There are things that we need to remind ourselves as often as we can, whether we are recently starting the practice of yoga or are seasoned practitioners.
1. You and your body are totally unique and so will be your expression of yoga postures.
Trying to look exactly the same as your neighbour in a yoga class is almost an impossible thing to do. We all have different body structure; proportions of body segments, muscle insertions lengths, tissue tolerance, muscle mass, range of flexibility, different points of compression, among many other facts that could restrict how far we can go on each posture. There are no parts of our bodies or ourselves that are exactly the same as someone else's, no smile exactly like yours, no laughter exactly like yours, and no personality exactly like yours! What is important in your yoga practice, is to focus on how "you" feel, all else is secondary.
2. Focus on foundation before decoration.
When entering a posture, remember to focus on your roots; the stability of what is supporting you; whether is your feet, your knees, your shins, your sit bones, your back or your abdomen. Before doing anything fancy in a posture, the foundation needs to be steady. If there's no steadiness, no matter what you do with the rest of your body, chances are that it will be fleeting and as reckless and unsteady as a inflatable dancing character.
Don't worry too much on how a posture looks like, but on how it feels like from the ground up. Get grounded like an old tree and then do the rest.
3. Length over Depth
Our human nature is one of wanting to evolve and progress, but progress comes with practice. Don't go too deep into the posture at the expense of compromising form or risking getting an injury by pushing yourself too fast too soon. If you want to make progress, move slower, not faster, and focus on lengthening each segment of your body from the ground up as you enter each posture.
4. Don’t focus on the result. Focus on the effort you give to the process
I know this is a hard thing to do, but let go of the result. Practice with no expectations, whether you are practicing yoga or meditating, don't expect to feel good, to be still, to be relaxed, to not have thoughts, to perform a posture gracefully, etc. Have no expectations and you will make the most of your practice.
If you are practicing asanas, try not to base your self confidence on how the posture looks like, base your self confidence in the fact that you are trying and doing it, no matter how it looks. Create balance between too much and too little. Too much effort can result in an injury, too little effort results in stagnation . No one says, don't try hard, but if you practice hard, make sure you practice whole and with integrity
If you are meditating, know that the nature of the human mind is to create thoughts, so don't feel discouraged if thoughts arise, just observe them with detachment, without judging yourself for having them. When we have no expectations, we enjoy whatever comes to us even more than if we were expecting it to happen, besides we won't get upset if our expectations are not met.
5. Watch yourself react or respond
During my time as a yoga practitioner, I have noticed all sorts of emotions arising, challenges that cause something in me (triggers). I either experienced a sweet surrender or a "fight or flight" response while doing a challenging posture; wanting to get out of the posture or even (in my head) blame the teacher for "putting me" in such an uncomfortable experience. Yoga teachers, including me, can trigger emotions in practitioners as the subconscious patterns of attachment to likes and dislikes get poked.
One of my teachers used to do this on purpose and when she saw us struggling, she would say "The posture starts when you want to leave it," I always thought that was mean, but actually these "triggers" are actually the "way" to freedom; the are there to help us evolve and rise higher than our mind's attachments. Of course, if you are experiencing pain, tingling or numbness, a smart choice would be to come out of a posture, but if it is not pain and it's mainly a sense of discomfort heightened by the thoughts you have about it, you could try observe the feelings without reacting or becoming attached to the mind's chatter.
Remember that "we cannot always control what happens outside, but we can always control what happens inside." (Quote by Wayne Dyer)
6. Don’t do a posture for your neighbour, or your teacher, do it for you
Your practice is uniquely yours. No one can experience what you are experiencing, and you, better than anyone else knows your body and if you do anything to impress others, you might let yourself down. Each practitioner will experience the posture in different ways and degrees, and while feeling inspired by other people in class and wanting to push yourself out of your comfort zone is not a bad thing, it is good to notice when the wanting to push yourself more is driven by ego, or if it's because your body is ready to go deeper and invites you to do so. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where you go but where you are and how you are.
I tend to offer different variations for all levels in my classes, and sometimes not many would want to go for the easier variation, even when they seem to be struggling and there is hardly breathing happening. If we don’t breathe there's no life energy flowing through us, so we’re not free and there is no prana nourishing us. Why would I want to do a pose that makes me strain, makes me heavy, makes me feel compressed and just doesn't feel right in my own unique body? Doing an easier variation does not make us inferior to anyone, performing harder postures doesn't take you closer to enlightenment! Who cares if you decide to take a child's pose while everyone else is flowing! Who cares if you pause to catch up with our breath and miss one or two postures? No one really, Only ego does. Don't lose the relationship with yourself in order to look some certain way for other people in the room
If you take an easier variation or a rest, have the courage to stay with your individual choice and focus on the primordial ~Breath
Ask yourself the question, why do I practice yoga? Aesthetics, health, peace of mind? Your answer to that should help you determine the way you move, breathe and feel throughout your practice.
7. Don't compare your chapter 10 to someone else's chapter 50
When you go into a yoga class, especially if you are new, there might be a tendency to look around to see if you are doing the postures right, however once you know the posture you are doing, and are still looking around to see how other people's postures look like and wondering why your posture doesn't look the same as someone else's, it's a good time to pause, take a big breath and go within. I attended a yoga workshop not long ago, and someone told me that my practice was so graceful and beautiful and that she hopes that her practice some day looks like mine, she didn't know that I am a yoga instructor, who have been practicing for almost 10 years. And we never know! We don't know the background of people practicing alongside us, and even if we did, our practice is unique, and should be honoured as such <3 Remember that comparison is the thief of joy, don't let anything take the joy of stepping on your mat, connect to your breath and doing your best as you practice =)
Love and gratitude,