For many people, yoga is more than just a physical activity. It is also a mental and spiritual experience — often described as being quite meditative. But if you’re anything like me — and many other people I see and hear in my yoga class — it sometimes doesn’t feel that way. Have you ever noticed that the much-desired zen experience feels more akin to frustration or defeat than to an enlightened state?
I have been practicing Bikram Yoga for almost two years and it is amazing how it wasn’t until very recently when I realized that I could use these 90 minutes for more than just practicing the 26 postures and getting my body into shape. This was an amazing opportunity to strengthen my ability to be mindful and present.
As someone who loves to “get it right” and “be the best,” I struggled with turning my yoga practice into anything beyond pushing myself to be better, stronger, calmer and mentally beating myself up when I felt like I wasn’t living up to that.
Then I had a breakthrough. And I turned my yoga practice around 180 degrees by doing these 3 things.
Change the track I listen to in my head.
90 minutes is a long time to keep the mind from wandering off and getting lost in the top hits track of the day. My solution? First, I found when I focus deeply on the words the instructor is saying instead of boarding each thought train that raced through my mind, I remained more present. Secondly, I changed the track in my mind from saying things like, “this is so hard” or “I’m so hot” or “why can’t I hold this posture like I could yesterday?” to “I am here … in this moment … and in this moment … and in this moment” over and over again keeping my thoughts more constant and present and, therefore, being able to better listen to my body.
Change the mask I wear.
I can scowl and grunt and tighten up my face when the postures feel challenging or I can choose to keep my face relaxed and even squeeze out a smile during a challenging pose. By making this small shift, I allow myself to relax, breathe and stay present with my body in that moment. I also find that when I exert less energy on reacting to a difficult posture, I have more energy to give to that posture and it becomes easier.
Practice continuous compassion.
I remind myself that I am constantly changing and I am different each and every day. My practice today is going to be different than my practice two days ago. If I need to sit down or come out of a posture early today, that’s okay. And, if I can change the track in my head it is actually easier to hear what my body needs in each moment and then I can be compassionate with myself when my body needs something today that it might not have needed yesterday.
Whether you are an avid yogi or just a fan of staying limber, you can use your yoga practice to not only deepen your exercise of body and soul but also deepen your practice of living in the present. By doing so, your practice will enrich your life in more ways than you can imagine!
What do you do to make yoga a more meditative experience? Share your tips and tricks by leaving a comment.