During my last hot yoga class of the year with Kate Evans I hit my limit. After working a 10-hour day with little food and rest, I decided to take her 90 minute Hot Yoga class at YYF.
As a regular practitioner, I was accustomed to Kate’s disclaimer at the beginning of class that anyone who felt tired or overwhelmed during the class is welcomed and encouraged to stand out of posture or even lie down in savasana. I can admit here that I have almost never taken this advice, and was strangely (and wrongly) proud of that fact.
During the course of the standing series, I realized that my head was beginning to hurt and the room was starting to spin. As I stood out of tree pose, I worried whether the others in the room were judging my failure to complete the posture. After a moment of entertaining these thoughts, I remembered that I was in that room to accept myself, and that judgment of self or others is the exact opposite of what I should be doing.
“Just breathe. Honor your body. Right now it is telling you to take a break.”
I lay down on my mat and focussed on my breathing.
After a few minutes in savasana, my symptoms weren’t improving. After drinking almost an entire bottle of water, I realized that my body just couldn’t finish the class that day. For the first time since I became a serious practitioner, I left class. After grabbing some food to raise my blood sugar, my symptoms subsided and all that was left was the memory of the experience and a determination to learn something from it.
The incident taught me most of all to accept my body’s limitations. Our teachers constantly tells us to push ourselves to our edge but not past it, and we must also adapt to what our bodies tell us each day. Accepting our edge without judgment or worry can be almost impossible, something I struggle with every day.
After that experience, I have given my practice a focus for the new year.I challenge you to ask yourself these questions:
“Am I respecting my body and my level of spiritual growth?”
“How do I respect the limitations of my body while expanding the limits of my mind and spirit to feed my soul?”
We live in a competitive society, so it may be tempting to compare yourself and your yogic abilities to other people in the room. But yoga isn’t a competitive sport; you don’t “win” by being the most flexible person in class. Beyond leading to frustration, comparing yourself to others also puts you at risk for injury, as you may end up pushing yourself too hard. Soften your mind, stop trying to “keep up,” and instead seek to grow at your own pace. So what if your neighbor on the mat next to yours can vault effortlessly into headstand—and you can’t? This is your practice. Release any pressure or expectations you’ve set for yourself, and yoga will become far more enjoyable.
2) Challenge yourself, but honor your body.
Your body is unique, and its abilities can change from day to day. Some days you might feel strong and super flexible; other days you might be tired, or dealing with soreness or injury. Every time you practice yoga, honor where you’re at that day. If this means doing an easier variation of a pose, do it. If this means dropping into Child’s Pose to collect yourself if you get out of breath, do it. If this means passing on a certain pose altogether, that’s fine. Don’t get irritated if you still can’t touch your toes, or if you always fall over during Tree Pose; take a deep breath, reconnect with your body, and love it the way it is right now.
3) Be present.
Yes, there’s a laundry list of To Do’s waiting for you after class. Yes, you have your own personal concerns running through your head. But yoga practice is your time to let those thoughts drift away, even for just a short time. Concentrate on how good it feels to move and stretch. Allow yourself to feel light and free from worry. Be grateful for this chunk of time (however brief) when you get to just focus on you. If your mind wanders, focus on your breath to bring your mind back to the present moment.
4) Be positive.
Attitude is everything, right? If something in your practice elicits negative emotions—like fear, frustration, or despair—take a moment to assess your attitude. Does it really feel scary, or does it feel like a wonderful challenge? Does it serve you to be frustrated, or should you be proud of yourself for trying? You will reap more from your practice if you keep an open mind and a positive outlook.
Aside from your mat, a smile might very well be the most essential tool for a happy yoga practice. A smile instantly softens you from the inside out. It melts tension and frustration, brings you back into the present, cultivates a joyful attitude, and reminds you why you’re here in the first place. Next time you’re working on a particularly challenging pose, or stretching a tight muscle group, try smiling. Your face will smooth out, your jaw will relax, your body might even open into the pose a little easier. Most importantly, you’ll suddenly find yourself looking at the world from a bright new perspective—and if you smile enough, you might start to find that feeling following you around well after you’ve rolled up your yoga mat.
Juggling all of life’s responsibilities makes our time very precious—especially the time we give ourselves. The key to getting the most of your precious time for yoga, meditation or exercise—or whatever else it is that you do to feed your body and soul—is to be present, and not to let those life responsibilities turn into thoughts that creep in and distract you.
Yoga is all about being present, but ironically, remaining present while on the mat can sometimes prove to be challenging. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever started thinking about your to-do list while still lying in Shivasana.) Inspired by this blog post over on YogaJournal.com, here are some ways you can get more out of each pose, and thus more out of your time on the mat:
1. Hold each pose. When you hold a pose for long enough for it to feel a bit uncomfortable, you’re building muscle strength. But you’re also building strength of mind by showing yourself that you’re stronger than you think you are. Resist the urge to pull at your top, brush the hair out of your face, or take sip of water—fidgeting takes your body and mind out of the pose.
2. Breathe into the area of sensation. Breathing is essential to any yoga practice. With every inhale, imagine that you’re creating spaciousness in your body; go just a little deeper with every exhale. Focusing on your breath keeps you centered, stable, and present.
3. Pay attention. Try not to let your mind wander when you’re holding a pose. Not only does this make you less aware and therefore at risk for injuries, you also start to lose the quality of the pose and compromise its ability to work deeply in your body.
4. Relax. Scan your body to find out where you are holding unnecessary tension, especially during difficult poses. Common “clenching” spots include your jaw, your tongue, your neck and your shoulders. Sometimes even the area behind your eyes! Breathe and try to soften anything that doesn’t have to be tense in order to support you.
5. Change it up. If you have a regular home practice, think about where you can make little adjustments; doing so will keep your mind and body engaged, and allow deeper transformation to happen. Even little changes like lifting your chest toward the sky, or firming your leg muscles and lifting your kneecaps can work a whole new set of muscles and help you get closer to a more challenging variation. Ask a teacher for help if you’re not sure what little adjustment you should work on.
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