The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten from a teacher is to transcend habit. Yoga is not habitual, and every time you step on your mat, there are new emotions flooding through your head and different aches running through your body.
Every time you flow into downward dog, there are different sensations, and each twist you take reaches a different peak length. It's unrealistic to expect to put your body into every asana it did the day before, and frankly, it doesn’t make a yoga practice any better.
Do you go to yoga to calm your mind or to get an intense workout? For most of us, the answer is both.
Exercising the body and quieting the mind go hand-in-hand. If you injure your neck trying to get into shoulder stand, the mind is not so quiet, is it? Yoga should bring you enlightenment, happiness, calmness and overall peace.
Here are 7 ways to get the most out of your practice:
1. Hydrate and awaken the mind one hour before class.
Many times we are so rushed to get to yoga, that we unconsciously forget to hydrate. I’ve found that deliberately taking the time to have a glass of coconut water or a cup of herbal tea one hour before class brings me to the room refreshed and attentive—rather than sluggish and drained. Caffeine isn’t necessary, as our practice will naturally awaken us, but hydration and nutrition help us come to the room with awareness and intent.
2. Place your mat in a different spot of the room.
We all have our favorite spot in the room, and when someone takes it, our mind conjures crazy thoughts of confusion mixed with frustration. Taking your mat to the opposite side transcends habit and can completely transform your practice that day.
3. Use props.
Let’s face it, many (physically) experienced yogis don’t use props. Our thought process goes something like this: I don’t need that, I can do this, that won’t help me. In reality: you can always use props for more length (for example, in triangle pose), for a feel-good factor (supported bridge), or to simply make things easier! Remember, our bodies are different every day and may need more assistance today than yesterday.
4. Leave your cell phone at home.
We are always distracted. We have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, text messaging… our society is constantly connected to each other. Yoga class is a time you’ve dedicated to yourself, so take full advantage of those two hours and leave your cell phone at home (or at least in the car). This helps us leave class honoring our practice and mind by letting it soak in all that we have experienced.
5. Get to class early.
We all know the feeling of rushing to class, cutting people off, and running every yellow light in the fear of missing it. If your schedule allows, leave 15 minutes earlier than you normally would to relax around the studio, or set up your mat to lay in goddess pose or corpse pose (savasana). This gives you a chance to center yourself and drift away from the day.
6. Set your intention.
Maybe you’ve heard your yoga teacher tell you to set an intention, or dedication, for your practice. This is a beautiful way to start class. In the middle of your fifth round of Sun Salutation B, when you are sweaty and possibly losing control of your breath, an intention can bring you back to why you came to class in the first place. It can be as simple as “learn to listen to my body”, “quiet my mind”, or “relax.” A dedication can be one that honors you, a loved one, the earth, a community or anything else. Repeat this to yourself when you are in that strenuous pose that makes your mind wander, and it will bring you back to your peace and your purpose.
7. Try something new.
Roar as loud as you can during lion’s breath, go upside down (at the wall, safety first!), put a blanket under your knees in Savasana, and OM louder than usual. (If you're concerned with the sound of your Om, let it go!) You will feel invigorated, accomplished and enlightened.
And of course, don't forget to breathe and smile. Yes, this is a cliché, but in all fairness, it’s essential! Listen to your teacher when he or she is instructing the breathing practice, and pay particular attention while holding a strenuous pose for what seems like forever… breathe deeply, stay in the present, and smile.
What about you? What tips help you get the most out of your yoga practice?