Walk into any yoga studio, and people are warming up long before the actual warm-up begins, while others frantically send out one last email on their smartphones.
Many of us have simply transferred our tightly wound up habits into our yoga practice, so that we may not even know how to actually relax. Seriously, how many of us are just trying to remember our grocery lists, instead of following the rise and fall of our breath in Savasana?
Here are five simple ways to lighten up in yoga, so that we can experience more peace and joy in our practice … and in our heads.
1. Mix up where you throw down your mat in the studio.
Though you have claimed it every Saturday morning for the past two years, you DO NOT own that coveted back corner space. So when the newcomer innocently unfurls her mat upon your turf, don't give her that serious yoga face and secretly hope she does a nosedive in Dancer Pose.
Instead, feel grateful that she released you from your habit. We attach ourselves to spots in a room, to teachers, and to classes for comfort — keeping us attached to a fear of the unknown. Sure it can be scary to leave your coveted attachments behind, but they don't keep us safe, they keep us stuck. Besides, maybe a different spot in the room will offer you a whole new perspective.
2. Don't be afraid to laugh a little.
It's a yoga practice, not the Bolshoi Ballet. It's OK to be playful and laugh. So what if you fell out of Half Moon Pose and knocked over your neighbor's water bottle! So what if the teacher forgot to do the super, ridiculously long flow sequence on the second side! If we take yoga — and ourselves in it — too seriously, it becomes all work and no play, and we all know that never ends well.
3. Failure IS an option.
Remember, you are not being graded on your poses. Yet it seems that we hold back so much because we are afraid to fail.
Psychology tells us there are two types of mindsets: fixed and growth. In the yoga world, the fixed-mindset yogi believes in natural skill, and that mastery is the end goal. In contrast, the growth-mindset yogi believes in steady effort, and that failure may actually be more valuable than mastery. The growth-mindset yogi explores her edges, takes risks, and "fails"; she embraces slipping out of eagle, falling face-first in Crow Pose, and losing her grip in Bird of Paradise because through it all, she learns.
Edison tried 10,000 times to create the light bulb and famously said, "I have not failed, I've just found 10,000 ways that don't work." Growth is limitless, as is yoga.
4. Chill out. Seriously.
A common yoga diss I hear is, "Her class was OK, but I didn't sweat." There seems to be a misconception that sopping wet yoga clothes are a sign of a class well spent. This is by no means however, the only measure of a great class!
So let's forget about what we already know. Peace in our thoughts comes from a place of unknowing. The Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki wrote, "In the beginner's mind there are many opportunities; in the expert's mind there are few." So in lieu of "workout yoga," attend a beginner's class, a gentle or restorative class, a meditation session, or even a prenatal class if you can.
Yoga is not always about physical ability — it's about the practice of letting go of the ego's need for constant achievement. Sure, wanting more fitness in your life is a great reason to attend class, but just as there's work for the body, there's just as much work for the mind.
5. Never say "should."
I should do yoga more often. I should be able to wrap my foot behind my head like "Gumby Girl" in the front row.
As soon as we catch ourselves in the dangerous world of "should," let's step back, observe and remember that our inner critic loves to tell us what we should be doing and how we should be doing it.
This is part of that monkey-mind that jumps about, habitually assessing, judging and yes — sometimes throwing poop (gross, but effective image). Let's try talking to ourselves the way we would talk to our loved ones instead — we don't berate, belittle, or begrudge them, so why would we do this to ourselves?
This is one way to practice ahmisa (the non-harming philosophy in yoga) starting with ourselves.
Who knows, maybe I'll see you in yoga class this week and if so, please laugh with me as I fall out of handstand for the umpteenth time. How do I still not get this pose?