"There's a class for everyone" is a statement I would like to believe. I am hopeful but with hundreds of yoga studios in Toronto it may become a difficult task. Yoga (as far as I am concerned) is a personal mantra for life. Your life will evolve and present you with all kinds of obstacles, your yoga practice can mirror these changes if you allow it. It is constantly changing so discovering that personal touch is key to deepening your practice. Sometimes we get a crappy teacher or the room is too stuffy but using these simple tools, you will learn to self identify the elements of Yoga that follow you on and off the mat to build a deep personal practice.
Id like to introduce you to Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga, otherwise known as the yoga sutras. For yoga to have a greater positive influence on our lives, I think its important to have an understanding of its far reaching effects. We can downward dog until the cows come home but until we consciously apply a few principles to our practice we will never feel the strong psychosomatic influence these postures have.
The eight sutras are:
1. Yamas: non-harming, non-lying (basic good person stuff)
2. Niyamas: contentment, surender (Ahh, the grace of gratitude)
3. Asana: pose
4. Pranayama: breath
5. Pratyahara: withdrawal from the senses (eye covers)
6. Dharana: intense focus
7. Dhyana: state of meditation
8. Samadhi: OM or state of oneness
You are likely already practicing 3, 4 and 5. 1 and 2 are personal choices (you do you!) so I will mostly talk about 6 and 7.
Here are my four ways to personalize your yoga practice:
1. Practice Mula Bandha
Mula bandha (pelvic floor muscles) can add stability, strength and concentration to any class. When we call upon the pelvic floor muscles to act, we are bringing our pose out from the inside. Coordinating the use of the exhalation to lift the pelvic floor, will deepen your twists, make your standing postures feel solid and will likely tone your abdominal muscles.
Try this: Lay a kleenex down on a flat surface, lift the middle of the kleenex and watch the four corners draw in. That is how your pelvic floor works!
Set an Intention (Sutra #6: Dharana)
At the beginning of the class, the teacher usually allows some time to settle on your mat and come into silence. Set your intention, it can be as simple "I will find 3 deep breaths in each posture." "I will release from expectation." "I will step away from the challenge." "I am going to practice loving my knees." "I will send my kidneys positive thoughts," etc. Use your intention to stay focused on the present moment. When your thoughts begin to trail off, repeat your intention 3-5 more times.
Harness a Mantra (Sutra #7: Dhyana)
How is a mantra different from an intention, you ask? A intention will likely change from class to class or week to week. A mantra is a personal belief for why you practice yoga. Its a state of being, like a runner's high. It is for you to foster and harness. What brings you back to your mat time and time again?
Go Back to the Playground!
Props are a wonderful way to play with your practice. Iyengar had a brilliant imagination for incorporating props, use yours. I know it can be intimidating to walk in to a yoga studio and see a bunch on contraptions over in the corner, but don't be afraid. Go to class 10 minutes early and play around with some props. I follow @malayoganyc for great prop ideas.
Yoga teacher, Doula and Owner of Tayomi Births