I love to teach high-intensity interval training (HIIT) classes – you could say I’m a tad addicted to the adrenaline rush I get when I complete a class all sweaty and feeling totally worked over. Whew!
But I also teach yoga. It’s quite a contrast to my other workouts, and that contrast is a good thing. The essence of yoga is to relax, rejuvenate, recharge, release and refresh. I love all that, but I must admit it doesn’t come as naturally to me as the adrenaline rush of my hard-core workouts. I’ve had to teach myself to just let go and appreciate the mission of yoga.
Still, sometimes that mission seems to get jumbled in the fitness/yoga world. I’ve heard people say, “That yoga class is SO HARD. It kicks my butt.” I have to wonder: Is yoga supposed to kick your butt?
I’m not sure if there’s a right answer to that. I do believe that trying new poses and stretching yourself (no pun intended) to new challenges in yoga is good. But in a “yoga” way, not in a “this workout is going to kill me” way.
I don’t look at my students before a yoga class and think, “This class is going to kick everyone’s butt today.” (Full disclosure: I do have those thoughts before teaching my HIIT classes!)
With yoga, the intention is different. We are there to shift our energy and find inner peace. That doesn’t mean the class is just gentle stretching. We build power and heat doing Down-Dog flows. We discover our strength in Warrior and Plank. We challenge ourselves with balancing and other advanced poses. But all that’s done with a mindfulness toward inner peace, a sense of stability and a deeper connection with oneself. No one feels “beat up” after class.
There are lots of ways to approach being physically active. Sometimes what your body needs most is a hard workout. Other times, it needs a different sort of challenge – one that involves mindfully sitting, lying or standing still for more than a few seconds at a time!
Here are some tips to help you get relaxed, yet focused and appreciate the benefits of yoga:
Use your breath: Whether you’re doing yoga or sitting at your desk, deep yogic breathing can calm you. We all should take two to five minutes each day to focus on breathing deeply: in through the nose and from your diaphragm. Breathing is the most vital action we take in our lives yet it is also the most unconscious action that we take. For this reason, yoga is a great vehicle for practicing awareness of breath and can help you bring a deeper consciousness to it. Your breath is the bridge between mind, body and soul.
Work on balance and stability: Having a good sense of balance means more than being able to stand on one foot. Try a few balance poses like Poses tree pose, dancer pose and if you really want a challenge, crow pose. These poses are about creating and improving physical, mental, and emotional stability. Finding your center and being able to remain steady while balancing will improve your focus, relieve stress, and help you to deal with difficult situations. You’ll learn to approach life with a sense of awareness and calmness, which is the heart of yoga. (Don’t forget there are ways to modify most balance poses and you should feel comfortable to ease into them and work up towards the more advanced poses.)
Work on flexibility: People often tell me, “ Oh, I can’t go to yoga, I’m too inflexible.” But, isn’t that the oxymoron in this whole thing… yoga will help improve your flexibility while also making over your mind. I tell all my students, men and women alike, there is no such thing as a perfect pose. Being “super stretchy” doesn’t make you better at yoga. And there are no “winners” in a yoga class, it’s about your own personal journey. So drop the competition of who is more flexible and focus on the benefits of lengthening your own muscles, improving your range of motion, and rejuvenating your body.
Relish the relaxation: The last part of yoga practice often focuses on slowing down and getting deeper into your poses. In the last few minutes of practice, there’s savasana (final relaxation), where you lie perfectly still and just “be” in the moment (no fidgeting). This final relaxation can be an incredibly restorative time; so don’t be tempted to skip it! You can let go of negative thoughts and gain mental clarity. Savasana is a known stress reducer and has even been said to reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) in your body.
So enjoy yoga for what it can be – a workout that improves both your physical and mental health.