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Get More Out of Every Yoga Pose

March 11, 2011

Juggling all of life’s responsibilities makes our time very precious—especially the time we give ourselves. The key to getting the most of your precious time for yoga, meditation or exercise—or whatever else it is that you do to feed your body and soul—is to be present, and not to let those life responsibilities turn into thoughts that creep in and distract you.

Yoga is all about being present, but ironically, remaining present while on the mat can sometimes prove to be challenging. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever started thinking about your to-do list while still lying in Shivasana.) Inspired by this blog post over on YogaJournal.com, here are some ways you can get more out of each pose, and thus more out of your time on the mat:

1. Hold each pose. When you hold a pose for long enough for it to feel a bit uncomfortable, you’re building muscle strength. But you’re also building strength of mind by showing yourself that you’re stronger than you think you are. Resist the urge to pull at your top, brush the hair out of your face, or take sip of water—fidgeting takes your body and mind out of the pose.

2. Breathe into the area of sensation. Breathing is essential to any yoga practice. With every inhale, imagine that you’re creating spaciousness in your body; go just a little deeper with every exhale. Focusing on your breath keeps you centered, stable, and present.

3. Pay attention. Try not to let your mind wander when you’re holding a pose. Not only does this make you less aware and therefore at risk for injuries, you also start to lose the quality of the pose and compromise its ability to work deeply in your body.

4. Relax. Scan your body to find out where you are holding unnecessary tension, especially during difficult poses. Common “clenching” spots include your jaw, your tongue, your neck and your shoulders. Sometimes even the area behind your eyes! Breathe and try to soften anything that doesn’t have to be tense in order to support you.

5. Change it up. If you have a regular home practice, think about where you can make little adjustments; doing so will keep your mind and body engaged, and allow deeper transformation to happen. Even little changes like lifting your chest toward the sky, or firming your leg muscles and lifting your kneecaps can work a whole new set of muscles and help you get closer to a more challenging variation. Ask a teacher for help if you’re not sure what little adjustment you should work on.

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