How to Make the Most of Your Yoga Practice

Yoga is first and foremost an individual practice. This means that everyone in a yoga class is experiencing different levels of challenge and discomfort at any one time, they will have differing strengths, different thoughts and feelings arising from each posture, and everyone will deal with that experience differently.

This means that while in a studio class you might have the guidance of your teacher, it is still your responsibility to take what you can from the class and make the most of your practice.

This is even more true when practising at home, either free-flowing or following a video. To help, I’ve rounded up my top tips for really reaping the benefits of your practice:

At a Yoga Studio

Don’t eat a large meal beforehand – this might seem obvious to some but it’s still worth mentioning. Yogis believe practising first-thing in the morning, or last thing before dinner at night are the optimum times to really allow the asanas to work their magic. If your body is working on digesting lunch it’s not going to be able to give you it’s full attention during your practice.

Turn up early – I know, I know, this is probably just the teacher in me talking right? Well, yes, by turning up late you’re impacting the practice of those around you, but more importantly for you, you’re creating an environment for yourself where you’re rushing to get settled, your mind is distracted and you’re likely to stay that way throughout the class.

Find a good spot – this links with above, because if you turn up early chances are you can grab your favourite spot in the room. This is different for everyone…maybe you like to be close to the teacher, so you can see their demonstrations easily, or maybe you prefer to have a more private spot in the corner at the back. Your positioning in the room should be comfortable; a safe place for you to explore the practice within, and if you’re getting glare from the sun outside, or a draught from the air-con on your head you won’t be focussed.

Warm up – all good yoga teachers will include a warm up in the class, but this is generic to all the students and might not give attention to the areas you really need to warm up. Maybe you have a particularly tight lower back, or stiff hamstrings; give these areas some love before the class starts so you can hit the ground running.

Use props! – all good yogis realise the importance of props; using them doesn’t make you bad at yoga (not that that’s even a thing…but that’s a whole other blog post)!! Quite the opposite in fact…using props means you’re honouring your body shape, type and abilities, and in most cases, are supporting yourself properly to allow safe and supported access into postures you may not be ready for just yet. Don’t worry about what the person next to you is doing…do what you need to do!

Let go -  related to above; comparison, judgement and self-doubt should be banished from your mind throughout your practice. Let go of any expectations you had going into the class; you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment if you don’t. Allow yourself the space to explore, succeed and fall throughout your practice and just notice each experience as it comes. Some days you’ll be able to stand in tree for hours on end, others you’ll fall after seconds. That’s life, that’s yoga, and once you realise that you’re on the road to a far more satisfying practice.

Breathe -  you’ll forget. Once you notice you’re holding your breath just gently pull your attention back to it. Sounds simple, but when you’re in a really tricky, or challenging posture the chances are you’re going to hold your breath, which will only make it harder! Remember, always, breathe.

During Home Practice

Find a good spot- practising at home can be a challenge; particularly if you have family, pets or housemates who share your space. Try and stake out a special corner just for your practice, and if you can leave your mat rolled out there to encourage you to get on it as much as possible. If this isn’t possible, try to set aside time and space without distractions (early morning before everyone else is awake is usually a good one!). Make sure the space is as clear of clutter as possible and you have space around your mat to move, and fall.

Have props nearby – if you don’t have yoga blocks, straps and blankets you can use books, belts/towels and/or cushions as props in your home practice. Make sure they’re in reaching distance so you can grab them quickly once you decide to move into a posture in which you require a bit of assistance.

Put your favourite music on – this is completely personal, but I love listening to y favourite tunes when I free-flow at home. Usually the tempo of the music will dictate how I move, and it makes it more organic, and for me, more enjoyable. If you’re not sure your type of music is right for yoga practice, check out my public playlists on spotify to play.

Choose 1 focus area/posture – if you’re not following a video, and instead just free-flowing, try to pick an area or posture you want to work on and build your flow around that. Start with a warm up, then some sun salutations, followed by the postures you want to work on/postures targeting the area you want to work on, followed by stretching and savasana. Of course, if you’re free flowing you can change your mind as you go, listening to what your body needs, but I find starting with this structure helps.

Warm up – don’t just go straight into your arm balances, or more advanced postures without warming up your body first! There’s no teacher telling you to do it, so it’s your responsibility to look after your body and protect it from injury!

Study the postures – without a teacher there to correct your positioning, you take on the responsibility of your alignment yourself. Take the time, outside of your practice, to study the correct alignment, particularly in tricky areas such as the knees, ankles and wrists, so you avoid repetitive incorrect and unsafe positioning. Use this handy Intro to Yoga PDF for alignment Do’s and Don’ts or watch my quick how-to videos.

Don’t skip savasana! – it’s a big one, but so important! Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you should jump off the mat after your last posture and get on with your day! Savasana is the time when your body can absorb all the good you have done during your asana practice. Blood and nutrients can rush to the spaces in the body you have unblocked, the stretched muscles relax into their new shape and the mind is at its clearest, having focused on nothing but breathing and moving for however long you have been practising. Use a timer and set it for 5-6 minutes, so you don’t start feeling anxious about the time while you’re in it and can truly relax. Come out of your savasana just as you would in class; slowly and gently, sealing in all the goodness and energy you have just cultivated! Read my tips here for making your savasana blissful

 

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