Whether you’ve lived on your mat for years or are new to the world of yoga, you want to get the most out of your workout. Yoga literally means the union of breath and body and is a great way to build inner peace and harmony while toning and stretching your muscles. Certain yoga poses can even alleviate the pain of certain health conditions.
How can you get the most out of your own yoga practice? It begins with keeping an open mind and being honest with yourself. It also involves listening to your body. Here’s what to do.
1. Turn off and Unplug
Check your cellphone at the door, please. When alerts — yes, even if you keep your phone on vibrate — go off, they interrupt not only your practice but also that of your classmates’. Out of respect for others, turn off your phone unless you’re a trauma surgeon on call for the local ER.
Besides, the entire point of yoga is unplugging from this constantly connected world and rediscovering your inner self. You can’t find your Zen if you’re checking texts from your bestie (who should be in class with you by rights!).
2. Get There Early
Do you know what “namaste” means? It roughly translates as, “The light in me recognizes and salutes the light in you.” It means exhibiting respect and loving kindness toward others.
Yoga instructors go to great lengths to respect the time of class participants, and interrupting the introductory meditations will disrupt the concentration of others. The first few minutes before class can help you clear your mind, chat with others and set the tone for the work to come. Don’t cheat yourself or others out of this time by showing up late.
3. Set Your Intentions up Front
Setting intentions will help you get the most out of your practice. Yoga is a wonderful way to relax, clear your mind and find balance. If your goal for the class is stress relief, visualize your anxiety melting into the mat ahead of time. Many top athletes testify that visualization does more to help them succeed than does their athletic prowess alone.
4. Disclose Physical Limitations
When you get to class, spend a few minutes speaking with the instructor if you have any medical conditions. For example, if you have spinal stenosis, certain poses such as camel pose may cause significant strain on the vertebrae. By letting your instructor know ahead of time will enable them to suggest modifications for such movements.
Likewise, if you suffer from any type of arthritis causing shoulder pain, let your instructor know. Instructors must receive training in first aid and CPR as part of their certification, and they’ll scan the class for signs of possible heart problems. Rubbing your left shoulder could cause undue alarm.
5. Choose the Right Level
Different levels of yoga exist, so select one suited for your ability. You can take an online assessment to determine your fitness level, which should help you select the right class.
If you’re a senior or someone with special health needs, you might consider classes specially designed for your demographic. Such instructors use techniques deliberately intended to work gently with the body and joints. You can move up to more advanced classes as your fitness level improves.
6. Act Like a Beginner
Beginners often get more from yoga classes than seasoned yogis who come equipped with preconceived ideas. Empty your mind prior to class, and try to cultivate an attitude of open-mindedness and curiosity. Every instructor offers something new, and approaching each class as if it were your first will help you maximize the value you get from their teachings.
7. Try a Variety of Styles
Multiple styles of yoga exist. Some, such as Bikram yoga, introduce the element of heat to help your muscles relax. Some yogis focus more on the physical aspect of the workout, while others focus on meditation. Basically, whatever your mood, you can find a yoga class to suit you!
Experimenting with different styles will get your body moving in unique ways. You may work muscles you didn’t even know you had. Plus, experimentation will allow you to add elements of classes you enjoy into your own private practice.
8. Establish Realistic Goals
Chances are, you won’t find yourself sitting in full lotus right off the bat — if ever! And that’s okay. Yoga means union — the union of your mind and your body. You’re not in competition with anyone else.
Still, you do want to establish goals for your practice. You might decide, for example, that you want to alleviate your anxiety by 10 percent over the course of two months. That’s realistic and achievable, and you can chart your progress in a mood journal or by using an app.
9. Fuel Yourself Properly
You don’t want to go to class on an empty stomach — you could get dizzy and lose your balance. That said, you also don’t want to gorge yourself before hitting the mat.
Prior to your workout, fuel your body with the right foods. Have a handful of trail mix containing fruit and nuts, or indulge in an organic nutrition bar or shake. Ideally, you want a bit of protein and complex carbs to power you through a full hour or more of work.
10. Listen to Your Body
Finally, to get the most out of your workout, listen to your body. If a pose feels uncomfortable in a negative way, stop. Ask the instructor after class what modifications you can make next time.
Yoga should feel like a celebration, not a chore. Do what feels good to you.
Getting the Most From Your Yoga Experience
Yoga offers a wonderful way to calm your mind, alleviate blue and anxious moods and stretch your muscles. It can alleviate the pain of certain health conditions and leave you feeling well-exercised. By following the tips above, you can make the most of your time on the mat.