Friday, August 3, 2012

How to develop a life long yoga practice

Stepping into a studio to take a yoga class is different than having a personal yoga practice. When we make this subtle shift in our approach to yoga, we open ourselves up to the transformative power of yoga as a life-long discipline and commitment. This means, the practice is just that: something that takes time, dedication, and focus, like learning an instrument or a new language. By choosing to adopt yoga as a life-long practice, we begin to see it as a relationship, one that requires patience, compassion, and perseverance. When we open to this approach to yoga, we begin to see through the obstacles that the mind puts forth--I am not strong, flexible, healthy, young, etc. enough--which either cause us to abandon yoga altogether, or cause injury and burn-out, fruits of a competitive, aggressive approach to yoga. When we step onto our mats with curiosity and openness, we begin to notice that where we are right now is exactly where we need to be. Yoga is not something to be ‘mastered’ in a finite time; it is endless and ever expansive. Stay open to learning, and the lessons will come. One need only show up.

Tools to help you develop a personal practice:

-Breathe deeply. The Ujjayi Pranayama not only creates warmth in the body and helps loosen the muscles from the inside out, it also has the added benefit of calming the mind and relaxing the nervous system. If you are new to the practice of yoga, and the technique eludes you, don’t worry. Just focus on taking deep, long inhalations, and letting the breath out slowly. Overtime, once you feel a bit more settled in the practice, begin to bring the subtleties of Ujjayi to your breath.

-Cultivate the drishti, a steady gazing point to focus the mind, and withdraw the senses inward. By keeping the eyes soft, we relax the nervous system, and even in the midst of the most challenging postures, tap into our inner sense of balance and equilibrium. Looking around the room or at the teacher can bring about tendencies to compare one’s body to those around us, and create ungrounded energy. Instead, try to open the ears and stay present with what the teacher is cuing rather than looking around for guidance. To that end, try to stay present on your mat for the duration of the practice. Moving around the room, drinking water, and ‘zoning out’ bring you out of the rhythm of the breath and therefore, out of your practice. If you need to rest, do so in child’s pose, and focus on breathing deeply to be better energized.

-Be receptive. Every day is different; every practice is different. By staying open to what may come, and not approaching the practice with a pre-set expectation of what makes a ‘good practice,’ we open ourselves to be true students. Cultivate softness and receptivity, and with time and practice, the impossible will become possible.

-Practice as often as you can. Even if you unroll your mat and do one sun salutation, and then take a few conscious breaths in a simple seated posture, it sends the message to the body to relax and open, and when the body relaxes, the mind follows suit. It also reinforces the idea that not every practice needs to be physically intense to be worth doing. What matters is the intention and awareness that you bring with you onto your mat.

-Be kind to yourself. Practice Ahimsa, nonhurting, in both thought and action. This means not comparing your body and your practice to others in disparaging ways, and not pushing past your edge into the territory of injury and pain. Just because someone can do an advanced posture it does not necessarily make them an advanced yogi. This, after all, is a personal practice and not a performance.