Last year, I traveled for eight months. Given that I’d lived in over ten different locations during that time, my Yoga space was constantly changing. Though I tried my best to stay consistent in doing my asanas, they tended to be scattered, rushed and distracted.
However, there were weeks at a time when, like at the Sivananda Ashram in Vietnam, my practice left me feeling blissful, content and empowered.
Every. Single. Time.
Why were the effects of my practice suddenly magnified? What changed? I decided I have to look deeper and investigate what exactly created this transformation. The following is a list of ways you can greatly enhance and transform the time you spend doing asana. Whether you are a complete beginner or a practitioner of many years, this information is extremely important for getting the most benefit out of your practice.
Your surroundings matter. The practice space should exude an energy conducive to Yoga, i.e. calm, soothing, quiet, clean, and sattvic. Try to stay away from crowded, noisy, polluted, or dirty areas that will serve as distractions or prevent you from relaxing fully. A good example is an open, quiet room full of natural light, or your favorite park where you go to introspect and commune with nature. Of course, sometimes this is just not possible. I have practiced asana in so many different places: in a small messy room with barely enough floor space for a mat, at festivals, at an airport, in the middle of a garden thick with weeds. However, just know that the environment you practice in will absolutely have an effect on your mind and body.
If you can, create a space exclusively for your Yoga practice. Have you ever walked into a church or a temple, and just felt the energy of the Divine from years of people coming there for worship? Space stores energy. There’s a reason people go to the office to work. So choose one place where you only practice asana, pranayama, meditation, or other mindfulness activities. If you have space in your home, you can designate a “Yoga Room”. If not you can create a “Yoga Corner” or a similar area for this purpose. It will collect and store that energy and allow you to automatically sink into the right mindset for those activities.
2. Minimize Distractions
This point feeds directly into the first one – you want to be able to focus on your practice. This means, keep the phone and computer away from your Yoga space. Concentration will be incredibly difficult if you are constantly thinking of what’s happening on Facebook or hear your friends texting you every few minutes! Try not to listen to music. Yes, this is yet another distraction that takes the mind away from the inward focus you want to have when practicing asana, whether you acknowledge it or not. In fact, even having a mirror in the room will take your attention away from relaxation and you’ll find yourself thinking about how you look.
The same goes for studio classes. If you are a dedicated studio-goer (honestly, it’s much easier to motivate yourself when someone else is teaching 😉 ), you might find yourself comparing your postures with those of others. If you can’t help it, try closing your eyes during practice, and you may just feel your breath deepen and your body soften into the pose!
Consistency is key! It takes regular daily practice for asana to become an effortless part of your routine. This is called Abhyasa, which you can read about on this post. As soon as you no longer have to spend energy persuading yourself to do it – when the practice becomes natural – the mind relaxes, it eases into the pattern, and the experience of your practice deepens.
Try it for a week. Choose a set time and place, and do your practice. It may help to use a recording, which you can find right here on our blog! You can even tell yourself for motivation that if, after a week, it hasn’t become any easier and you don’t feel any better, you may go back to your old regimen. But I promise you: after you feel the difference, you’ll never be able to forget it.
4. Be Comfortable
Now your first thought may be, “This is obvious, why would I not want to be comfortable?” Well, of course we all want to feel comfortable, especially when we’re doing something that takes effort – like your Yoga practice. Unfortunately, many of us have long forgotten about the compromises we’ve made for the sake of beauty, fads, fitting in, etc. Nowadays, what we are most used to seeing (and wearing!) are synthetic yoga pants and sports bras so tight they cut off our circulation and leave marks after we’ve removed them. Attractive? Maybe. Helpful to comfort, breathing and relaxation? Not exactly. Next time you do asana, try wearing your most comfortable pair of pants and a light cotton shirt (synthetic material doesn’t actually let your skin breathe.)
Again, the environment you practice in must be comfortable in order to be conducive to your practice. Another very popular activity is yoga in extreme conditions – like 110 degrees. Though it may be good for some things, it won’t help your mind become calm and focused, nor your body relax. Be comfortable, and you will feel the difference.
5. Supplement Your Practice
There are many different ways to supplement your Yoga practice. In fact, Asana is but a small part of just one of the Four Paths of Yoga. Aside from meditation and pranayama, which already greatly strengthen your physical practice, you can sing kirtan, chant mantra, do volunteer or charity work (also called Karma Yoga), eat a Yogic diet, or simply write grateful notes to your family, friends, teachers, strangers…
You’ve most likely experienced that feeling of mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being after your practice. That’s because the practice gives you energy, or prana. Use the prana for these supplemental activities, and you’ll find yourself on a positive spiral – the more you do these positive things, the more energy you get in return. Little by little, turn your Yoga practice into a Yoga lifestyle!
6. The Mind
If you have been practicing Yoga for even a short time, you know that most of the changes during the practice happen in the mind. Most people report that the reason they practice Yoga is that it leaves them with a sense of peace and well-being. Remember that when you’re doing asana, you’re working on your mind as much as you’re working on your body. It also happens that your mind is the biggest obstacle to your practice – to any practice. How many times have you told yourself you were going to do something, and your mind would think, “Eh. Not today. Maybe next time.” Whose decision was it? Your, or your mind’s? This is why practices like meditation are crucial to maximizing the benefits of your practice. Sometimes, your mind will just have to be ignored.
I recently came to this realization during my asana practice. I was in Paschimottanasana, feeling very excited that I’d been able to hold my handstand with no support for a short time. When my mind is excited, my body follows suit. I found myself trying to rush into the next asana, thinking, “I’ve held this long enough, it’s time to move!” But I caught myself. I thought, “what if, just what if, I didn’t listen to what my monkey mind is telling me and held it a little longer? What if I relaxed and focused? Maybe something will happen.” So I did just that. And almost immediately, a strong sense of serenity and contentment with the current moment washed over me. I couldn’t help but feel complete joy and fulfillment throughout, and after, the rest of my practice.
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May these guidelines inspire and support you on your journey. As our practice becomes more powerful, so does our sense of peace, happiness, contentment, and well-being.
May all know peace!