“Ten Commandments” for Yoga Practice
Grateful for the opportunity to teach a Creative Expression Lab at the NFTY North American Convention this past weekend in Chicago, IL. I have lost count of how many times I've offered yoga at this biannual event--but this was by far the most memorable and meaningful. Thank you to the 90+ participants and the wonderful group leaders who worked with me to bring this experiential program to fruition... This is one of the handouts that I wrote for the newer yogis and yoginis in the room--I offer it here in hopes that you will find it helpful on your yoga journey--or that it might inspire you to start playing on a mat one day soon.
1. Solitude in Community
Stay on your own mat, physically, mentally, emotionally. Your experience is yours and yours alone. From the moment you walk onto the mat, imagine that you are stepping into holy space. Imagine as you practice that you are wrapping yourself in a tallit and separating yourself from all of the distractions around you. Concurrently, be grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by supportive and compassionate practitioners who are there with you on the journey.
2. Be Good to your Body
You are the best judge of what your body can do—and what it cannot do. Each one of us brings a unique experience to the mat (injury, natural flexibility, muscular strength). Often, the ego gets in the way of healthy practice, especially when our eyes wander off of our mats and onto the mats of our neighbors.
3. Know Thyself
Understand and accept that your body changes from day to day. One day you might feel stiff and broken, the next day you might be able to bend like a warm pretzel. Simply be aware of how your body feels today and refrain from comparing your practice to what might have been or what you wish could be.
4. There is no “Winning Yoga.” There is no “Failing Yoga.”
Yoga is not a competition—not with the people around you, and especially not with yourself (your practice might have been easier a day or a week ago). Give yourself a break. You won the minute you stepped onto the mat.
5. Set an Intention at the Beginning of your Practice
Today I would like to….
When I finish my practice today I want to feel…
I want to dedicate my practice to…
(someone who could use some healing or good vibes).
Come back to this intention often during the time you spend on the mat.
6. Practice Today So You Can Practice Tomorrow
The right intensity is the one that you can get through without feeling pain or causing injury to your body, while feeling an opening and finding space that you might not have been cognizant of before you stepped onto the mat.
7. Let Go of Expectations
What happens when you finally learn how to do handstand in the middle of the room? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. (Substitute your “nemesis pose” for handstand here…) Achieving a difficult pose will not make you a better person, nor will it bring you happiness or emotional fulfillment. The only question to ask is: "Do I feel better in anyway – physical, mentally, emotionally, spiritually - when I leave, as compared to when I walked in?" If the answer is yes, don't analyze the why; just come back and do it again!
8. Yoga Fashion Advice
Wear clothing that is comfortable—not too loose and not too snug. Stretchy fabrics are ideal (so that when you are upside-down your shirt doesn't end up covering your face). Be prepared for the room to be too warm or too cold (layer appropriately). You’ll be barefoot on the mat (socks tend to slip on the mat). Bottom line: your outfit should allow you to concentrate on your practice, not detract from it.
9. Just Breathe
This whole practice is just one big exercise of breath work. The most common type of breath in yoga revolves around breathing in and out through your nose, sealing the lips, keeping the tip of the tongue pressing against the back of the front teeth, allowing the air to pass through the back of the throat. This helps to keep the mind steady. If you have to choose between a pose and keeping your breathing steady, always choose breath.
10. Embrace Stillness
When you are experiencing a particularly challenging moment in a pose, remember this mantra: There is nowhere to go, you’re already here. Try to move into poses, commit to the pose, and simply be. Remember: the practice of yoga is simply a series of exercises designed to calm the fluctuations of the mind and allow the body and mind to sink into a blissful feeling of peace and wholeness.