In celebration of National Yoga Month, we interviewed our very own Susan Anderson, a celebrated Travaasa yoga instructor, to get her advice on making the most of your yoga practice. Yoga is an ongoing journey of establishing a mind/body connection and maintaining balance both physically and mentally. From breathing techniques to stretching, lessons learned in a yoga class can often be applied to managing (and improving) your every day life. Here are some tips on how to flourish in your practice.
Focus on your breath.
Yoga involves a great deal of focused breathing in order to fully tap into the connection between your mind and body. The worst habit in yoga is holding your breath, as this restricts the flow of energy throughout your body and will cause strain and discomfort when flowing from one pose to another. “Stay connected to your breath to feel more, find depth, find relaxation, and invoke intuitive insights,” Susan suggests.
Practice good technique.
Like any physical exercise, proper technique will keep injury at bay and provide the foundation for growth in your practice. “Remember that it doesn’t matter what the posture ultimately looks like, but instead that you are trying to the best of your ability the proper technique. If you do this you will receive the maximum benefits” she adds. Focus on maintaining a straight spine from your tailbone all the way up through your neck to the top of your head. Imagine there is a string attached to the crown of your head. When holding a pose or moving through a sequence, pretend the string is being pulled away from your core and extend your spine to avoid compression.
Put your ego aside.
Remember that yoga is a personal practice of finding peace and gratitude–it’s not a marathon and everyone wins if they get their ego out of the picture. “Others in a classroom practice may inspire you to do, try and learn more; however, do not compare your abilities as less than to anyone else. We are all experiencing our individual healing through the yoga practice, and it never must look a certain way” explains Susan.
Awareness is the key to cultivating an inspiring yoga practice, both on and off the mat. When asked what the most important thing about practicing yoga was, Susan replied, “Being in there, aware in the present moment.” She could not be more accurate. Awareness of your breath, body position and thoughts can have a major effect on the execution of your poses on the mat, as well as the actions in your everyday life. “Every movement should be a mindful movement: feeling your body as you go into a posture, as you’re in a posture, as you move out of a posture, during your stillness, and through all the transitions of your practice.” Off the mat, this awareness can be applied throughout your day. Be aware of your thoughts. Are you angry? Sad? Frustrated? Being in touch with your mental state can help to make positive adjustments in the way you handle situations and others in your life.
Apply your yoga practice to your life.
When asked what teachings of yoga she carries through the rest of her day, Susan replied, “The first thing that came to mind is to have compassion: Compassion for yourself and for humanity. Sometimes this is not very easy, but it is a great, ongoing lesson.” Yoga is such a beautiful way to stretch your body and mind to levels you didn’t even know existed. “Physically, it has given me the freedom to move. I feel healthy in my body, and therefore it feels good to be in movement. The physical practice and meditation keeps me in check from letting my emotional and mental energies take over or run wild in an unhealthy way. To me, yoga is medicinal.”