We are all aware of the DON’Ts in daily life: Don’t eat gluten, don’t stick forks in wall sockets, don’t stop believing! And especially……Don’t go chasing waterfalls. On the contrary, this post will focus on the DO’s of practising yoga to get the most out of class.
Practice often. Once or twice a week at minimum to get the best benefits from the exercise. I benefit the most from my practice when I attend more, but let’s face it, life can get in the way. Some benefits I notice when practising 3-4 times per week include weight loss, stress relief, greater strength and quicker improvement in flexibility with a greater understanding of poses. In “Yoga for body, breath and mind” emphasis is put on self awareness and monitoring your own practice. If once a week is the most you can practice, arriving extra early to settle onto the mat in order to find focus and self awareness is a good idea. This way you’ll get the most out of your weekly practice.
Listen to the Teacher. It sounds basic but I’ve often found myself in downward dog when I’m supposed to be in plank or lunge when I’m supposed to be in downward dog. This happens when I anticipate the movements. Teachers at Shanti switch up their routine quite a bit from week to week, which I totally appreciate so I try to stay with their voice as they talk us through the class. As well, they offer so many great tips on how to protect yourself in tripod headstand or how to find balance in half moon, the last thing I want to do is tune them out, as I could be missing that bit of information that can bring me to the next level of a pose.
Breeeeaaaattthhheee. So difficult when you’re pushing up from hovering 6 inches from the floor but breath really does offer feedback, give you buoyancy and help focus your attention during practice. I like to imagine my breath circulating from my centre to all limbs and beyond. Surprisingly, I feel the healing benefits immediately. It’s really helpful when the instructor leads the class through a breathing exercise to begin, so I try to stay with this feeling of connectedness as the class progresses. The breath should be long and smooth with a restriction in the throat and a soft noise similar to ocean waves. If it becomes shallow, the indication is the pose has become too much and you should return to the awareness of your breathing in order to find the right balance. Breath can be used to work through resistance in a pose; as you exhale, your body can sink deeper without straining beyond your limits. (1)
Here are some more great benefits of Pranayama breathing on health:
Find your flow . As I move through poses, even if I stay in one for awhile, I’m shifting through, swaying in and finding the connection between each moment. Although there’s a whole technique of yoga dedicated to flowing through postures called Vinyasa, I believe it’s possible to find flow in any class. Focus on your breath, pay attention to where you can find room, and constantly shift through the pose to find the most release; it doesn’t hurt when the reggae beats are flowing in class too!
If you don’t know, ASK . One day I was having trouble with a back bend in Taylor MacGillivary’s class. It was so difficult to inch back even just the smallest bit. So I asked him after class for some advice and he was so helpful! He informed me about the anxiety many people feel when performing back bends and even talked about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems working opposite each other during class. The sympathetic nervous system engages a “fight or flight” response and the parasympathetic nervous system a “rest and digest” response. Now when I do back bends I have insight into what’s making the pose difficult and how I can help myself through the challenge.
Align your bones and squeeze your core . Safety is a big concern for Shanti Instructors as I’ve heard them put emphasis on the technical aspects of each pose in every class I attend. Part of our responsibility as Yogis is to manage our own practise into a safe place where our body benefits the most and avoids injury. My own challenge is having bowed knees, and so I have to work extra hard to align knees over feet when they bend. Squeezing your core helps not only build that sexy six pack, but relieve the rest of your joints from unnecessary pressure while aligning your posture so the body can find more flexibility.
There are many reasons to practice yoga and I feel it’s important to know your personal motivation. I’m motivated by the increase in flexibility to contribute to my dance career while a decrease in stress is a huge motivating factor. Knowing this motivation helps me stay in the moment, on my own mat, and to avoid looking around to see how I compare in the class. It also keeps me showing up to class on a regular basis. You could be interested in the spirituality, to build strength, to live longer, to quit smoking, to make friends, to lay in Shavasana; these are all valid reasons to take yoga, but it’s great to know why you personally do it so you can leave feeling accomplished each class.
As I continue my practice of yoga, I’m excited to share my experiences along the way. I hope this article helps peak your curiosity into various aspects of yoga. Over the next few months I’ll expand on some of these topics, so stay tuned as I continue as a curious yogi….
(1) Mohan, A. G. Yoga for Body, Breath and Mind: A guide to personal reintegration. Shambhala Publications. Boston & London. 2002.