Many Yoga practitioners are so eager to get to the more challenging poses of Yoga that they short-cut the process of building the foundation that is necessary for an effective Yoga practice. I know I was when I first started Yoga. I was often in a rush to get to the “big” poses and didn’t always enjoy spending time with the “little” things, like body awareness, breathwork, and linking movement to breath. I found teachers who would give me the workout I craved, and enjoyed sweating through the challenges.
Since I was young and fit at the time I could jump in and do a lot of challenging poses rather quickly. Though there is nothing wrong with this approach – in fact, it often suits a younger person to challenge their bodies in this way – but with experience I started to find I was missing out on a huge part of what Yoga has to offer by treating it like any other exercise. Yoga is more than just any other exercise. First and foremost, Yoga is an inner exploration that builds awareness, mindfulness, a feeling of centeredness, and yes – also strength and flexibility in body and mind. If we don’t ground our practice in the essential building blocks, we miss out on a huge part of what Yoga has to offer. One has to start with the basics, and come back to them again and again to get the full effects of the process.
As a Yoga practitioner, one probably has to arrive at the sense there is something more to Yoga than mere exercise on their own. The wonderful movement and purely physical part of Yoga is often the portal to the deeper levels of the practice. That’s how it worked for me. As I continued to practice, I saw that the inner work in Yoga was cultivated by the “simple” poses and that there are no short cuts to this deeper level of awareness. Now, as a teacher and a practitioner, I focus on what many would call “basic” poses and in the process, encourage a deep awareness of sensation, breath, and linking movement with breath throughout the practice. I do this mainly because this is how I found Yoga to be most helpful to me. But through my continued study and research over the years, I know that many master teachers teach this way too and get good results as well. Yes, it is fun to throw in a challenge pose to the mix – but what I find works most effectively in my Yoga practice is returning to simplicity again and again.
Some suggestions to deepen and improve your practice:
- Return to simplicity. Feel the fine points of the basic poses, which you will be able to do better in these simple poses than in the more complex ones. When you feel motivated to add a more complex pose, be aware of the finer points of the basic pose contained within the more complex pose. You’ll be able to feel the subtleties much better in the complex and combined movements if you’ve taken this time to experience them in the foundational movements.
- Don’t push past your “edge”. You will progress better if you feel the edge, and come off it about 5%. This will enable you to explore sensations much more effectively, and to create greater awareness in general.
- Go slowly, and spend time in each pose. Your ego will prompt you to keep going as soon as you come into a pose, but try to slow down and really experience what’s happening.
- Give your breath priority. Always find the breath in each pose, in each sequence. If you cannot feel your breath, or your breath feels ragged, you are almost certainly pushing too hard. There is a thorough, expansive quality that occurs when you practice Yoga with deep awareness of the breath. It’s one big thing that makes Yoga different from other exercise.
- Have a deep awareness of the part of your body that is touching the floor in every pose. This will literally keep you grounded throughout your practice. Return again and again to this sense of being grounded and breathing throughout.
Rooting myself in the basics, with an emphasis on these five points improved my Yoga practice greatly. Try it and see if it doesn’t do the same for you.