The timeless practice of yoga is more popular today than ever before. Through the study of yoga and regular yoga practice come infinite avenues to explore the full capacity of the physical body and the mind.
Getting the most from your yoga program will mean taking the time to cultivate the yoga approach. Yoga focuses less on the goals and benefits and more on the present movement and action in itself. The essential purpose of yoga is not to be healthier or fit, but to bring the body, mind, and spirit together regularly.
With this in mind, the following tips for improving your yoga practice are geared toward facilitating regular yoga practice and building awareness of mind and body.
Consistency is Key
The only way you will begin to make notable progress in your yoga performance is through consistent practice. In the beginning, you will want to complete your practice no less than three times a week. It’s a good idea to attend a studio or fitness center yoga class to get a feel for the movements and a solid foundation in yoga fundamentals. However, practicing at home is just as beneficial and there are many online instructors to demonstrate proper form. Keep in mind that consistency is far better than maximum effort.
Know Your Practice
It is easy to be thrown off by the immensity of the topic and the plethora of schools and styles of yoga available. But, yoga has it all: improved physical conditions, cognitive functions, weight loss, recovery from injury, heart health and more. Taking some time to research the best school for your needs is the quickest route to the yoga style for you. Remember that trying out different styles, teachers, studios and approaches is a healthy way to broaden your exposure to yoga as a larger practice for healthy living.
Invest in Proper Equipment
You wouldn’t head out on an expedition to the Matterhorn or the North Pole without proper preparation and equipment – the rigors would be insurmountable. In the same way, your practice of yoga will be greatly facilitated with the application of proper clothing and equipment.
Begin with a good quality mat. Attempting to do yoga on the bare floor, living room carpet or shabby yoga mat increases the danger of injury and saps your confidence. Dedicated yoga clothes support a yoga frame of mind during practice and are comfortable and light enough not to be a distraction from the subtleties of the practice. As your practice continues you may also find the blocks, straps, blankets and eye pillows used in some styles are useful to your practice of yoga at home. These props can be used to deeply relax chronic tension and enhance the practice in other ways.
Smile and Be Comfortable
Body types are very different and some people are naturally more flexible than others. Respecting the limits of your body is essential to a happy and productive yoga practice. As you bend, learn about the range of motion allowed by your body, as this will be the only way to safely increase it. Love your body for the range of motion it has and don’t compare yourself to the instructor or even the yogi practicing next to you1. You must be stable and comfortable in your pose. This strikes that perfect chord between pushing yourself too far and just being lazy.
Yoga should be practiced with happiness and enthusiasm. Get used to wearing your comfort and joy on your face through the practice. This way, if you overstretch, you will notice. As you return to your comfortable positioning your ease and comfort with the practice will come back naturally. As you become more attuned to this key performance indicator, your progress will improve easily.
Use Essential Oils
The natural aromatic essences of spices and herbs make an excellent support for practicing yoga. Aromatherapy applies fragrant essences diffused in the air and topically massaged on the body to improve health, reduce pain and create a positive and clear mental connection to the moment.
Throughout your yoga practice, but especially at the beginning, you may find days where your mind is too stressed or the body too excited to simmer down and focus on practice. When this happens, essential oils can be applied for modulating the body and mind and enhancing serenity.
Refine the Breathing
One of the fundamentals of yoga that must be mastered is pranayama or yoga breathing. In yoga philosophy, good health and long life come from the refined breathing that utilizes diaphragmatic motion. Newcomers to the yoga practice are invariably surprised at how irregular and dysfunctional their regular breathing patterns are. Fine-tuning the breathing is essential to interfacing with the mind and cultivating prana, the ethereal “breath within a breath” that most of us are unaware of.
Here again, essential oils can help to stabilize erratic breathing and facilitate practice. Some of the organic compounds in essential oils contain bronchodilators that open the air passageways and encourage deep breathing. Proper Breathing is also an important aspect of other therapeutic practices like forest bathing and Paleo Air.
Cultivate Mindfulness and Meditation
Yoga applies mindfulness as it draws the attention to the breath as they are connected to the motions and poses. Meditation and mindfulness are as simple as a single focused breath. Through the cultivation of mindfulness, the execution and advantages of physical yoga practice are elevated. Practicing these mental disciplines goes on to benefit academic, professional and personal pursuits through its wide range of emotional and cognitive improvements.
Expand Your Experiences
After you have become familiar with a single yoga style, practicing new styles with new teachers can equip you with new tools and methodologies for furthering your practice. Yoga retreat provides the ideal seclusion and positive reinforcement to refine your practice and reset your body and mind. There are also yoga festivals, where experienced yogis and swamis transmit yoga teachings and instruction2.
This is also a great way to meet people who share a similar practice as your own. The encouragement and camaraderie of like-minded yogis can be an important support to your practice.
Keep a Journal
Being able to look back on the places you have been and the routes that have brought you thus far is encouraging and educational. Many physical improvements, life changes, and perspectives are adjusted gradually over time or insights are only apparent for fleeting moments. Keeping a journal on hand for revelations, secrets, and feelings can help you reflect on your true self and the direction of your practice both on and off the mat.
As you look over the achievements you’ve made that you never thought possible, you will feel elated and there is hardly a better way to boost your dedication.
Consider a Private Class
Working in a fitness center yoga class or even in a yoga studio can be highly beneficial to your practice, but after a while, you may consider taking a private session. In a personalized environment, the experienced yoga teacher can observe your performance closely and point out some important areas that need improvement as well as the areas that are your strengths. When it comes time to practice some of the more physically demanding poses, private instruction can reduce the learning curve and chance of injury.
The physical exercises and postures practiced in yoga are actually only a small part of the overall yoga practice. As your personal yoga path takes you to deeper understanding and mastery of the body, breath and mind connection, it will be almost impossible to not apply these concepts to every aspect of life. One important lesson from yoga is how to maintain composure while placed in a challenging position. The relaxed breathing and full awareness applied to challenging positions can also be applied to many challenges that face us day to day3.
Much in the same way, the positive and compassionate view of the self is transformed into joy, kindness, and enthusiasm for life. This type of vigor and zest is highly-contagious and will inevitably spill out on those around you. The improvements are enhanced through allowing these natural lessons to manifest themselves in all aspects of your life. Expect that as more lessons are learned more will be found; it’s a pretty extensive and interconnected philosophy.
Let Yoga Change Your Life
As you begin to cultivate your practice of yoga, you can expect your life to change. The changes begin small with improvements of the muscles and connective tissues; soon the organs and brain are optimized and the beneficial adjustments continue from there. Because yoga improves the health of the mind and body, you may find yourself losing an appetite for foods, habits and even relationships that are not healthy to your mind and body.
As a set of philosophies and practices for optimizing all aspects of life, you will find yoga practice touches on all aspects of living a healthy life. As you begin applying more mindfulness, compassion, and awareness to work, relationships and personal life, you will see less energy is required to make more progress. The circle is completed when the increased balance of your life off the mat actually begins to give you the peace of mind and serenity to take your mat practice to new levels as well.
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