There are many factors that influence the quality of your yoga practice and your satisfaction with the
overall experience. These factors range from the style of yoga you practice, the instructor you choose through to the environment in which you practice. Some of the factors you can easily control, others may be more dependent on what’s available to you. When starting out practicing yoga, you should keep searching for the perfect combination that makes your practice the most satisfying and enjoyable.
There are however three factors that are 100% under your control, that affect not only your enjoyment of your practice, but just as importantly, the benefits you receive from each practice.
One of the purposes of yoga, like every exercise regime, is to incrementally improve your body’s physical capabilities. Yoga of course has the added advantage that it also helps to improve many aspects of your health and well-being that general exercise cannot.
Even with these increased benefits, yoga is not a magic cure-all. Achieving these benefits requires your commitment and effort each time you practice. Achieving incremental improvements to your capabilities requires (and allows) you to further challenge your own physical limitations. Over time gradual improvements result in large gains in your yoga abilities and the health benefits of your practice.
In every posture you should be looking to make sure first that you are stable and comfortable in the posture. You should then be aiming to slowly and smoothly deepen the stretch as far as it remains pain free for you to do so. In all postures you should feel the stretch in the relevant muscles and deepen into the stretch in a controlled manner to avoid damaging your muscles and ligaments. You should challenge your own abilities in order to achieve new yoga abilities, but also listen carefully to your body to know when to stop.
There is a lot of discussion and research into the importance and health benefits of yoga breathing. While these may well prove to be real benefits, adopting relaxed, controlled yoga breathing definitely helps to improve your overall yoga practice.
The natural tendency, when practicing an asana (yoga posture) that tests your physical abilities, is to shorten your breath and in some cases, to start breathing through your mouth. This stressful breathing technique encourages you to tense your muscles and fight against the asana and the stretch. This is the opposite of the desired state for practicing yoga.
Instead it’s important that you concentrate on your breathing, completing a long, controlled inhale exhale cycle that fills your lungs to capture the maximum amount of oxygen for each breath. Focusing on your breathing in this way, helps you to remain relaxed and allows you to be more aware of your physical condition enabling you to better feel the stretch, be aware of tension in your muscles and concentrate on releasing that tension and loosen to muscles you’re working on. Through this increased awareness of what you body is telling you and by noticing and releasing tension in your muscles, it’s easier to accept each stretch and go deeper into each asana and hold it for longer without injury.
Practice, Practice, Practice.
As with all exercise, the benefits only come with a commitment to regular practice. Only through regular practice of exercise does the body start to develop, strengthen, adapt and change according to the physical demands you are placing on it. Practicing yoga is no different. Regular practice helps to build the muscle strength required to hold asanas. More than that, you’ll develop increased lung capacity and provide the regular stimulation to the internal organs that helps balance chemical and hormone levels. Frequent practice helps to learn any new skill or ability and yoga is no different. In particular repetition helps your body learn the correct position balancing postures, to the extent that it becomes second nature – just like riding a bike. Another area where frequent practice is highly beneficial is learning how to slow and calm your mind, to purge your thoughts of the worries and stresses of the day.
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