10 lessons learned from my Yoga Practice

Always do your best Do your best to stay present and aware of your breath. Do your best to be compassionate to yourself, and to acknowledge your limitations. Know that your best is always changing, especially when you are physically sick, mentally distracted, or in emotional turmoil. When you do your best, you get the most of your practice, and will continue to grow and change for the better.   Rest if you need to Listen to your body before listening to the teacher. If your body gives you pain when you do a certain posture, go back to child’s pose and rest until the class comes to a sequence that you’re more comfortable with. Just like doing your best, the amount you will need to rest is constantly changing.   Talk to the teacher before/during/after class For your first class with a new instructor, come at least 15 minutes early to class to talk to him or her. Tell them your experience with yoga, injuries or surgeries you’ve had, and how you are feeling in your body. The teacher will then have an idea of alternative postures that s/he may want to show you, and what to expect from the class in general. During the class ask questions if you are unsure of the alignment of a pose, or if you feel pain or discomfort in one of the poses. After the class give feedback to the teacher, telling them what you enjoyed, and which parts you may have found confusing or difficult to follow.   Bring awareness of your posture into your everyday life Modern culture is very sedentary, and working sitting at a desk and computer can cause our posture to protract, or learn forward. Yoga is a great way to balance our posture, and leave us with a healthy, natural and flexible spine. In order to have more long term benefits we have to learn to bring the alignment and posture from yoga into our daily lives. Remembering to bring our shoulders up, back and down to open our heart, to sit straight with a slight curve in our lower back, and to bring our ears back over the shoulders to keep the natural curve of the neck. Throughout your day keep these principals in mind when you’re watching television, driving, or on your computer.   Use awareness of the breath to quiet the mind Yes yoga is stretching, but ultimately it is a way to quiet the mind, and create a union between your body, mind, and spirit. Focusing the mind on breathing allows the mind to be quiet, while becoming in touch with our body. When the mind is quiet, we are more open to our true nature, which is where true healing occurs. You can use this awareness of the breath within and outside of your yoga practice. Try bringing some of your awareness to your breath while you’re cooking, driving, going to sleep, or reading.   Do deep breathing exercises daily A full yogic breath starts by filling the abdomen, rising to expand the ribs, and going up past the chest to fill the lungs with oxygen and prana. Then you let the breath fall back down, contracting your abdomen to release as much stale air as you can. Repeat this process and you’ll gain all the benefits of deep breathing, including relaxation, peace of mind, balancing of physiological systems in the body, and an enlightened heart center. Another simple breathing exercise is alternate nostril breathing, where you close your left nostril and inhale a deep yogic breath through the right, close the right nostril and exhale out the left nostril, and inhale through the left, close the left and breath out the right nostril. You repeat the process until you feel relaxed and Balanced on both sides of your brain.   Loss of flexibility quickly follows after stopping your practice Before I started a more consistent practice of yoga, I remember going to yoga every day for a couple weeks, and then taking a couple weeks off. On the weeks where I did yoga it would take me a few days to get back into the groove. Then a few days after I stopped I would return to lower back tension, tighter hamstrings, and the sense of relaxation and peace was replaced with stress and tightness in my body. A consistent practice is essential for maintaining peace of mind, health and vitality.   Your personal practice is as important as your group practice With a personal practice you are able to hold postures longer, feel into your body, and develop more of a connection with yourself. You are able to practice the lessons you’ve learned from your group yoga classes, and it makes it much easier to apply them into your every day life. Another benefit of a personal practice is that you can pay less by taking one or two group classes a week, and yet feel as if you’re taking classes every day.   Learn the philosophy behind the practice From Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras there are eight limbs to yoga, and the physical asana practice is only one of them. I interpret them as moral practices(yamas), self-care habits(Niyama), the physical practice(Asana), Breathing exercises(Pranayama), Non-attachment to external circumstances(Pratyahara), Concentrated focus(Dharana), Contemplation of universal spirit(Dhyana), and connection of the self to the universal consciousness (Samadhi). There is so much to learn from each aspect of the yoga philosophy, and most of it is practical to your every day life. For more information on the philosophy of yoga, this website has a brief overview of the 8 limbs of yoga. Check in with your heart center throughout your day Especially when you make a decision. Look into your heart rather than your mind to see which decision feels right. When deciding how to spend your day look within and visualize which options feel the best. With everyone you meet in your day give them the gift of love, and do something heartfelt for them.   These are some of the lessons I’ve learned from yoga. What have you learned from your yoga practice? Travis is a massage therapist, you can find more information about his services at Massage.TravisDharma.com.
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