Purna Yoga Tips to Get the Most from Your Practice

*thanks to the Toronto Yoga Conference & Show for originally publishing this piece

As a yoga teacher, students often come to me for guidance on getting the most out of an asana practice. Generally, they want to know three things.  How:

should a practice be?

While discipline and consistency are essential to any form of progress, they are not, strictly speaking, what moves you forward in yoga; your diligent practice has to be informed with a good intention and the right attitude.

Here are a few of my favourite practice guidelines that we use in Purna Yoga, the method that I study and teach:

1. Keep Your Practice on Your Own Mat.

Your yoga class is just for you. You are not there to please the teacher or to compete with other students.

What you should do:

Before class begins, sit quietly on your mat and remind yourself that your practice is completely “you” time. It will probably be one of the few (if not only) times during your day that you are encouraged to experience, without distraction, your breath, your body, and the moment you are in. Make the edges of your mat the physical boundaries of your practice space and commit to keeping your attention inside those boundaries, focusing solely on your personal experience.

Why it's important:

You will never know yourself if you are trying to be better than someone else. As soon as you look at someone else, you will compare; and from this comparison you will judge, either yourself or the other person. Your yoga practice will then become just one more step in the endless “How Do I Measure Up” parade of life, and you will miss yoga’s most beautiful teaching: we are all one.

2. Feel. Don’t Force.

Shift your mindset: unlike most activities that involve the body, you aren’t in yoga class to do; you are there to feel. Learning to feel is how you discover yourself. You cannot feel with any depth of sensitivity when you are forcing.

What you should do:

Practice with full effort and be content with where that effort takes you, without trying to mandate the outcome. If you try to push your body into a shape that matches the teacher’s, then you aren’t having your experience, you are having hers. Anytime you hold your breath or it becomes short, harsh or uneven, you are moving into force, and it’s time to step back and recalibrate.

Why it's important:

Safety. Injuries happen almost exclusively when you try to force. Additionally, forcing indicates you are in performance mode, which means you have a goal, which means you are in the future and not present to your experience. If you aren’t present, you can’t be doing yoga.

3. Balance the Real and the Ideal.

You are not trying to do a perfect posture. You are trying to do a posture that is a little better than the one you did last time.

What you should do:

Embrace your uniqueness and celebrate the little victories; they’re proof of the effectiveness of your efforts. But never view a new accomplishment as a result. Think of it as a preparation for the next step in your transformation.

Why it's important:

Yoga is a progression. If you view your current “real” as a permanent limitation, then you won’t progress. But if you only focus on the ideal, you won’t appreciate the progress you do make, and you will either have an unfulfilling practice or quit in frustration.

What do you do to get the most out of your practice?