Getting the most from your practice

There are some days when a yoga class brings you just what you need. You leave feeling energized, reflective, calm, inspired, strong…you are an invincible yogi warrior. You feel great, you vow to only drink green juice and meditate every morning for at least 10 minutes before work.

There are other days when no matter how many chatarungas or (attempted) handstands you do, you just aren’t finding what you are looking for.  You just feel a bit ‘blah’.

One way I find to get the most from your yoga is to get your mind to engage with your body. Too often it might be easy to find yourself going through the motions in your yoga class – running through the same routine without being aware of what your limbs are actually doing.

Or,  you find yourself unable to shift your mind away from the constant cycle of random thoughts. Do my leggings make my thighs look wider?; Are they see-through? Will Tesco’s be open by the time I get home?  Why did that lady push in front of me in the tube?  I wonder if I can get an extension of my deadline?

If your mind is in a completely different room to where you are practicing your yoga, then it is unlikely you’ll have much success in feeling like a calm yogi warrior by the end of class.

To bring yourself back to your mat, there are a few things you can do (these are things I find useful).

First of all, find your breath. Take a chance at the beginning of class to sit in child’s pose or an easy cross-legged position, and bring your focus on your inhalation and exhalation. Find a steady rhythm to your breath.

Secondly, focus on what your body is doing in each physical movement. Really consider how your body is moving from one position to the next. What muscles are being used?  What muscles should I engage to keep me stable or take the pose to the next level?

Perhaps you might need to slow down your vinyasa sequence to focus on bringing length to your back in downward dog; or making sure you keep your core engaged in plank, or to concentrate on what muscles your body is using to lift the chest in upward dog or cobra. A slightly slower flow can be more beneficial for both body and mind than a frantic flinging of limbs to keep up with the person next to you.

Think about bringing a sense of grace and fluidity between each pose. By not mindfully moving from one pose to the next, you could risk injuring yourself.

Perhaps view the flow of each vinyasa like a dance? Or practice each flow like this really is the most important thing you are going to do that day?  Of course, you may well be performing brain surgery in the afternoon, which is probably slightly higher up the scale of importance than perfecting your triangle pose. But, for at least the hour or so you are practising, try to bring that sense of focus to the session (but don’t take yourself too seriously…)

Of course, there will always be days when you feel that nothing is working. You might keep losing your balance in a pose, you don’t feel strong enough, or you regret having the medium vanilla latte only half an hour before class and now you have a major sugar rush and need the loo, and that is the only thing your mind can focus on.

At times like this, just let it go. Enjoy what you can, have a post-class cup of tea and biscuit and just come back to the mat another day.

(Ps I’m busy reading an interesting book all about mindfulness – “The Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” by Ruby Wax.  I’m only halfway through, but it has lots of information on the benefits of mindfulness in everyday life.)

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