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5 Golden Rules for a Happy Yoga Practice

May 26, 2011
If yoga is supposed to be all about inner peace and harmony, why is it that sometimes we feel less than blissful on the mat? Maybe there are times we feel frustrated that everyone else in class can do a pose perfectly but we can’t seem to get it right; maybe a certain pose, like an inversion, feels frightening; maybe we’re tempted to duck out during Shivasana so we can get back to our busy day. These tendencies don’t make us bad yogis, but they do get in the way of cultivating joy in our yoga practice. Here, we offer five ways in which you can be a happier yogi, which in turn will allow you to get more out of your time on the mat.
1) Don’t compare yourself to everyone else.

We live in a competitive society, so it may be tempting to compare yourself and your yogic abilities to other people in the room. But yoga isn’t a competitive sport; you don’t “win” by being the most flexible person in class. Beyond leading to frustration, comparing yourself to others also puts you at risk for injury, as you may end up pushing yourself too hard. Soften your mind, stop trying to “keep up,” and instead seek to grow at your own pace. So what if your neighbor on the mat next to yours can vault effortlessly into headstand—and you can’t? This is your practice. Release any pressure or expectations you’ve set for yourself, and yoga will become far more enjoyable.

2) Challenge yourself, but honor your body.

Your body is unique, and its abilities can change from day to day. Some days you might feel strong and super flexible; other days you might be tired, or dealing with soreness or injury. Every time you practice yoga, honor where you’re at that day. If this means doing an easier variation of a pose, do it. If this means dropping into Child’s Pose to collect yourself if you get out of breath, do it. If this means passing on a certain pose altogether, that’s fine. Don’t get irritated if you still can’t touch your toes, or if you always fall over during Tree Pose; take a deep breath, reconnect with your body, and love it the way it is right now.

3) Be present.

Yes, there’s a laundry list of To Do’s waiting for you after class. Yes, you have your own personal concerns running through your head. But yoga practice is your time to let those thoughts drift away, even for just a short time. Concentrate on how good it feels to move and stretch. Allow yourself to feel light and free from worry. Be grateful for this chunk of time (however brief) when you get to just focus on you. If your mind wanders, focus on your breath to bring your mind back to the present moment.

4) Be positive.

Attitude is everything, right? If something in your practice elicits negative emotions—like fear, frustration, or despair—take a moment to assess your attitude. Does it really feel scary, or does it feel like a wonderful challenge? Does it serve you to be frustrated, or should you be proud of yourself for trying? You will reap more from your practice if you keep an open mind and a positive outlook.

5) Smile.

Aside from your mat, a smile might very well be the most essential tool for a happy yoga practice. A smile instantly softens you from the inside out. It melts tension and frustration, brings you back into the present, cultivates a joyful attitude, and reminds you why you’re here in the first place. Next time you’re working on a particularly challenging pose, or stretching a tight muscle group, try smiling. Your face will smooth out, your jaw will relax, your body might even open into the pose a little easier. Most importantly, you’ll suddenly find yourself looking at the world from a bright new perspective—and if you smile enough, you might start to find that feeling following you around well after you’ve rolled up your yoga mat.

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