Yoga has been a form of mental and physical exercise for thousands of years. The beauty of yoga is that you don’t have to be a yogi or yogini to reap the endless list of benefits. Whether you are young or old, overweight or fit, yoga has the power to calm the mind and strengthen the body.
California based Yoga expert and instructor Nina Jarnum gives her top tips for improving your Yoga skills whether you are a beginner or an advanced Yogi.
Move with your breath! Consider your movement an extension of your breath; as you inhale you expands, and as you exhale, you either contract or relax. On the surface, this is very natural, for example; when you are coming from a forward fold to mountain pose, the most natural way of breathing is moving on the inhale, as you are moving from compression in the forward fold to extension in the mountain pose. However, you might want to come up with focus on a stronger more engaged core, and moving on the exhale will help that. There is therefore plenty of room for exploration, moving with the concept of inhale expand, exhale contract or relax.
2. Think less about how the pose is supposed to look, more about what the pose is supposed to do.
I often see students trying to emulate how they think the pose is supposed to look, be it from Instagram pictures or the experienced practitioner in the front of the room. The truth is, this may very well not be how the pose should look for you. Yes, we aim for alignment, but even more important; what is the purpose of the pose? If you have super tight hamstrings, and sitting on the ground in L-shape is stretching your hamstrings to the max, what exactly is the point of you moving into a forward fold? You are already getting the stretch. If you have weak arms and shoulders, you will get plenty of strength building, lowering down to chaturanga with your knees on the ground, and you will put less strain on your shoulder joints.
3. Leave your ego at the door!
This is in direct correlation with the previous point. It is your practice and it will not look like anyone else’s practice, because you do not have the same body. Part of a yoga practice is acceptance of what is… Even when it bruises our egos. Just because the person in front of you is a pretzel, it does not mean you are… and it doesn’t make your practice less than theirs. You can handstand and still have an unhealthy body… you can do a full split and still be stressed. Make your yoga practice about you; your body… your mind… not the person next to you.
4. Thinking about the subtleties will make you present in your body.
As a teacher, I like asking my students to pay attention to the little things such as “are you lifting the arches of your feet?” Or “are you engaging your hamstring right now?” Yes, I say that because I want you to engage your hamstring and lift your arches, but more importantly, I want to turn your focus on your body; be present in your body. When we focus our minds on our body, our breath or even a piece of music, we give our brain a rest from all the day to day stresses, a breathing space if you will. Next time you practice, try to run a scan through your body; what is tight, what feels good etc… focus your full attention on your body and the movement.
5. Don’t skip final Savasana!
Yoga classes always end with Savasana; lying down, closing your eyes, relax everything. On the surface it might seem pointless, but it is important. Do you ever notice how stillness can be uncomfortable? We start to squirm; our mind wanders… sometimes it’s downright uncomfortable. After moving, challenging and stretching your body, you are ready to be still… Really still! This stillness resets your nervous system after movement and it truly sets your yoga practice apart from other movement, leaving you relaxed and energized all at the same time. So next time that little voice inside your head suggests you skip Savasana; don’t listen! Claim it and enjoy that your body is ready to be still!
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