Yoga

Ways to Stretch More Out of Your Yoga Practice

If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you already know that yoga is more than just stretching. Yoga offers a transformation that extends far beyond physical changes to your muscles. As you flex, tone, and lengthen, many yogis take on a newfound inner glow that comes from renewed confidence, self-love, and self-respect.

However, as with any workout, you will inevitably hit a plateau with yoga that may make you want to abandon the mat before you reach this point. Here’s a few personal tips that will help you find bliss beyond the purely physical yoga benefits…

Start with an Intention

In many yoga classes the instructor may remind you to set an intention before you begin your physical practice. Now setting an intention is very personal for each and every one of us. However, no intention is too small, in fact, it doesn’t have to be complex or even really that deep.

I like the idea of devoting my practice to a personal goal, the letting go of negative emotions, or by reflecting briefly on what I’m grateful for in my life. Let me provide a few examples…if my intention is goal-oriented I may focus on what brought me to the mat (i.e., stress at work) and why I’m here today (i.e., to feel less anxious). If my devotion is letting go of negativity, I may focus on forgiveness (i.e., to my hubby for leaving his socks on the floor again), and if my devotion is gratitude, I may reflect on the people and things that make me happy.

It’s Not About How You Look, But How You Feel

When I began doing yoga in 2004, I admit I was drawn to the mat for the physical benefits. I mean, who wouldn’t want to aspire to those long, graceful limbs in a strong warrior pose? However, I’ve come to learn that yoga is more than just the outside layer. Sure, it can resemble gymnastics at times, but everybody is different in shape, size, flexibility, and ability. You may need to call on props (i.e., blocks, blankets, bolsters) to help you get the most from a pose and that’s ok.

The more I practiced, my yoga took on a more mindful tone where there was little room for perfectionism, self-bullying, and ego. Now I come to the mat as myself, I do my best and respect my body for what it can achieve, and I accept my abilities in body, mind, and spirit with each posture.

Find New Awareness

You’ve likely heard me (and many yoga teachers) use the term awareness a lot when it comes to practice. Mental awareness (i.e., what you feel emotionally and physically) as you move through the asanas (or postures) is as, or more, important than the physical stretches themselves.

For instance, repetitive physical and emotional thoughts that come up during your practice can tell you a lot about your health—in body and mind. Remaining open and aware of these physical and emotional cues will teach you a lot about your patterns, how you see and treat yourself, and lead to positive change.

Let Go, Resist the Urge to Struggle

Sure, getting your knees bent and properly stacked over one another in perfect Cow Face Pose (or Gomukhasana) certainly looks impressive to the newbie yogis. However, pushing, pulling, and straining your body to achieve the perfect posture won’t help you achieve eternal bliss, and may even result in an injury.

So do your mental and physical self a favor and focus on your breath, get rooted so you feel balanced, and yes, give the posture a try. But don’t force it. Instead, let go of the need to struggle, your yoga mat is not a battlefield. Fully surrender your body and mind to find stillness and peace in your postures and listen and learn from what they’re telling you.

Stick With It

Yogi Bhajan, the master of Kundalini yoga once said, “In your commitment is your essence of your flow of spirit. In your commitment you know who you are. Without commitment, you do not know who you are.”

It’s natural to want to give up, abandon the mat and throw in the yoga bolster when we don’t see rapid transformation. However, you may be just a few practices, asanas, or even mere breaths from a total yoga epiphany. So as you set your intention, set a commitment to your practice and stick with it. You will experience positive change.

Think of Yoga as More Than Exercise

It’s easy to think of yoga as purely exercise, however, it offers so much more. The very essence of moving through beautiful stretches as you breathe and tune into your body will certainly keep you fit and work out your knots and inflexible areas.

However, approach your mat with more than just fitness as the goal. Love the workout, but stay tuned into what the asanas bring to the forefront as far as emotional (i.e., listen to what your inside voice is saying) patterns, so you can build strength and flexibility internally as well.

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Emily Lockhart

Emily Lockhart is a certified yoga instructor and personal trainer. She believes that being healthy is a lifestyle choice, not a punishment or temporary fix to attain a desired fitness or body image goal. Anna helps her clients take responsibility for their own health and wellness through her classes and articles on ActiveBeat.

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