I love Olga’s approach to Yoga – to me it makes so much sense. As I get older I have found great value in slowing down, breathing deeply, moving mindfully, and listening to the messages my body and mind tell me.
Here are some suggestions about what to include in your yoga checklist to get the most out of any yoga practice…
Written by Olga Kabel – Yoga teacher and Yoga Therapist
first physically – literally getting yourself down on your mat, and then mentally, bringing your attention to this moment, to this body.
Instead of allowing your mind to make all the decisions, listen to your body. Notice how you feel (keeping an open mind) and which parts of you need more care on any given day (physical body, energy or mental state). Throughout the practice consistently check in with yourself – how does this movement feel, how am I doing, where does my mind go, and so on.
In yoga we give lip service to deep breathing all the time but then somehow lose that connection halfway through the practice. Instead have your breath inform and guide EVERY SINGLE ONE of your movements. Breath is the most direct link we have to our physiology, specifically the balance between the sympathetic (‘fight-and-flight”) and parasympathetic (“rest-and-digest”) systems, which means that by regulating the breath we can literally change how we feel.
Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, you might have short-term and long-term practices. Short-term practices address your current physical, energetic and mental-emotional state. Those practices can be completely different from day to day. They are most effective when you are trying to maintain a stable body, consistent energy and clear mind to deal with today’s challenges. In a long-term approach you would do the same practice for an extended period of time (days or weeks), tweaking it only slightly. This is done for the purpose of addressing chronic issues that usually do not get resolved in a space of one practice.
When you do a familiar practice it is easier to go on an autopilot and just cruise along while simultaneously thinking about unrelated things. Attention is a tricky thing – it takes practice to learn how to direct it and maintain it.
Asana (yoga poses) are great and can serve all kinds of useful purposes. But it’s simply not enough for a well-rounded yoga practice. Working with your breath and your mind is just as important (if not more). It doesn’t need to be anything complicated or intricate. The simplest way to include other elements in your practice is to take 12 deep breaths at the end of your practice (using pace or technique that is connected to your overall theme), and then stay mindful of your experience for 5 minutes (keeping your attention anchored on how you feel).
Don’t be in a rush. Take time between poses to close your eyes and check in with yourself. At the end, don’t just jump up and run to the next thing. You can use Savasana or any comfortable seated position to take time and observe the impact of the practice on each one of your layers (physical, energetic and mental-emotional). This will deepen the effect of your practice and will give you valuable information on whether or not it worked for you (which you can use moving forward).
In this complex and ever-changing world it is always good to get back to the basics and celebrate yoga’s ability to get us in touch with ourselves. In the long run this has more impact then looser hamstrings or mastery of difficult poses.