Want to get the most out of your yoga practice or workout?
Then pay attention!
No, that wasn’t me going all “school teacher” on you. I meant it in the most literal sense.
The more awareness you can bring to what you’re doing, the better your technique, performance and overall experience will be. And that holds true whether we’re talking about yoga, lifting weights, playing tennis, kayaking or spending time with your family or your significant other.
Knowing that you“know” what you’re doing — as opposed to just going through the motions —keeps you grounded in the present moment. And THAT is where all true transformation takes place.
So how can you reap the benefits of being more fully in the present moment?
There are 4 main ways that you can bring awareness to your practice:
- Perform each posture without body awareness.
- Perform each posture with body awareness.
- Perform each posture with body awareness, connecting your movement with your breath.
- Perform each posture with body and breath awareness. Feel the energy and/or effect of the posture while performing it, and immediately after.
You’ll probably begin with step 2 and default to step 1 as random thoughts or daydreams interrupt your concentration.
And that’s completely okay.
As long as you aren’t pushing yourself beyond what’s appropriate for your level of flexibility or physical comfort, then there’s no harm in allowing your mind to wander. So if you’re performing Tiger Pose and suddenly realize that you’re thinking about what’s for dinner, your spine will still be flexed and extended and your aching back will still feel the benefits of the pose.
All that effort is not lost.
But you can get a heck of a lot more out of it if you’re fully in the moment…
By paying attention to your body (step 2 above) you will ensure that it’s in proper alignment for safety and optimal efficiency. You’ll also be focused on moving through your full range of extension and flexion.
How to Deepen Your Practice Beyond the Basics
So how do you take your practice to steps 3 and 4 in the list above?
There is a correct way to move into and out of most yoga poses by using the breath. Once you’ve practiced yoga for a while and are comfortable with the poses, it’ll feel natural to connect your breath with your movement (step 3).
In a posture such as Tiger Pose, it just feels right to inhale when you arch your back, and to exhale when you round your back. It’s very intuitive. Breathing in any other way just doesn’t feel right.
Still confused on when you should breathe? As a general rule, when we’re talking about yoga postures that are not being held in the final position, you would normally inhale on an extension and exhale on flexion.
Connecting with your breath will help you get into and out of the posture comfortably.
And once you’re in the final position, staying with the breath will keep you connected to the pose, and it’ll help you move further into the posture as your muscles relax and your flexibility increases.
Finally, the ultimate way to practice yoga is to simultaneously be aware of what your body is doing, stay connected to your breath AND feel the effects of the pose during and immediately after you finish the repetition or come out of that posture. That’s step 4 in the list above.
So how the heck do you do this?
“Feeling the effects” means to be aware of any changes in your physical energy level, any movement or release of energy in the parts of your body that are engaged in the posture, and changes in your mood or perceived well-being.
Did you suddenly feel a surge of physical energy that wasn’t there before? Did that extremely tight hamstring finally release? Are you smiling for no apparent reason? Do you feel melancholic and don’t know why?
For example, we tend to carry quite a lot of tension in our hips, and it’s common to feel a little sad after performing some of the hip opening postures. This is especially true for women. So don’t be surprised if you feel a bit weepy after working with Butterfly or Equestrian Pose!
The true challenge of yoga is not getting your leg wrapped around your head. It is to stay present and know that you are doing what you are doing while wrapping that leg around your head. Just kidding — about the leg at least.
This focus on present awareness will bring greater depth and enjoyment to everything you do. It truly does make the world look and feel different.
But you have to practice it.
So the next time you’re doing a yoga session, lifting weights, playing darts or hanging out with your family, practice being “the witness” and monitor the level of attention you’re giving to that activity. Make a gentle effort to stay present for as long as possible.
If you notice that your mind or awareness has wandered, give it a gentle nudge and bring it back to:
- Your Movement
- Your Breath
- The Energetic Changes You’re Feeling
Awareness is truly the key to transformation in yoga and beyond.
If you practice this, I promise it will change your life.