Do you practice yoga for your mind, your body or both? Do you expect it deliver everything from stress relief to a toned, slim body? Do you squeeze a class into a hasty lunch break - get the Selfie but skip the Savasana? Maybe, you’re pushing your physical limits to achieve an Insta-worthy backbend? Whatever your yoga style and yoga goals, our modern, Westernised-approach to yoga with its focus on flexibility, fitness and aesthetics invariably accompanied by some kind of technology, be that fitness tracking or Story highlight, has come a long way from its spiritual ancient roots.
I’m not criticizing or judging this – in fact, I believe it’s yoga’s inherent flexibility, its ability to adapt and offer a unique experience for everyone is exactly what keeps it relevant, beneficial and accessible. Yoga has changed, and it will continue to change as we ask it to deliver different results and benefits to compliment our busy, evolving lifestyles – however, I do wonder about our fast-paced, cortisol-driven consumption of what is essentially a life path of learning. Is yoga becoming yet another thing to hastily tick off our daily wellness checklist? Yoga done, thank you next, oat milk decaf latte drunk, thank you next, 10,000 steps walked, thank you next …See where I am going with this?
I love how more and more yoga studios are introducing candle-lit sessions, aromatherapy, singing bowls, crystals, even cacao ceremonies but check out the full time table, scroll your Instagram feed, look at the clothes designed for yoga – there is no escaping that modern yoga is more athletic than holistic and the message we are most often exposed to is more about the improving the body than the mind. Are you comfortable with this? What are your yoga goals, where is your yoga practice heading?
Is it time you took a deep breath and turned your focus away from the external, away from technology and journeyed inward to revisit why you started yoga in the first place? It certainly was for me. I was curious to see if I could return to a more mindful practice while still challenging myself physically and making progress and so I have deliberately and intentionally spent the last month on my mat reconnecting with those precious, mindful qualities that yoga has to offer, the ones that drew me away from the gym and on to the mat, many moons ago.
If any of what I have been saying resonates with you take a read of the tips I’m sharing below. They helped me re-assess my yoga practice and I hope they will help you too if you feel your practice has become more of a workout than an experience, more of a chore than a ritual.
Let me know how you get on, wishing you love and wellness on your yoga journey, Lucy xx
1. Remove distractions, settle down & set an intention
Start your practice as you mean it to continue – calm and focused. This is especially important if you’ve noticed yourself losing focus in class more and more often. It’s natural for our minds to be distracted (noticing how much my feet really need a pedicure always gets me, or someone else’s cute yoga pants, now where did they buy those?!) and curious but in today’s high tech world, where we’re always connected to technology our concentration is decreasing rapidly and it’s become even harder to focus on one thing and stay mindful on our mat. My advice? Remove distractions (that would be kids and pets in my house) and technology. If you want to keep your phone or fitness tracker with you, do whatever you need to do (switch off notifications, adjust any settings, record your session, start the playlist etc) and then leave them alone. Place your phone preferably out of sight, hidden under something or behind you at the back of your mat. If you usually jump straight into sun salutations, begin instead in a seated pose, ground yourself with deep inhalations and exhalations and set an intention to carry through your practice that you can revisit at the end.
2. Focus on and keep returning to the breath
Stay connected to your breath. We all know we should be using our inhalations and exhalations to aid us as we move in and out of the postures but often we forget as we start to get tired or the poses become more difficult to achieve and demanding to hold. Keep returning to the breath in the present moment rather than thinking ahead to which posture is coming next. Throughout your practice notice and respect your breath and allow yourself to stop and take a break if you need to. Rather than popping off to go the bathroom or stopping to drink some water, come to Child’s Pose or Downward Dog and really rest until your calm breath and focus returns.
3. Avoid comparing your practice to others
Do you feel under pressure to perfect advanced poses or feel disappointed that you are still doing the level 1 option, while everyone else seems to be doing the level 2 variation? Is your Instagram-feed filled with yogis creating amazing, gymnastic like shapes that seem a million miles away from the poses you practice in class? It can be overwhelming, frustrating, even envy-inducing to compare your practice to that of others.
I have been practising yoga for years yet there are still so many postures I have yet to perfect and I still regularly have to send my ego-packing! We are all where we need to be, on our own mats, on our own journey. Do your best to stay connected to what makes the most sense for you in every pose and remember the beauty of yoga is that whatever level you practice at, you can still reap all of yoga’s wonderful benefits. One thing that has helped me to avoid comparison game while still moving forward with my practice is to focus on one specific posture I want to work on and then mindfully break it down and incorporate it regularly into my practice to help me make some real measurable progress rather than forcing my body to learn it quickly.
4. Mindful doesn’t necessarily mean slow & spiritual but it can
I used to attend ashtanga self-practice every morning, I have never worked physically harder neither have I ever had a more a mindful or spiritual experience – the two are not mutually exclusive. You can have hard, fast mindful yoga and you can also have gentle, slow, mindful yoga. Mindfulness is not about style or pace – it’s about how we approach and experience our practice. Whichever style you practice or level you’re at, mindfulness is something we can all tap into. I write this because recently I’ve been so busy flowing through my Vinyasas, picking and mixing the bits I like, plus trying to multi-task by adding in the poses that tone my abs and hone my arms, that I think I was actually missing the deeper health and wellness benefits that the postures can offer and just getting a workout. Just slowing down the vinyasas, and holding each pose for at least five breaths is really helping me stay present and stop rushing.
5. Surrender into Savasana
I was taught that Savasana is not just a chance to finally relax but also an opportunity to absorb all the benefits of the practice and hold on to them so that they can journey deep within our bodies. Knowing this, I’ve always been a stickler for staying and not rushing off at the end class. However, at home I am guilty of skipping the Savasana in favour of a little seated gratitude meditation. This past month, I’ve been returning to Savasana even if that means cutting out a few seated poses and find I am leaving the mat feeling much more refreshed and at peace. If you’re tempted to skip the Savasana and get on with your day, try not to.