Ten Tips for a Great Yoga Practice
To succeed at anything, you must know two things: the ground rules and yourself. Here are ten tips for growing your Yoga practice into a sturdy, fruit-laden tree. If you bear these points in mind, you can expect to reap the benefits of your efforts surprisingly quickly. Although you shouldn’t expect overnight miracles, correct Yoga practice can bring you multiple advantages — physically, mentally, and spiritually.
To engage in Yoga successfully, you must first understand what it is and how it works. Sometimes people rush into Yoga practice without knowing anything about it, and then they have to work through a bunch of misconceptions before they can benefit from it.
Traditional Yoga involves study, a key aspect of practice for thousands of years. You can acquaint yourself with the actual literature of Yoga — notably the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali and the Bhagavad-Gita — through the many translations available today. The Yoga tradition is vast and highly diverse. Discover which approach speaks to you the most.
Be clear (and realistic) about your goals and needs
If you want your Yoga practice to be successful, take the time to consider your personal situation carefully and then set your goals based on your abilities and needs. Ask yourself, “How much free time do I have or want to make available for Yoga? What are my expectations? Do I want to become or stay fit and trim? Do I want to be able to relax more and discover the art of meditation? Do I want to adopt Yoga as a lifestyle or explore the spiritual dimension of life?” When you’re realistic, you’re less likely to experience disappointment or guilt when your schedule seems overwhelming.
If you’re dealing with health issues or physical impediments, make sure you consult your physician before you launch your Yoga practice.
Commit yourself to growth
Even if you don’t choose to practice Yoga as a lifestyle, keep an open mind about Yoga’s involvement in your life. Allow it to transform not only your body but also your mind. Don’t put a ceiling on your own development or assume that you’re incapable of ever achieving a certain Yoga posture or learning how to meditate. Let Yoga gently work with your physical and mental limitations, expand your abilities, help you outgrow useless attitudes and negative thoughts, and discover new horizons.
Stay for the long haul
Spoiled by their consumerist societies, most people expect quick fixes. Although Yoga can work miracles in a short span of time, it’s not like instant coffee. To derive the full benefits from Yoga, you have to apply yourself diligently, which also nicely strengthens your character. The longer you practice Yoga, the more enjoyable and beneficial it becomes. Give Yoga at least a year to prove itself to you. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you may very well come out of that year with a lifelong commitment to growing with Yoga!
Develop good habits from the beginning
Bad habits die hard, so cultivate good Yoga habits from the outset. If possible, take two or three lessons from a qualified Yoga teacher, either in a group class or privately. Or pick up a book (perhaps the aforementioned Yoga For Dummies) and read about specific techniques and movements before trying out the postures and breathing exercises.
Wrong practice can do damage! Protect yourself by proceeding slowly and following the instructions step by step. Err on the cautious side. If in doubt, always consult a teacher or knowledgeable practitioner.
Vary your routine to avoid boredom
After you enjoy the initial wash of enthusiasm, your mind may start playing tricks on you. (Here are some favorite expressions of doubt: “Maybe Yoga doesn’t work.” “It doesn’t work for me.” “I have other more important things to do.” “I don’t feel like practicing today.”) If you’re easily bored, vary your program periodically to keep your interest alive. Slogging through Yoga or any exercise program serves no purpose. Cultivate what the Zen Buddhists call “beginner’s mind”: Approach your Yoga sessions (and, in fact, everything else) with the same intensity and freshness that you brought to your very first session. If you focus on each exercise properly, your mind doesn’t have time to feel bored. Also, the more you involve yourself in the spirit of Yoga, the more centered you become, lessening your likelihood of needing an exercise potpourri.
Make awareness and breath your allies
Yoga practice is so potent because, if you practice it correctly, it combines physical movement with awareness and proper breathing. Awareness and breath are Yoga’s secret weapons. The sooner you catch on to this concept, the more quickly you can enjoy satisfying results. Bringing awareness to your exercise routine also automatically strengthens your overall capacity for concentration and mindfulness. You’re able to work more efficiently and better appreciate your leisure time. In particular, conscious breathing during the exercises greatly enhances the effects of your practice on your body and mind, equipping you with the vitality you need to meet the challenges of a busy life.
Do your best and don’t worry about the rest
People often anxiously watch their progress. Progress isn’t linear; sometimes you seem to take a step back, only to take a big leap forward in due course. Be diligent but relaxed about your Yoga practice. Perfectionism serves no purpose other than to frustrate you and irritate others. In aspiring to reach your goal, be kind to yourself (and others). Don’t worry about what may or may not happen down the line. Focus on practicing now and leave the rest to the power of Yoga, providence, and your good karma.
Allow your body to speak up
Your body is your best friend and counselor, and listening to it is an art well worth cultivating. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your bodily instincts and intuitions not only in your Yoga practice but also in daily life. All too frequently, your body tells you one thing and your mind another. Learn to go with your body.
When practicing Hatha Yoga, be especially careful about letting your desire to achieve quick results get in the way of common sense and bodily wisdom. For instance, if a forward or backward bend feels risky, don’t test your luck. Or if your body tells you that you aren’t ready for the headstand (which isn’t recommended for beginners anyway), don’t fall victim to your own ambition.
In the beginning, plan to practice Yoga with others until you find your own momentum. Sometimes everyone needs a little encouragement, and a supportive environment is a great bonus. If you don’t go to a regular Yoga class, take the initiative to enlist an interested family member or friend in your Yoga practice. Yoga is a wonderful gift to give to anyone, so offer it with love and tempered enthusiasm.