There are so many amazing benefits that come with a regular yoga practice, but it isn’t easy.
At times yoga can be frustrating. Some feel they are not flexible enough, that they will never have the ability to perform certain poses, that they can’t relate to the content being taught or that they can’t stay focused for a full class.
The five points below can help relieve those frustrations and make your yoga practice much more enjoyable.
1. Clarify Your Intent
Before attending a yoga class ask yourself why am I doing this?
Some of the benefits that can be gained by developing a regular yoga practice include:
- Stress Relief
- Ease of Movement
- Injury Rehabilitation
- Injury Prevention
Once you have clarified why you are doing yoga you can then choose the type(s) of yoga that fit your needs.
There is yoga that moves slow, moves fast and every speed in between. There is yoga that is focused on increasing strength while others are focused on recovery.
One of the most frustrating things, I am speaking from experience, can be going to a yoga class to develop strength and when you arrive you find out that the class focus is stress relief.
Remember not all yoga is the same. Before going to a class identify your intent and find a style of yoga that is in line with that intention.
Simple right? We all do it, but how conscious are you of how you breathe?
How deeply do you breathe? What happens to your breath when you are stressed? What happens to your breath when you are happy? What happens to your breath when you are pushing yourself physically? What happens to your breath when you are recovering?
There are many different advantages that come from learning to control your breath.
By focusing on your breath while practicing yoga you can develop skills such as:
- How to move with greater ease
- How to relax during an uncomfortable activity
- How to lesson the effects of anxiety
- How to relax in stressful situations
- How to create mindfulness
Effectively using your breath can make a class much more enjoyable.
By using your breath to lead movement it allows you to move through poses with for greater ease.
Example: Inhale and reach your arms overhead. Exhale and with a strong core and long spine bring your arms stretched out wide to the sides and fold forward from the hips.
Using your breath can allow your body to release tension which in turn will give you the opportunity to gain a greater range of motion and enhance your recovery.
Example: Inhale and allow your attention to move to a part of your body where you are feeling tension. On your exhale see if you can intentionally allow the muscles in that area of the body to relax.
Focusing on breath during your practice can help you achieve a state of mindfulness which often makes it easier to hold poses and narrow your attention.
Example: Bring your attention to your breath. How deep are your inhales? How long are your exhales? Count the length of each and see if over the next 10 breaths you can lengthen both your inhales and exhales.
3. Be Mindful
At times this ‘mindfulness‘ is linked to spiritual practices which can turn many off of participating in yoga.
Mindfulness does not need to have anything to do with a spiritual practice. High performers in all realms of life have been using mindfulness as a tool to help improve their lives and performance through increased focus, greater clarity and improved insight.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines mindfulness as:
The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.
When athletes recall peak moments in their careers they often talk about being completely lost in the moment.
This is a state of mindfulness that is often referred to as the ‘zone’. The more you practice achieving this state the more accessible it will be.
Using your breath as your focus in each moment of your practice is a very effective way to create a state of mindfulness.
Example: Bring your attention to your breath. Using a three dimensional breath feel the front, sides and back of the body expand with every inhale. With each exhale bring your attention to the quality of your breath. Allow thoughts to enter your mind, but do not pay attention to them, keep your focus on your breath.
Competitive athletes have been taught to push forward, work harder and battle through discomfort, all qualities that are helpful in achieving success in the sporting arena. Having goals is important and learning how to push past of your comfort zone is necessary.
This mindset often activates the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) which if not balanced with the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) can create extra stress, tension and fatigue.
A yoga practice can be one way to slow down and allow the parasympathetic nervous system do its job creating an environment that will enhance recovery.
Another way that ‘allowing’ applies to a yoga practice can be extremely useful for those who feel that are not flexible enough or are bad at yoga.
One way to effectively increase your mobility you need to find positions in poses that allow you to give targeted muscle groups a chance to relax which allowing them to be lengthened and increase your range of motion. Forcing a tense muscle to stretch can be counter productive, both physiologically and psychologically.
At times less is more.
5. Stop Judging
“Last time I went to yoga I saw everyone else getting into pose and I didn’t even come close.”
I truly feel that there is no one who is bad at yoga. If you come to your mat with a great attitude and ready to learn it doesn’t matter how flexible you are or how easily you can achieve a state of mindfulness, you are good at yoga.
There is no such thing as a perfect pose. Yes some people can get themselves into a position that could be used on the front of Yoga Journal, but that doesn’t mean that they are getting the most out of a pose.
There are certain principles of alignment that are important to follow, but doing the advanced version of a pose is not necessarily what you may need.
Therefore there should be no judgement by others or yourself in the ability you may or may not have to make a pose look a certain way.
I will give you an example from my own practice:
I was in a yoga class not too long ago and after the class one of my fellow students said to me, “I was in the class today.”
I asked him why. His reply, “Because I am so horrible at cowface pose (see below) that I always feel bad when doing it, but then I saw you and I didn’t feel so bad.”
I laughed and asked him if he wanted to hear something that would probably make him feel a little better. That is when I told him that I teach yoga.
There are things that we are good at and aren’t good at. Your mat is a place where you can challenge yourself, see progression and improvement, but it is a place where you don’t need to place judgement on how you perform in a class.
Bonus Tip: Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously!!!
Life is too important to be taken seriously. Oscar Wilde
I love balancing poses because they have taught me to laugh at myself almost every time I practice them.
I am not talking about handstands or headstands, because honestly I can’t do them, but balancing on one leg. Instead of being frustrated each time I become unstable I take a few seconds to laugh at myself and then refocus.
The pictures below are instances of this happening in the middle of a photo shoot.
You don’t have to be a vegetarian to do yoga, you don’t have to meditate three hours a day to do yoga and you don’t have to be able to twist yourself into a pretzel to do yoga.
All you have to do is arrive at your mat, breathe and enjoy yourself.
This Yoga for Swimmers article is brought to you by Swimming Specific Yoga the world’s top resource for online yoga classes and courses designed for swimmers.
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