How to really practice yoga
Whether you are a seasoned yogi or just starting out, here are some yoga tips that may help you in your practice.
When you are just starting out with yoga, there is a lot to wrap your head around. It’s all happening at the same time! The poses, the vocabulary, the breath.
Read more about the yoga vocabulary.
And always when you think you have something figured out, a teacher tells you something different or to do something differently. Even now that I am a yoga teacher, I still feel there is so much to learn, and my own practice is changing every day. Here are some yoga tips from my own experience that I hope will be of benefit to your practice!
9 yoga tips to benefit your practice
Don’t be afraid to ask
If it’s one of your first classes, talk to the teacher before the class starts. He/she will give you some extra explanation about how a yoga class is typically structured, so you can feel comfortable and safe. If you have questions about poses during the class, notify the teacher. Others may be having the same question, so don’t be afraid to ask.
If you are a beginner, find yourself a spot on the first row. I know it sounds freakin’ crazy to many of you, but think about it! Being in the front row allows you to watch the teacher closely, and to signal for help if you need it. And don’t worry, no one is watching you. Everyone is busy with their own practice.
What it looks like
Every posture is an expression of your body. You may have long legs, or a long torso, or both. You may be hypermobile, or have extremely tight hips from sitting all day. You may have cracking joints, a sore knee, or bad balance. Everybody – every body – is different. So your forward fold may look different than the teacher’s or your neighbour’s, but all that matters is that you feel something in your body when you practice. What it looks like – forget about it. Whether you can go further than somebody else or not – forget about it. There should be no competition in yoga. Not with others, not with yourself.
Every body is different. There should be no competition in yoga
Mix it up
Try different style classes. You may like one style now, but it’s good to mix things up. In a slow moving class you will probably learn more about alignment and meditation, while in a fast moving class like vinyasa or ashtanga you will learn to flow with the breath.
There was a student in my class the other day who only ever practiced ashtanga. I don’t teach ashtanga. There was a whole world of expectation there that I could not fulfill. Believe me, there is a lesson in everything. I have learned something from every yoga teacher I have ever had, even – especially – when I hated his/her class. And when I am being really honest, most of the times when I hated a class, it was because I wasn’t feeling great about myself and the confrontation was just too much. Talk about projecting. #selfinsight
Try and practice at different times of the day. Early morning is recommended, but if that doesn’t suit your schedule, try a class at lunchtime, or straight after work, or just before bed (skip the strenuous class late in the evening though or you won’t sleep). In the early morning we have less distractions, and are more able to focus on our body and mind (yes, I am half asleep at that time too, but it feels so damn good to start the day with yoga practice). Your morning body is different from your afternoon body. Practicing at different times of the day creates more awareness of how your body feels at those times. More awareness = safer practice.
Pain = no gain
I hurt myself so, so many times in my early practice, only because of my ego. Wanting to keep up with others, not wanting to admit defeat to myself. (I started out with ashtanga – but seriously, those first 10.000 down dogs HURT.)
It is never worth it. You may tear a muscle (I did) – and I even thought it was cool! (SO not yoga). You can even cause long term damage. If you continue to practice just to the point where you are slightly uncomfortable to maintain your pose, you will “get there” eventually.
Actually, about “getting there”… What does that mean? Yoga teaches your body to meditate. All the asanas are designed so over time your body becomes strong and flexible, so you can stay in a meditation pose more comfortably. In yoga you learn to focus, have patience, kindness. All these things support meditation.
Yoga teaches your body to meditate
Whether you can do a headstand or twist yourself in a pretzel: nobody cares… It doesn’t matter. If your mind and heart is not in your practice, you might as well go to a zumba class. Hey, nothing against zumba, I think zumba is a lot of fun! It’s just something totally different. It took me a while to realise this (and I heard it many many times before it stuck with me), but ego really has no place in yoga. Yes, you will get strong and flexible and able to stand on your head, but that should not be the goal of your practice.
Honour your body. If you are tired, don’t practice, or practice restorative yoga. Tiredness is your body’s way of saying that it needs rest. Get some more sleep. Skip that Netflix-athon that you were planning. It really is ok, and you will feel much stronger the next day.
Not everyone is ready for meditation. 10 years ago I would have run screaming out of an hour long meditation class. Last year I completed a 10 day silent meditation retreat. That’s why yoga is called a practice, a process.
The next time you find yourself longer in down dog than you want, remind yourself to close your eyes, relax your face and breathe through it. Not because you want to show yourself that you can, but because you realise that the greatest suffering is in your mind. If you can do that, you are already a long way on the path of the true yogi.