I recently suggested 10 tips for those about to embark on their first Yoga class and whilst a lot of those tips are just as relevant for those who attend classes regularly, I thought I’d offer up some suggestions for the more seasoned class goer to bear in mind to stop class going stale.
Regardless of whether you practise yoga at a set time on regular days or not, yoga is not habitual. Every time you step on to your mat there are new emotions coursing through your head and your body will have a variety of different aches to contend with. Every time you flow into downward dog there are different sensations being felt and each twist you take reaches a different peak length.
As with all forms of exercise, it’s unrealistic to try and put your body into every asana it did the day before and moreover it won’t make your yoga practice any better even if you did.
An important question that you should ask yourself at some point is this; do you practise yoga to calm your mind or to get an intense workout? For the majority of us, the answer is both. Exercising the body and quieting the mind go hand-in-hand. If you injure your neck trying to get into shoulder stand the mind is probably not that quiet, is it? Yoga should bring you enlightenment, happiness, calmness and overall peace.
To that end, here are 7 top tips on getting the most out of your yoga sessions.
1. Hydrate and awaken the mind one hour before class.
You’re so rushed to get to yoga class that you unconsciously forget to hydrate. Sound familiar? If you find yourself always picking up a bottle of water on your way into class set a reminder on your phone to prompt you to have a glass of coconut water or a cup of herbal tea one hour before class. This will enable you to enter the room refreshed and attentive, as opposed to sluggish and drained. Remember, you don’t have to worry about a caffeine fix, your practice will naturally awaken you but hydration and nutrition help us come to the room with awareness and intent.
2. Place your mat in different parts of the room.
I know this one will meet with a few objections; after all we are mostly creatures of habit. We all have our favourite spot in the room and when someone takes it our mind sometimes conjures up crazy thoughts of confusion mixed with frustration. By pre-empting things and taking your mat to the opposite side of the room it allows you to transcend habit and can completely transform your practice that day.
3. Don’t be afraid of props.
Watch a range of physically experienced yogi and you’ll start to notice something. By and large they don’t use props. Our thought process goes something like this: I don’t need that; I can do this; that won’t help me. In reality however you can always use props for more length (for example, in triangle pose), for a feel-good factor (supported bridge), or to simply make things easier! Remember, our bodies are different every day and whatever you could do with ease today you may not be able to do as easily tomorrow.
4. Leave your phone and social media at home.
This one shouldn’t need to be here but the reality is we are fairly easily distracted. What with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email, text messaging and the like. Like it or not, we’re living in an age whereby our society is constantly connected to each other.
Yoga class is a time you’ve dedicated to yourself, so take full advantage of those two hours and leave your mobile phone at home (or at least in the locker). This helps you leave class honouring your practice and mind by letting it soak in all that we have experienced.
5. Arrive early to class.
We all know the feeling of rushing to class, cutting people off and running every amber light in the fear of missing it. If your schedule allows, leave 15 minutes earlier than you normally would to relax around the studio or set up your mat to lay in goddess pose, corpse pose or child pose. This will give you a chance to centre yourself and drift away from the day.
6. Set your intention or dedication.
Perhaps you’ve heard your yoga teacher talk about setting an intention or dedication for your practice. This is a wonderful way to start class. In the middle of your fifth round of Sun Salutation, when you are sweaty and possibly losing control of your breath, an intention can bring you back to why you came to class in the first place. It can be as simple as “learn to listen to my body”, “quiet my mind”, or “relax.” A dedication can be one that honours you, a loved one, the earth, a community or anything else. Repeat this to yourself when you are in that strenuous pose that makes your mind wander and it will bring you back to your peace and your purpose.
7. Mix it up a little.
During lion’s breath roar as loud as you can; go upside down (against the wall, safety first!), put a blanket under your knees in Savasana and OM louder than usual. (If you’re concerned with the sound of your Om, let it go!) Deviating from your usual path will leave you feeling invigorated, accomplished and enlightened.
Above all else, don’t forget to breathe and smile! Yes, a bit of a cliché but in all fairness it’s essential! Listen to your teacher when they are instructing the breathing practice and pay particular attention while holding a strenuous pose for what seems like forever… breathe deeply, stay in the present, and smile.