A Slackrobatic Lesson in Yoga
This is not your typical how-to tutorial, where I tell you how to do certain yoga poses or how to meditate. (But we have a blog about that too! Read it here.) THIS article is about bringing awareness to key elements of a healthy yoga practice, and how you can incorporate them into your own practice. But first of all…
What is Yoga? and… What does it mean to do yoga?
You could ask a lot of different people those two question and get a lot of different answers that could all be correct. The fact is, there are many forms of yoga and many ways in which to practice yoga. The word Yoga itself is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj, which means “to yoke” or “to unite” or ” to concentrate”.
Yoga is the practice of finding union of body, mind, and spirit. Although different, all the styles of yoga incorporate some element of breath work, asanas or body postures and meditation. To do yoga is to practice these elements of breath control, body postures, and meditation. Yogis strive to pursue these practices on a consistent basis.
Key Elements Of Yoga
There are a lot of elements to yoga and the poses that make up the practice, but there are a few that stand out to me that I’d like to share with you. These few elements that I perceive to be important, come from years of my own personal practice. As well as, from observing and listening to teachers spanning a wide variety of yogic backgrounds. The elements I’d like to discuss today are breath, alignment, patience & practice.
1. The Element of Breath
Breath is the leader when it comes to yoga. It leads your movements and helps relax and stretch the muscles and tendons. Breath is also the guide to calm the mind, to settle that constant chatter in the head. Overall, breath is the number one element of yoga that can help you dive the deepest into your practice.
On the yoga mat, take time in each pose to take 3 full breaths. Take in full body breaths, filling every pore with oxygen, and then exhale the toxins away. Along with the breathing, visualize what the breath is doing, or where it’s going. If I have an area of tightness in the body, I imagine little bubbly air molecules going through my body as I inhale. I focus on the area of tightness and navigate those air molecules to that area to massage the tightness away. I picture the tension and any toxins released from the air massage, being released out of my body as I exhale.
During meditation, try using your breath as a focus point to help calm the noise of the mind. I like to visualize the word BREATHE inflating as I inhale and deflating as I exhale. Or I visualize my breath branching out through my whole body. My goal is to fill every nook and cranny of my body with fresh air, and to dust off the cobwebs with my exhale.
Off the mat, allow your breath to guide your steps. Take a walk, inhaling slowly for two steps, then exhaling slowly for three steps.Work your way towards twice as many steps on the exhale as the inhale. Lengthening your exhales can be beneficial for calming the nervous system as well as the mind and muscles.
Finally I encourage you to check in with your breathing pattern several times throughout the day. See if you’re breathing shallow or deep. Observe how you feel and what you’re doing. Take three full belly breaths and carry on about your day. Over time you will start to devolve a personal relationship with your own breath and learn how it affects you.
2. The Element of Alignment
Now let’s talk about alignment. More important than doing a pose to its fullest potential, is listening to your body and maintaining proper alignment. In other words don’t compromise form to try to do what the teacher or some other student is doing. All of our bodies are different, so each pose may look a little different on each person.
As long as you breathe while maintaining proper alignment in a pose (proper stacking and proper muscular engagement) you’re doing a yoga asana and receiving the benefits. If you don’t know the proper alignment for a pose, or what muscles to engage, ask for a teacher’s assistance in class. Yoga instructors are there to facilitate the best experience possible.
You can also do research in books and online to get guidance on proper alignment and solid bone stacking cues. Most important is listen to your body, if you feel pain, come out of the pose and realign. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you can do a fancy yoga pose, it matters that your body is safe and healthy.
Ego can flare its head when it comes to alignment, worrying more about looks or achievement, then form and application. Typically I find if my ego is screaming, I need to give it a little attention. I then take a moment with myself and remind myself that yoga is a journey. I as show myself a little appreciation for the efforts I am putting in. Then my ego settles and I have room for the next crucial element of yoga…patience.
3. The Element of Patience + Practice
A little patience goes a long way. Often people want to see immediate results from any activity, and the truth is yoga takes time. It takes time learning how to use your breath, particularly if you’ve never been taught how before. It takes time to learn new body postures, correct alignment and how to settle the mind. Time and practice! These are two key elements that go hand in hand.
With regular practice it’s like anything else, the goals you set become achievable. And like anything else it’s important to set realistic goals. You may not be about to touch your toes or do a splits right away, and the thing is, that’s okay. Participating in a regular practice and giving yourself time and patience, will certainly bring you closer to touching your toes than not trying at all.
Simple Recipe For Results
Yoga if nothing else, is a journey not a destination. For some it becomes a lifestyle, a way of interacting with your day, yourself, and others around you. Be kind to yourself, appreciate and celebrate every little success or progression along the way. Whatever amount of time you can afford to your practice is ok.
The important thing is that you show up for yourself even when you don’t want to. That you hear the ego scream “I can’t do that!” and you say “It’s okay, we are going to give it our best attempt anyways.” If you follow this simple recipe, you will see results and your body and mind will thank you. Just keep circling back to the key elements:
Breathe, Alignment, Patience + Practice
Thanks for reading.