how to deepen your yoga practice

When I completed my yoga teacher training, I knew that after 500hrs of learning I was just at the beginning of my journey through this profound body of knowledge. Yoga has given me so much in the way of growth, health, forgiveness, self-compassion + body awareness. I've learned that healing is non-linear; it happens through our bodies - yes, but also through feeling, perception, intention and consciousness. My yoga practice has softened the way I communicate, move, breathe, nourish + live... it has transformed my life for the better.

With every class I teach, I try to create space for my students to explore their own unfolding with every cue + through every breath. I guide them with reverence + gratitude in my heart for our shared experience + hope they leave feeling a little more aligned + a little more attuned inside.

Here are a few tips to deepen your time on the mat when we're not together:

Listen to your body + respond with compassion: I tell my students to default to rest or embrace a modification that softens the pose; we don't need to ignore how we feel {anymore than we already do} to achieve a pose, we need to deepen our breath + connect with what our body needs in the moment. Bālāsana {child's pose} is always the right pose if you need it. Some days you can go further + other days maybe not; on both days you are an exceptional human being discovering an ever changing edge... please learn to rest + not to give up on yourself.

Understand that the pose comes from within: I encourage my students to stay focused on their own practice; there will always be someone in the class that can go a little further or bend a little more + you can use that for inspiration - sure, but please do not use it for comparison. You are where you are right now + wherever that is, is just fine. I invite you to be there fully + honour what is possible for you in the present. Listen. Respond. Deepen or hold steady. Find your own flow. You cannot look outside of yourself to measure or determine where you should be; pay attention to your own mind, your own body + your own heart. Train yourself to become the most powerful person in your life.

Try to breathe through your nose the whole time: It's hard to imagine but the human body was designed for nasal breathing; most of us breathe at 10 - 20% of our capacity + this poor breathing contributes to a number of health problems {i.e. anxiety, insomnia, high blood pressure etc...} but also, by decreasing our respiratory function we decrease our own energy levels.

"Breathing in and out through the nose helps us take fuller, deeper breaths, which stimulates the lower lung to distribute greater amounts of oxygen throughout the body. Also, the lower lung is rich with the parasympathetic nerve receptors associated with calming the body and mind, whereas the upper lungs — which are stimulated by chest and mouth breathing — prompt us to hyperventilate and trigger sympathetic nerve receptors, which result in the fight or flight reaction." 

We were not meant to engage our flight or flight response to deal with our daily modern stressors. It's purpose is to protect us from immediate or imminent danger, not an absent - or lacking - plan for self-care. I encourage my students to use their time on the mat to practice breathing well; I teach them that we disrupt + weaken our inner rhythms when we unconsciously hold our breath as a way to cope. When students find their edge in a pose, I ask if they can use their breath as a tool to go deeper, or if they need to rest to reconnect to the breathing that serves them most? During the more challenging moments on the mat - if we can develop a thoughtful inner dialogue - we strengthen our ability to respond to circumstance with mindfulness, rather than succumb to it without any awareness.

Meditate at the end of every class: Savasana feels so sweet at the end of a good class doesn't it? I always feel bad having to ease students out of such a peaceful state... then to get them up + send them off into world - it all seems so unkind. I try to teach them not to rush but to just take a moment + notice their inner calm + notice their own powerful breathing. I believe that if you can be still for 1 - 5mins longer {time + space permitting} after your class, you have an opportunity to really integrate your practice... to really seal the time you have dedicated to yourself, so it's not just a physical release but a spiritual {non-religious} one as well.  Your soul needs rest too.

You are capable of so much more than you know + a regular yoga practice is a useful, effective guide for that discovery.

Yoga gives us an opportunity to practice listening to ourselves with kindness + care. Practising builds up our inner strength, inner awareness + inner resourcefulness. By improving our breathing on the mat, we cultivate the ability to breathe deeply in our every day lives + to discover the power, peace + potential we all hold within + together.

I hope you'll explore these ideas in your own practice.

As always, if you have any questions or feedback please send me a note or click the let's talk button on the right.

Namaste, Alicia.xo

Quote Source: I apologize; this quote was added to my research notes without the source information.