Make the Most of Your Yoga Practice
The word “yoga” is derived from the sanskrit root yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to join” in practice it is the harmonizing of the body and mind. While marriage is seen as the joining of two people, yoga is a kind of marriage or union that happens within. In the astanga spirit, here are 8 vows of the yogic union.
1.) Honor thy breath: Your breath is your most immediate indicator of your body’s energy which naturally affects both the physical and mental aspects of your being. The breath can be both energizing and calming. When we are connected to the breath we gain access into the present moment. Using the breath to be present, being aware of your body, finding the will to bend your mind in an effort to maintain the integrity of this balanced energy. Let the breath be your barometer to measure your awareness of your entire being, your attention to the body and ability to focus within the minds eye.
2.) Be curious: Often times we step into a yoga class and fall in love, so much in love that we become unwilling to try other classes, styles, teachers, techniques etc. While it is essential to get to know what you’re drawn to, at the same time allow and even encourage yourself to explore different classes, teachers, styles; the vast kaleidoscope of yoga. While you might be pleasantly surprised by how expansive your interests are, you might also be just as pleasantly surprised to know that your first love is a precious gem and an absolute keeper. That kind of exploration can enhance ones sense of gratitude. According to Yogi Bhajan, “The attitude of gratitude is the highest form of yoga.”
3.) Be true to your study: As much fun and inspiring as studio, class, teacher, style hopping can be and as beneficial as it can be to enhancing your personal practice, it is also important and equally beneficial to find a teacher who speaks to the forever student inside of you. (note: I am not suggesting subscribing to the guru system, but rather encouraging establishing a home base). On the very first day of my 200 hr yoga teacher training, while translating and interpreting the astanga invocation, my teacher, Dave Oliver said, “the best way to overcome sorrow is to learn something new.” In that moment it dawned on me why I fell head over heels for yoga, I was learning and in some ways I was also un-learning to make room for new wisdom. Every time I step to my mat, I hear those words. Whether you practice a style of yoga that is more spontaneous in terms of poses or sequences (like vinyasa flow) or whether you lean towards a discipline is that more predictable or pre-formatted (a la Astanga or Bikram ) when we step on to our mats, we step off of what we have learned previously in an effort to unlock our potential in the present moment. So whether we are learning something new within the realm of familiarity or whether we are trying something completely out of the box and brand new, the refreshment that is extracted from our practice is deeply embedded within a willingness to learn something new. When we start to feel stuck or uninspired, the first place to look is your home base and your teacher who if you are lucky enough to have one like mine, will remind you the guru (dispeller of darkness) dwells deep within you.
4.) Not to forget it is a PRACTICE of the mind over the matter: …”if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Be willing to change how you think and feel about your practice. Often times we find yoga while navigating through the vast terrain of physical fitness options. This reminds me of one of my favorite albums, Jay-Z’s Blueprint 2: The Gift and the Curse. When we are accustomed to the “workout” mindset, it can be challenging to see beyond the physical aspect. By altering how we think about our practice we can use the gift of yoga to offset the possible curse of being consumed solely by the asana component. Remember there are eight limbs of astanga yoga and asana is merely the third branch. Our bodies are always changing, sometimes we have extra energy to channel when we step to our mats and sometimes we have barely enough energy to crawl into a child’s pose, when we allow ourselves to look beyond the physical practice, we give ourselves many more outlets to uncover clarity in our minds and pure joy in our hearts.
5.) Realize yoga is a science, not a sport: When we are willing to recognize that yoga is more of a science and less of a sport, we release any leaning towards competition (with those around us as well as ourselves-trying to top yesterday’s practice, anticipating tomorrow’s practice- all disconnect us from the present, not to mention feed the ego.) In our uber ambitious world it can be very challenging if not straight up daunting not to get caught up in competition. Picture your mat as a laboratory, a sacred space where you must show proper identification to enter, so you bring only yourSELF and dedicate your time to testing the theories of this mind body science. Like a scientist would, observe. In observation we find freedom from judgement, release pre conceived notions, and thus become more willing to accept what is.
6.) Surrender results to find perfect peace in the present: Instead of focusing your attention on trying to master the pose, allow your awareness to stay connected to mastering your breath, noticing what you learn about yourself on the way. In the absence of expectation, we permit ourselves to discover satisfaction and contentment within the present. Opening to the possibility that happiness is not a destination but the way in which we travel, embarking upon your own joyful journey.
7.) Don’t cheat your savasana/mind your post practice state of being: While you might need to duck out of your practice a few minutes early on occasion, make the effort not to make a habit of ditching your savasana. Corpse pose essentially offers the opportunity to experience a state in which we withdraw from everything else. So much of what we practice on our mats comes in the shape and the form of the “un-doing,” savasana being the ultimate pose in which we come un-done and let go. This prepares us for meditation. Traditionally the practice of yoga was intended to prepare the body and mind for meditation. While it can be intimidating to think of the propensity of emptying out the mind, the benefit of meditation is in the reduction of brain activity. Encourage yourself to take a couple of extra moments a day to create space for quieting the mind. Remembering that we don’t meditate because we have so much extra time on our hands but instead we chose to meditate because it enhances the quality of our time.
8.) Your ego is not your amigo: A few months ago, in one week, two of my students (completely unrelated) shared this catch phrase with me. Coincidence? Probably not. The marriage of your mind and body, the sacred union between your head and heart requires the deconstruction of the ego. Recognizing that like any other relationship, it requires dedication and practice. So we practice on our mats, realizing that the most profound way to deepen our yogic nature is to take that practice with us as we step into the world around us.
9.) Complete a yoga teacher training course to further deepen your knowledge and your practice. You do not have to intend to teach yoga to complete a 200 hour yoga alliance teacher training program. Click here for more details on the Authentic Yoga Teacher Training Program we offer.