Recently I’ve noticed an uptick in articles and blogs listing the cardinal sins committed during yoga practice and assorted tips surrounding what not to do in classes if you hope to do more than break a sweat while on your yoga mat. These articles capture the curiosity of our ever-critical psyches with titles such as “10 Bad Yoga Habits” or “Things You Should Never Do in Yoga.” Now perhaps it’s just semantics, but in my experience as a teacher and an overly self-critical individual, people tend to get further, faster when they are told what can improve their situation or experience rather than highlighting what they might be doing “wrong.”
For those of you looking to get a little more out of your practice, here is a rundown of eight things you can do to get even more from your practice – no matter how much experience you have!
1. Show up and clear your space.
Whether we’re talking about shoes, a cell phone or a bag, you’ll bring enough of your day into the studio via your ever-turning monkey mind that avoidable distractions should be just that – avoided. Give yourself permission to step away from physical ties to the outside world for the length of a class in order to help clear a path into yourself and through yourself.
2. Show up clean (and leave clean).
Literally. Depending on the type of yoga class you are taking, it is reasonable to assume that you’ll end up a red, hot, sweaty mess, so why bother with the pre-class rinse? The two most widely held reasons for a brief pre-class shower are to aid in the release of tension in your muscular system and to rid the skin’s surface of toxins. When practicing in a heated environment, sweat glands excrete a mixture of water, chemicals, salt and sugars. Excess dirt, oils and/or topical skin care products (think scented lotions and such) can clog your sweat glands and inhibit your body’s ability to dissipate heat and rid itself of toxins. And yes, that was a subtle hint to take it easy on body sprays, lotions, etc. prior to class. These can not only affect your skin but also your respiratory system and those of the students around you.
As it relates to post class showering, things are little more debatable. Tradition tends to assert post class showers can play a role in disrupting the flow of prana or life force energy you worked diligently to unblock with your physical practice while science leans the other way. Albeit it rare, leaving excess amounts of sweat on the surface of your skin can allow bacteria and even fungus to breed potentially leading to skin rashes or even yeast infections.
3. Show up to one class at a time.
Prior to discovering yoga, I spent some time in treatment for substance abuse, and one of the most important lessons I learned while there is that if you can change your seat you can change your life. How does this lesson about sitting somewhere different each day in a lecture hall apply to yoga? Many of us create (consciously or otherwise) a certain amount of ritual surrounding our time in the yoga studio. You will likely be surprised at how much a subtle shift in that ritual can open up your perspective and subsequently your practice. Next time you are in the studio challenge yourself to put your mat in a new spot, try a prop you’ve never used or even an entirely new type of yoga or studio!
4. Show up empty.
Two words: yoga farts. And no, I’m not kidding. Especially in more vigorous yoga formats that include a heated environment, more vigorous series of twists, inversions and folds. Partially digested meals – vegan or otherwise – can quickly make themselves known, disrupting the flow of your breath and body. Furthermore, if you have to excuse yourself from the studio differences in temperature, lighting and noise levels can shock your body disrupting the lines of energy in your body as well as the process of detoxification.
5. Show up and stay.
I get it. Your days are whirling torrents of responsibility with no shortage of requests being made of your time and energy. That being said, no matter what format or type of yoga, savasana is widely regarded as one of the most beneficial poses in yoga. So after spending the better part of an hour focusing your breath and moving your body into and through a series of postures in an effort to short circuit the fluctuations of your mind, not only do you deserve time to process and soak in the benefits of your practice, quite frankly, you need it. To be more present for your responsibilities and relationships, your body, heart and mind need a counter balance to stressors and that is precisely what taking adequate rest at the end of your practice does. (Fun fact: 60 minutes is just 4% of your day!)
6. Show up and listen.
Like every other sector of your life, yoga comes with a wide variety of people preaching the right way, the wrong way, the safe way and more. In order to navigate this constant gauntlet of opinions, science and mysticism in a manner that is truly safe and sustainable, you need to first and foremost listen to your body. Almost universally, the people I encounter who have become disenfranchised with or injured during yoga tell tales that involve them listening to their teachers instruction as a replacement for their own bodily sensations or intuition. Essentially the, “if the teacher says it, they must be right because they are the teacher” mentality. On a physical level this is difficult because no two skeletal or muscular systems are identical. We really cannot expect to put any two people into the exact same alignment or shape. And this is not the most popular truth in yoga as many very well intentioned teachers use “advanced” balance and inversion postures as markers of progression and milestones of accomplishment with their students, but not every yoga posture is for every body.
All of that being said, yoga teachers often have a pretty deep well of very valuable insight and knowledge to share with you, so as you hone your intuition and become more adept at understanding the signals and sensations of your body, you should occasionally listen to them too!
7. Show up and smile.
By far one of the most wonderful, fulfilling and occasionally therapeutic aspects of a yoga practice is the community that comes with it. So next time you cross paths with someone at your yoga studio, crack a smile and introduce yourself. And if you happen to find yourself in a class where there is little to no room between mats, challenge yourself to smile at your neighbors rather than scoff at the people in your personal space. You can elevate the energy of an entire studio by simply breaking down the walls that come with the perception of others as strangers.
8. And if nothing else, simply show up.
To get the most out of your practice you simply need to show up. At the end of the day everything else will fall into place. You may step on someone’s toes along the way and someone will likely step on yours (maybe even literally!), but that’s what you have your breath for.