While millions benefit from yoga, it is also true that many do not obtain the full benefit that yoga offers. Here are eight things that will help you make the most of your yoga practice:
1. Practice regularly
The most important factor in unlocking yoga’s benefits is to practice regularly. A seven-days-a-week practice of yoga is most helpful. If you cannot get to that at least aim for a five-days-a-week schedule. Having a short 20 to 40 minute personal practice as a backup can also help. You can use this if you are running short on time on any given day.
2. No food 3 hours before and during your practice
You can make the most of your yoga practice by doing it on an empty stomach. Sometimes you may feel famished before an yoga class and the temptation is high to munch on something. At such times it helps to remember that if you hold off a little longer, the famished feeling will go away quickly once you start your yoga practice.
3. No drink 1 hour before and during practice
Unless you are doing hot yoga or if the risk of dehydration is very high, you should hold off on drinking liquids before or during a yoga class. There are three reasons for this: One is that “Pratyahara” or sensory withdrawal is part of the broader yoga system. This means that at the very least, you must refrain from energizing your taste buds during an yoga practice. The second reason is that if you have liquids sloshing inside, you may find it hard to do inversions. The third reason is that having food or liquids inside can interfere with the deep breathing that is required to be done while practing yoga.
4. Coordinate breath and movement
Practicing slow Ujjayi breath while doing your postures is an important factor in multiplying its benefits. You must get into and out of a posture slowly and while you are doing this you must have full control of your breath. This means that your attention is on the breath and that your breath is not choppy. While getting into a posture you must breathe either in or out, as guided by your yoga teacher. When you attain the posture you may want to hold it for a few rounds of breath. And then as you come out of the posture you should be either breathing in or out, as guided by your yoga teacher.
5. Hold your locks while practicing
There are three locks (Bandha) that you need to keep in mind while practicing most yoga postures. The first lock is the “Mula bandha”. The second lock is “Uddiyana bandha”. And the third one is “Jhalandhar bandha”:
• Mula Bandha – lock to keep pelvic area engaged. (Mula Bandha is the root lock and refers to the region between your anus and genital.)
• Uddiyana Bandha- lock to keep your core engaged. Make sure you have pulled in your stomach along with upper and lower abdomen.
• Jhalandhar Bandha- this is a chin lock. Slide your head back so it is not drooping forward and then move your chin towards your chest.
It is not possible to practice some of these bandhas in some yoga postures. In most cases it is self-evident but an experienced yoga teacher should be able to guide you. Practicing you postures with the proper locks will multiply the benefits of the postures manifold.
6. Do not let mind wander while practicing
The purpose of yoga is to steady the mind. Most benefits of yoga come from calming down and steadying the mind. It is therefore important to prevent your mind from wandering while on the yoga mat. An easy way to do this is to repeat continuously in your mind a short mantra while practicing your postures. A mantra is a short phrase in your own religious tradition. If you are not religious you may come up with a short phrase of your own that expresses humility, joy, and wonder. (“I bow before nature” is an example).
7. Focus on humility and love not calories
The most important thing in yoga is humility and surrender. If yoga is practiced with an attitude of arrogance or pride, it may prove counterproductive. It is therefore important to be completely non-competitive in your practice. Do not worry about how well others are doing. Instead just focus on your breath, your locks, and your mantra while practicing yoga. Do not try to burn calories or treat yoga as a workout. Instead use your breath as your guide. Practice only to that level of intensity where your breath does not become choppy.
8. For best results practice all 8 limbs
The practice of yoga postures is only one limb of the eight limbs of the full yoga system. To multiply your benefits you may want to incorprate as many other limbs as possible. The simultaneous practice of multiple limbs of yoga is very powerful and can lead to an acceleration of benefits.
The benefits of yoga are many and go much beyond its vaunted health benefits. Use the tips in this article to make the most of your yoga practice.
“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.” ~B.K.S.Iyengar
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