We all have different experiences during our yoga practice, whether it is being on our mat following an instructor online or attending a group yoga class at a studio.
The difference is the approach and intention we step onto our mats with.
If you are seeing a deeper experience beyond the physical benefits, here are a few tips to keep in mind during class that can help you move toward a more emotional experience or a release.
Set an intention
At the beginning of your yoga practice, think of what you want to feel throughout the class. Simply ask yourself: “What is it that I want to focus on right now at this very moment, or how do I want to feel at the end of the class?”
This might look like channelling strength, being compassionate toward yourself, or summoning courage. Keep that intention in your mind throughout the class. It may help to pick one particular word – surrender, calm, patience – to come back to throughout your practice. It may be anything you are craving or desiring more of in your life.
2. Breathe with awareness
Check in with your breath. You may be holding it without realising it, especially if the pose is uncomfortable or stressful. By tuning into it and using a technique like ujjayi pranayama, you create alpha waves in your brain. This activates your vagus nerve, which ultimately activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is your rest and digest system. It helps to calm the mind and the body, slowing everything down.
A 2018 study in the Mental Illness Journal supports this. It found that levels of theta and alpha 2 waves were higher in participants after deep breathing, which contributed to reduced anxiety. However, you can experience the same benefits from other techniques, including simply slowing your breath. A 2018 study in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience discovered that slower breaths can help you feel more relaxed, as well as less anxious and depressed.
3. Reframe judgments into curiosity
Do you feel embarrassed if you fall out of a pose? If so, you’re not alone. Shifting that judgement and getting curious instead of judging yourself can really help. Maybe you have heard that curiosity helps us find meaning in what we do and experience.
Instead of saying “I’m too weak in this pose; my balance is horrible”, tell yourself “I wonder what it would feel like to take a different variation”. This shift opens you up to new insight and possibilities. And also remember that we are all built differently and a pose that is easy for your friend to get into might take months or years for your body to express and feel comfortable in, maybe never.
I always tell my students – ask yourself: “Do I really need to get to the final expression of this pose? Is it going to change my life if I don’t?” Of course not. Just focus on what your body is feeling in the pose that feels right for you at that moment.
4. Do what you need in the moment
On that note, try not to focus on what others are doing or what they look like in their pose, or what the full expression of the pose is, as this can put you in an unhelpful headspace. Instead, ask yourself: “Do I really need (or even want) more intensity at this moment, or am I just pushing myself through the extremes out of habit?” Your emotional needs and desires may look different every time you come to the mat – honour that.
You might hear this often from yoga teachers in the class, “listen to the body”, and it means exactly that. We really mean it – listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel discomfort and pain, it means you have gone too far in the pose and you are being guided by your ego rather than feeling what you need. Let go of comparison and really tune in.
I often say, “close your eyes while you are in the pose”, as this not only helps you step away from the world of comparing yourself to others, but it will help you connect to what is happening internally.
5. Bring self-compassion to your mat
To keep these tips top of mind, it may help to write them on a sticky note or find a teacher that you connect with, who mentions these reminders throughout the class. And again, since every yoga class is different, be kind to yourself. No one is perfect, and that’s okay.
Come and join my community of yogis at the Haven Yoga Studio in Vilamoura where we have a variety of group classes to choose from in November and experienced teachers who will guide you through your practice and advise you on what is the best class for you depending on the goals and intentions you might be setting for yourself.
Elena Menci is a 700hr International Yoga Teacher who studied in India, Bali, Mallorca and Dubai. She teaches private and group classes in Vilamoura and hosts workshops, weekend and week-long retreats for her “Haven” community in the Algarve, which she is a founder of. Elena’s passion is to pass on what she has learnt from all her gurus and teachers to those around her. Instagram: @thehaven_algarve | www.thehaven.pt