Yoga is Unique to the Individual. Even though we practice as a group, we are all different, so you cannot expect to be as flexible or as strong as the person next to you. Yoga happens on the inside. It is the sensations we feel in body and mind that define our practice – not how we look compared to others. Breathe and move at your own rate. We will meet again at the next pose (asana). If you know the asana and can do it on you own – go for it! If you need to go deeper – do so. This is your Yoga!
Flexibility is not a Prerequisite. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be flexible to practice Yoga. In fact, those of us who are not flexible (me included!!) have the most to gain. We are quicker to experience the sensations brought on by the asanas and as a result can very often realize more profound effects than those who have to challenge their bodies more to get the same experience.
Less is More. Do not expect immediate results in terms of increased flexibility. It took us years to become inflexible. It will take years to return to the flexibility we enjoyed as children. Never push yourself into a posture so hard that you feel pain. You will injure yourself and slow your overall progress. Come out of an asana any time you need a break and renter when you are ready. Yoga is not a competition! Challenging sensation or mild discomfort in an asana is OK. It means that stretching is taking place and progress is being made. But, take it easy. Listen to your body. At the end of the practice you should feel good!
Follow Your Breath. Breath is just as important as movement, maybe even more so. Have you noticed that when you are are tense or stressed your respiration rate increases. When you relax it slows. The really neat thing is the reverse is true. By consciously slowing and deepening our breathing we can relax our mind and body. Breath is integral to entering, maintaining and exiting the asanas. When we move into a new position our bodies’ instinctive response is to tense the associated muscles to protect us from injury. By breathing properly we can relax deeper and more safely into the asanas.
Stay in the Present Moment. When you enter the Yoga studio, leave the rest of your day outside. Set aside what has, and what hasn’t, happened. Focus on Yoga. Free yourself from life’s many distractions. After all, that is why most of us come to Yoga in the first place. By keeping the mind clear we greatly increase the sense of relaxation, calm, and well being that Yoga can bring. Keeping our attention firmly focussed on sensation and breath is an excellent way of staying in the present moment. In Yoga there is no before, there is no after, there is only now! Peace of Mind can be earned one moment at at time.
Bringing it All Together. With your best alignment, follow breath to mindfully enter the pose, watching sensation through the entire range of motion. Allow sensation to guide how deeply you go, finding challenging, but never painful sensation. Find one place in your body that feels soft or relaxed. Maybe it’s only your fingertips, or the muscles of your face. Embrace this relaxation and use your breath to send it to every part of your body, especially the place where sensation is strongest. Look for balance between effort and ease. Watch yourself from this place with interest, equanimity, and compassion. Be the silent witness. Shift awareness to breath and use it to stay here, one breath, one moment at a time. With each exhalation allow yourself to sink as deeply as your body permits, never forcing your way. Instead of holding the pose, release into it. Just let it happen. Suspend judgement and accept where you are now as your full expression of the pose. Every few breaths, check in with sensation, then come back to breath. Allow breath and sensation to keep awareness completely grounded in the present moment. Enjoy the stillness. Enjoy the peace. Follow your breath to move slowly and mindfully out of the pose, maintaining awareness of sensation, and staying in the present moment