Feel like your yoga practice has reached a plateau? We’ve got 12 quick and easy tips to keep your practice evolving.
1. Hydrate all day: Stopping to sip in the middle of your yoga practice can mess with your flow, so it’s vital to arrive to class hydrated. Focus on drinking water all day long — you’ll be amazed at what a difference it makes.
The yoga practice is a glorious dance of the physical possibilities in the human body. An advanced practice can take your breath away as easily as it can expand your ujjayi. It can twist and turn in directions that make an artist quiver with creative jealousy and inspire even the heaviest of sloths to entertain a change of mind.
That being said — it can also be intimidating as hell.
I learned, trained, teach and practice in Santa Monica, California. It is the mecca of yoga these days and the cream of the crop when it comes to beautiful practices. It’s hard to find a level 2-3 class that doesn’t have at least one yogi soaring through the air in-between asanas or adding what appears to be a level-X variation to every pose. It can often be inspiring and mind-blowing but it can also be, in a word, daunting.
Everyone has a story about why they took their first yoga class and why they keep coming back. Most involve a desire to slow down, release tension, or recover from an injury. Mine is no different.
I took my first step onto the mat to learn how to let go of tension before it turned into an ulcer, as my lifestyle at that time was very fast-paced and stressful. Little did I know that in taking my first step on the mat, I would not only learn how to tune into my breath and strengthen my body, I would learn that I had the power to transform my life by gaining a clearer understanding of the mind-body connection.
I don’t mean to Bikram-bash, but my first yoga studio experience happened to be in a Bikram studio, and it wasn’t great. What turned me off the most about the experience was the energy in the room. Nobody was smiling. I can’t stand being places where no one’s smiling — my defense mechanisms kick in, among them a very snarky sense of humor. I found myself trying to fight laughter from the jokes I was telling myself internally to qualm the awkwardness, while staying as silent externally as everyone else. It’s difficult to ground yourself and balance on one foot when you’re shaking at your core from fighting hysterical laughter!
This isn’t the way a yoga class should be. Yoga is fun. I enjoy the practice. So why do most yogis seem so serious all the time?
Yoga saved my life.
Pretty grand statement, I know. And perhaps other people say that, too. I guess depending on where you are in life or what you happen to be going through, there are a lot of things that can save your life. A good book could do it, a sign from the universe or maybe even a strong martini. But when I say that yoga saved my life, I mean it truly came into my life during one of the darkest moments I had ever experienced and gave me back my desire to really live — fully and entirely.
A few years back, I found myself completely paralyzed with anxiety. I couldn’t go to work, drive my car or even leave my house without a potential panic attack. This anxiety made me angry. It made me resentful. But most of all, it made me an entirely different person. I became a shell of what I used to be. A lot of people thought I’d stay that way. Full disclosure: I thought I’d stay that way too.
Jill Miller met fellow yogi Elena Brower this past October when they both presented at the Ojai Yoga Crib, and the two immediately struck up a friendship. When Jill found out Elena was about to publish a yoga workbook called Art of Attention (co-authored by Erica Jago), she knew she wanted to have a heart-to-heart interview: teacher-to-teacher, innovator-to-innovator and woman-to-woman. Here is Part Two of her interview. To read Part One, click here.
SCENE: A yoga class. Students are standing in Mountain Pose like a Buddhist “army.”
Teacher: Breathe in…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “sucking” sound is heard.)
Teacher: And breathe out…
Class: (A subtle, yet audible “whooshing” sound is heard.)
Teacher: Good. Now three more deep breaths just like that.
Class: (They are audibly compliant until…)
Teacher: Now step your right foot back.
Class: (The sound of 25 left feet strike the pose, and no more breathing is heard.)
Teacher: What, no more breathing? Let every movement be a prompt to remind you to breathe for the next 90 minutes.
Class: (Sound of breathing is amplified again, and class proceeds smoothly until … well, the class forgets to breathe again. And again. And again sporadically throughout the class.)
What’s going on here? Why do so many of us forget to breathe? Did you actually finish breathing?
It seems laughable, the notion of “finishing breathing.” Our nervous systems are actually built in such away that breath happens automatically, without us prompting our breathing muscles every few seconds. Think about it, a lot of mental energy is actually required to control every single breath (instead of letting it happen on its own), and our brains have a zillion other tasks to balance. But the breezy thing about breathing is that we can control it, and in so doing we can deliberately impact every system of the body.
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”~Lao Tzu
Although all mothers know this, no one can truly warn you before it happens: Your body is never the same after you have a baby as it was before you got pregnant.
Sure, we see images of movie stars who bounce back from having babies more toned and fit than they were before pregnancy, but the reality for most women is much less seamless. Having a baby affects you inside and out: You stretch and move differently, and your anatomy changes — permanently — from that growing being inside your body. That pair of skinny jeans, your high school dress and your once stretch-mark-free body often become just a distant memory. This change can make women feel imperfect or less attractive than they remember themselves to be.
When I walked into the room for my first “official yoga class” (read: not with a DVD at home, which had been my practice for years) I felt weak. I was mom to a two-year-old and a four-year-old and I was out of shape. My stomach was flabby from cesarean sections, my leg muscles shaky and my self-image less than ideal. Feeling neither powerful nor like a rock star, I just hoped that yoga would help me get back the body I once had.
It wasn’t until the day that I held Plank Pose in yoga class that I finally got it: I still had an amazing body.
Have you ever taken a yoga class and the teacher was sheepish, visibly insecure or just not confident? C’mon, you can tell me — did you want to walk out?
I don’t blame you if you did.
Last month I spent a week in Stockholm, Sweden, teaching my Yoga Tune Up® Integrated Embodied Anatomy module to a group of future yoga teachers at Yogayama studio. I arrived in icy-cold Stockholm late at night after a 22-hour journey. When I awoke jet-lagged the next morning, I was hoarse — very hoarse. With 20+ hours of teaching ahead of me over the next four days, I was concerned. There was no way to call in a “sub.”