There are some things that take time to learn. It took me being a yoga instructor to learn how to be a yoga student. I always took my practice seriously, but here are some things that I've learned by teaching.
1. Paying more attention when I take a class
I mean really, really paying attention in class. I used to think I was paying attention. I really told myself I was, was sure of it, but more often than not, my mind would begin to wander. If the instructor gave a lengthier explanation than I felt was necessary, I would tune out. I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn't think the minute details where important, that is until I started to teach. Then I realized that those small details can really affect the pose. When you are in a class, it's important to listen to everything the instructor is telling you because sometimes, one sentence, one explanation, makes it all click in a way that it never did before.
2. Focusing on my own poses
A lot of times I was too worried about what the person in the mat next to me, in front of me, diagonally from me (you get the picture) was doing, wearing, or comparing my poses to theirs. I would feel great if I could do a pose better than someone else, and I would feel like a loser if I couldn't. That is not what yoga is about. I've learned to just let the poses be as they are, accepting what I can do and can't do, but not judging myself for it.
3. Easing off when I know I can't quite get a pose
This one sort of goes with the previous one about paying attention to my poses. If I can't do an asana, I can do a variation of it. I shouldn't force myself into something that I am not ready for. That's when injuries occur. One time I did that and pulled a ligament in the back of my leg. My fault for going too far when I should have, guess what? Listened to the instructor! The instructor offered modifications, but I let my ego take over and lead me to believe that if the others could do it, I could as well. It doesn't work that way. Learning to listen to your body is crucial in yoga, and in anything else in life.
4. Following the breath
And really moving with the breath. Not just pretending, not just following your teachers lead. Actually following your own breath. As a teacher I talk about the breath a lot. Just ask my students! Talking about it in class, leading students through the poses with the breath, made me so much more aware of my own breathing, my own movements. It really does make a difference in your practice. Try it.
5. Learning to find stillness in Savasana
Watching my students shift and move in Savasana has brought to my attention how much I've moved in the pose myself. How, thinking that I was still and finally thinking I had it, my nose would itch and I just had to reach up and scratch it. Savasana is about letting it all go, even the itchy nose. Now I find myself going deeper into the pose because I'm not paying attention to all the physical things that I was paying attention to before.
We must learn to be present in the pose if we want yoga to work for us on a spiritual and mental level. To be present in this very moment, and not worrying about anything else that is going on around you is so important in everything we do. When an instructor tells you to focus on your mat and on the person on your mat, that is what you need to pay attention to because in the end, what's going on there is the most important thing in that moment.