I recently saw this wonderful article by Ann Pizer (About.com Guide) and thought it too good not to share.
Some of yoga’s best lessons are not about how to get all pretzeled up, but more about how to establish beneficial behaviours that will carry over into your life off the mat. Take a look at this list of 10 things to stop doing to yourself in yoga class and see if any of them sound a little too familiar.
1. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
It can be hard to stay focused on your own practice without comparing yourself to the people around you, but that’s exactly what you should try to do. It really does not matter what anyone else can do, so stop feeling bad about the people who seem to be more advanced than you. Likewise, don’t let yourself get too excited if your poses seem “better” than a fellow student’s. We are all on our own paths here. Staying true to yours will keep your ego from getting involved and also reduce the likelihood that you’ll get hurt trying to keep up with the person next to you.
2. Stop Comparing Yourself to Yourself
Tricky, right? Thinking about what you can do right now compared to your expectations or your past performance can be just as troublesome, and possibly injurious, as competing with the person next to you. Each day offers us a different body, so don’t worry about that awesome pose you were able to do last week but seems elusive now. It’s all just experience, so labelling it as good or bad is a habit worth breaking.
3. Stop Being a Creature of Habit
Speaking of breaking habits, do you always put your mat in the exact same spot? Challenge yourself to try different places around the room, or even try a new class or studio if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Changing your physical perspective can help you change your mental perspective too. If you are in the habit of inwardly groaning when your teachers calls for ab work or parivrtta ardha chandrasana (speaking from experience here), see if you can change your ways there too.
4. Stop Listening to the Teacher
OK, you should listen to the teacher most of the time, but don’t forget who’s really in charge here: you. If your teacher instructs a pose with which you don’t feel comfortable, if it causes you pain or aggravates an injury, don’t do it. No one is inside your body but you, so you’re the one calling the shots. And if a teacher gives you a hard time about it, find a new teacher.
5. Stop Being Nervous About Speaking Up
If it’s your first yoga class, you have an injury, you are pregnant (congrats!), you are scared of handstands, speak up! Some teachers will go around the room asking everyone how they are at the beginning of class, others may not, but part of taking charge of your yoga experience is making sure your teachers have all the information they need to safely lead you. If it’s a private matter, tell them one-on-one before class. Likewise, many teachers invite students to stay and ask questions after class. Take advantage of this! Most teachers are thrilled to help you delve into your alignment or brush up your Sanskrit.
6. Stop Leaving Early
There may occasionally be times when you have to leave class early, but let’s not make a habit out of it. Yes, we are all busy people with places to go and people to see, but most of the time all that can wait an extra 10 minutes while you take savasana. Leaving early on a regular basis is not only rude, but robs you of your reward for all that hard work: a few minutes in your day to just do nothing. Also, you don’t want to end up on the pet peeves list, do you?
7. Stop Getting Ahead of Yourself
Speaking of pet peeves, here’s one of mine. The teacher is instructing a pose in which each successive variation builds upon the one before it. Though the teacher clearly states you should not continue to move forward through the variations until you can comfortably hold the previous step, half the class continues to move in forward in some kind of approximation of the pose, bringing them into greater risk for injury. I know I said not to listen to the teacher, but this is not one of those times! Listen to the teacher!
8. Stop Giving in to the Monkey Mind
What are you thinking about during yoga? Hopefully, you answered, “nothing.” One of the most positive things about doing yoga asana or meditation practice is that it gives us the change to take a little vacation from the constant nagging that is our thoughts, something that has nothing to do with your ability to do complicated physical manoeuvres. If you find yourself thinking a lot about the poses you can or can’t do, give yourself a break from that too.
9. Stop Pushing Through the Pain
“No pain, no gain” has no place in a yoga class. Pain comes in different flavours, and part of really getting to know your body is being able to differentiate between a muscular soreness kind of pain and something more serious. That ache in the belly during (and for several days after) the aforementioned ab work is the former, and the latter is to be avoided.
10. Stop Forgetting to Have Fun
There are so many things to take seriously in life, but your yoga practice doesn’t have to be one of them. I’m not suggesting that you goof off or take unnecessary risks, but that we do this thing with a light-hearted approach and a sense of fun. If you fall out of a pose, laugh it off. Take on that parivrtta ardha chandrasana with a smile on your face. It’s only yoga, after all.