It is only now, after nearly 8 years of on and off the mat yoga practice, growing, regressing, obsessing, trying, giving up, and returning again and again to yoga, that I am making a small breakthrough, one for which I dearly wish a permanent stay. The irony of the breakthrough itself is humbling. It is imperceptible in my outer form and vibrating with excitement in my inner core.
It used to be all about achieving the poses, being strong enough to make it through class and pushing myself to the edge, the blurry line between heightened sensation and agonizing pain. Perhaps I owe much of it to my unfailing self-discipline, and I admit, I have learned a great deal and reaped tremendous benefits from that type of approach and practice of yoga. I have healed injuries, found quiet of the mind even if for short bursts, enjoyed exposure to many different styles of yoga, learned to seek yoga studios wherever my travels take me, and even drifted in and out of home practice a dozen times.
It has been a wonderful part of my life, this yoga. But I had reached a plateau of some type for a while, and I just couldn’t shake it.
Usually this happens after the initial burst of learning has taken place. Then the learning and growing returns again with a new twist and a new challenge. For me, I was presenting myself with plenty of challenge and opportunity, the satisfaction and bliss often followed the practice and by no means was I either unsatisfied or unchallenged in my regular power yoga classes.
Still, something else was still lacking. And I think I may have just stumbled on it. What a lucky occasion to be alive for and to live through!
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Through a series of private lessons with my fabulous instructor, biweekly power yoga at the studio, and a devotion to daily 1-hour home practice, I have been watching and feeling a transformation. In simple words, I would call it a deeper, softer, gentler but a far more precise understanding what it means to be in a pose and how find the easiest way to get there and stay there for your body.
It seems for the first time, I am really discovering my hips, the emotion-packed hips I have begged to know for years, and their rotation. I can finally feel and tuck in my tailbone (and not because I have injured it like that time I went right into the wall when falling out of a tripod). I am learning to find and extend my stubborn toes. I am learning to move less of my body and isolating only the belly muscles during the deep inhalations and slow exhalations. I am finding that it really is about activating my core and that it makes the difference between right or wrong, between pain or ease, between falling down or staying put. I am finally seeing how I need to do all of this, every time, every minute and second of the practice, with the breath.
The poses feel brand new, refreshing and rejuvenating. The discovery of the “heightened awareness”, as my teacher calls it, in every part of the body, makes for a whole new experience. Poses that make up the foundation of yoga now feel alive.
For the first time, every single pose seems both more profound and quite simple. The poses I have done a thousand times seem new yet familiar every time. The layers of learning and room for discovery in a single yoga pose alone require hours and weeks of study. Perfection is a myth but growth is inevitable and sweet.
My understanding of these concepts has been difficult and my progress painfully slow. Yet this intangible breakthrough fills me with motivation, hope and excitement. It gives me the conviction to know that yoga is here to serve us a great many purposes but it will serve none of us if we are not patient and observant and open to it.
From the short week of intense yoga practice, at home and in class, and with much more to still formulate and come, here are the 8 Reasons which influenced the breakthrough andto help us build a conscious yoga practice:
1 – Practicing consciously and every day, at home or studio: Most of my progress in the past has happened during more intense sessions of practice (not necessarily an intense flow but frequent ones). So commit if you can at least for a little while (1 week, 10 days, a month) to a daily practice and repeat the sequence every day. It is an entirely different feeling than if you were to practice once or twice a week.
2- Letting Go of Old ways of Getting into a pose: This has been the hardest one for me to grasp and the most important one to accompany the frequent practice for the best results. Try to let go of the ways you are used to getting into a pose (which you know by heart) and build it up anew every time, focusing on a newer, more precise alignment, a more syncopated breathing, and ease rather than tension in staying there.
3- Always Incorporating the Main Poses: Progress is born of repetition and we always return to the foundations. The foundational poses are the Sun Salutations A and B, with a variety of standard hip openers (Pigeon, Frog), shoulder openers (Eagle), backbends (Camel pose, Full Wheel), and standing series (Tree, Hand to Leg). Do these every day, every practice. Do the Sun Salutation at least 3-4 times and the other poses at least once.
4- Observing yourself like a Hawk: This is a literal observation with a mirror or your eyes depending on the pose. Or better yet, with a video camera. It is imperative that you have a reasonably good idea of what you look like and what is the expected form and alignment of the pose. This is more of an outer observation but just as important one to then help guide you into what needs to be adjusted.
5- Knowing your particular Body’s Challenges: Every body is different, and a good teacher can help you identify the tight spots which not only varies from person to person but also in a given body, from side to side. When you know these challenges, you can focus on those areas, the release of which will give you the most progress.
6- Learning more about Alignment Technique: This may be one where a private session with your favorite instructor, or a small group class with a lot of adjustment and explanation, can help. Reading and watching videos is excellent but for me, the real learning and what I believe pushed me over that edge is the understanding and feeling of the alignment techniques with the hands and voice of an expert.
7- Breathing with Intention and Focus: Breathing is not overrated in yoga. If your breathing is not helping you, you are doing it wrong. I was and have been for a long time. I still sometimes regress to tense breathing or simply breath out of sync with my poses. Practice focused, consistent, deep breathing which should only be observed from your belly (not shoulders or upper body). Always remind yourself of the breath especially as you get into the poses in a new way.
8- Anticipating the Breakthrough for Yourself: The yoga journey has much in reserve for you and breakthroughs are not reserved for a special few. I think if you practice with focus and intention, and follow these tips or others you may have come across, at some point in your journey, the same pose will fall into place as perfect as the unfolding of a perfect rose.