While practicing yoga, there is always somewhere to grow: to make a pose more challenging, breathe deeper, to stretch a bit further out of your comfort zone, and into a place of sweet discomfort. Yoga cultivates gentle growing pains as it exerts the muscles rarely utilized in other activities. The growth in your yoga practice can come in various ways. You might be able to hold a balancing pose much longer than the week before. You might try “Crow pose”—using your core and triceps to create a new stepping stone for your body. What is the worst that will happen? That you might fall down? Fall down seven times—back up eight!
Now, I am not an expert yogi—the following tidbits of advice are what I’ve picked up from yoga instructors and I’m only sharing information that has worked for me to get more out of standard yoga poses and, I hope, will work for you too!
"Yogahands" by lululemon athletica - SSC Yoga with Eoin Finn. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yogahands.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Yogahands.jpg
Good Old Fashioned Breathing
Especially in poses like Child’s Pose, filling your lungs slowly, your “Ujjayi” (pronounced “Oo-jai”) breath should fill your body in three parts: belly, chest, lungs. You should feel like you are filling up with air like a balloon. Then to exhale, your breath will descend downwards from lungs, chest, into the belly. Think of the balloon deflating. Your breath in and out may remind you of the ocean. When you are in Child’s pose, focusing intently on your breathing can help relax your mind and body.
In my experience, those rounds of deep breathing help me to let go of the outside world and to focus inward on my practice. Yoga is internal, mindful, and it all starts with one breath. Also, I find if I focus on breathing and letting that breath go, I can get further into a stretch on the exhale. Deep “ujjayi” breathing helps me release muscle tension and hopefully gain more suppleness, grace, and serenity. I am not very “Zen,” so I need to deliberately focus in order to “chill out” as my husband regularly recommends that I ought to do;).
ften we descend into the Chaturanga, the “yoga push up” pose with elbows pointed outward in a traditional chest-driven push up, which relies on our biceps. It’s fairly easy to gain bicep strength, right? If you keep your elbows in tight to the body, as though they are glued to your sides, you’ll quickly realize how the focus shifts to the triceps. More of a challenge? Yes. Easier? No. Worth it? Let your tank tops be the judge. While coming down from a yogic push up, stop prior to reaching the floor, (no belly flop), and then pull up into cobra. So, instead of flopping to the floor, then peeling ourselves up, we begin that pull up out of the pose before the pelvis descends to the mat.
In a standard pose like downward-facing dog, you can focus on the whole body: tucking the belly button in towards the spine, lengthening and strengthening your legs by pedaling with your feet, spreading fingers wide, and trying to keep the spine a straight line. Recently, I learned that by rotating my upper arms externally, which an instructor assisted me with, you feel the position so differently. PopSugar Fitness has some good yoga resources to check out: http://www.fitsugar.com/Downward-Facing-Dog-2671016
What about corpse pose, otherwise known as Savasana? You’re supposed to just lie there, right? How hard can that be? Well, for busy people, giving yourself the permission to just be still and let thoughts float away like balloons at the county fair is tough. It is hard to let go. When I am troubled by concerns during Savasana, I will take my pointer and middle fingers together to press on the “third eye” (middle of forehead/between the brows) asking for the divine wisdom to release my burdens.
Faith and fear can’t co-exist.
If you are in a balancing tree pose and you are afraid of falling, guess what will happen? Timmm-ber. . . If you have faith that today you can find balance, stretch and wave your lovely branches, well, aren’t you much more likely to hold that pose longer than before? Have faith, not fear. In some ways, yoga is multi-tasking at its finest. I am not overly fond of multi-tasking because I know it will just add to my absent-mindedness (Hey, where did my purse go? Who hid my keys again?!) but this is the best form. Here’s why: there is so much to focus on in a “simple” posture that there is no time for self-consciousness; no room to worry about error. Yoga pushes me to ditch perfectionism at the door-- along with my sneakers.
With yoga, the goals are to improve, stretch, grow, enhance balance and look within. Don’t we all need more of those goals in our lives? Grab a little piece of Zen, however possible. You deserve it.