of a yoga practice. And yet, every class, at least one person leaves before this crucial final pose. Shavasana is what your whole routine is building up to. The mindfulness, the exertion, the pushing yourself, and the breath are all leading you to the vital moment of peace and quiet meditation at the end of class. To skip that valuable moment is literally half-assing your practice. If you’re one of those people that has trouble sitting still or quieting your thoughts, use your yoga practice as a tool to focus and calm your body and mind, and use shavasana as a way to integrate all that amazing work into your body. Focus on your breath and just relax. If you’re still having trouble with racing thoughts, repeat a long ommmm in your head on every exhale to help you stay mindful.