Almost every yoga class that I teach, I feel like a broken record. There are so many things that I feel like I need to say every class, either for that new student who wasn’t here last week or because it is important and takes time to really sink in. I have more than 10 but I condensed for the sake of your sanity.
1. The asanas (postures) weren’t invented to impress anyone, so don’t worry about how you look and instead focus on how you feel and whether you can breathe
I cannot stress this enough. Sure, there is an ‘ideal’ pose that we are all working towards. But if you look different, no one cares except you and if others do care, that says more about them than about you. If we are in Baddha Konasana and your knees feel like they could touch your underarms while everyone else’s seem like they about to make contact with the floor, don’t worry! If you feel like a Tin man in a class full of Gumbys, it is all good. Everything is OK.
2. Find your jam
As mentioned in point 3, as much as you can, I want you to find your own practice and your own pace. Sometimes I will give an easy sequence and simply tell you to find your own rhythm with your own breath. This for me is you finding your own ‘jam’. You can think of it like a dance between your body and your breath where you are trying to synchronise the two and make them one.
3. Listen to what your breath is telling you… If your breath is short and fast or you are holding your breath, you are pushing too far. Back out a little, breathe…
Our bodies are amazing machines. They are always trying to look out for us. So when we start to feel stressed, the body’s stress response is triggered and our breath quickens, our heart rate increases and even our blood pressure can rise. This has its benefits in a cardio workout, but for me, this is not what yoga is about. Yoga is allowing the body to feel stress, feeling it shaking, having that familiar burn in your quads, yet keeping the breath calm. Inside we are calm even if outside is a shit show (pardon the French).
4. As a yoga teacher, my role is not to always make you feel comfortable. I want you to feel discomfort, explore your limits and see if you can go past them. But never to the point of pain!
Personally, I think this is a common misconception of yoga. It is not always relaxing and peaceful and blissful (until the end). During the class you are going to feel discomfort. That is kind of the point. If we always did what was comfortable, we would never grow and expand. But you will hopefully learn to understand the difference between pain and discomfort….
5. Stop, close your eyes, and take a second to observe how you are feeling in this moment. Notice that I used the word ‘observe’ and not ‘judge’. Don’t analyse, don’t search for a feeling or sensation, just stay still and watch.
I do this a lot after standing sequences. Come back to standing still, noticing what is going on with the breath, the body, the mind. Centre yourself before moving again. It is so easy in dynamic sun salutations to get flustered and lose awareness of the breath. So just take some time to bring yourself back.
6. You always have a choice. Don’t do something just because I tell you to. Everything I tell you is a suggestion, see if it works for your body and if not, let’s find a modification. Don’t worry if you are the only person in the room doing this pose, in this way. Don’t worry if you are the first person to move or the last person to move. Just be you.
Always in my role as a yoga teacher, but especially recently, I have been a poster woman for choice. Every single thing that I tell you is a suggestion. I don’t believe that I am a yoga genius and what I say is gospel. If I suggest that you raise your arms and you want to keep your arms by your side, that is what you will do. You can use props, rest in Child’s Pose, pop into a Bridge Pose, do a dance… I don’t mind! Take control of your own body and choose your own adventure.
7. Nice, long, deep breath in… Nice, long, deep breath out.
I really say this a lot! I mean, that is what it is all about, right? Just long, calm breaths in and out. Nothing more, nothing less.
8. Take your time
Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying this. I need to find a different way to say this phrase. But really, take your time. Your practice is not a race. If I move a little too fast for your body to get into the next pose, just be a beat behind for a little while, I will wait for you. Just don’t rush and instead try to move with control: slowly, mindfully…
9. Practice yoga, not yoga aerobics
‘Yoga aerobics’ is my new favourite term and refers to this hyperventilating, mindless practice that many students (and teachers) find themselves in. In my mind I hear amazing yoga teacher Simon Borg Olivier saying ‘breathe less, do less’. This perception that you have to rush your way through a practice, get covered in sweat and out of breath in order to have a ‘strong practice’ really bothers me. Spend five minutes in a high lunge and tell me what a strong practice is. Spend 5 minutes in Pigeon and see how challenged you feel.
10. No lettuce leaf arms
Tying in with the concept of a mindful practice and not doing yoga aerobics… For me, yoga is different from many other forms of movement because we aren’t just flaying our arms and legs around as many times as possible in a short period of time. We are aware, mindful and conscious. We feel the space between our fingers. We stretch our arms out and up with full awareness. We fold down with a long spine, using the breath… Graceful, awake, active. Even when you are passive, you are aware that you are passive. You are consciously releasing tension and letting go. Be in that moment.
Let me make it very clear that this is my perspective, based on my experience with yoga. Disagree with any of the above? Great! Tell me about it, I love understanding different perspectives.
If you are one of my students, I am sure I have others that I have forgotten… Tell me about them so I can feel even more like a broken record.