Recently I accomplished a goal that I've been trying to achieve for a long while - I finally got certified to be a yoga teacher. I went to a studio and went through a 12 week long yoga immersion. I was so happy with the wide variety of knowledge and experience that this process gave to me, but this is only just the beginning of my yoga journey. This summer I'm pumped to start teaching, and begin helping others on their own path toward a better life.
The most important thing I got out of going through this yoga teacher training is how to build awareness. Self awareness is a skill that all of us can benefit from, and it's not only applicable to a yoga practice. We can use this skill at home with our families, at work, or even just to reduce personal stress. This concept of being aware is all encompassing, and we can become in tune with our mind, body and spirit. To keep myself on a path of happiness, I've been practicing at cultivating some of this awareness everyday. And that's the best part -- it's only a direction. I'm always practicing, so there's no failing, only opportunities to improve. Here are five methods that I've incorporated into my day in order to become more in touch with myself.
1. Focus on your breath
Breath is the foundation of all life. Everyone has to breathe, and it's a nonjudgmental life force that can support us when we need it. A couple of things I learned about breath: I learned that breathing through your nose as often as possible is healthier than breathing through your mouth, as mouth breathing invites toxins into the body.
You can also use your breath to focus your attention, and clear your mind. Focus simply on your inhales, and allow your exhales to wash away any thoughts that aren't serving you. Next time you're on a commute, breathe away some of that road rage! It's not easy or simple by any means, and it takes consistent practice. With dedication, though, anyone can use their breath as a very powerful tool.
2. Don't be afraid of being a beginner
So many people are afraid of failure. This fear prevents us from trying new things, exploring, and improving our mind and body. Don't be afraid when trying a new yoga pose that might be a little challenging, and approach being a novice with a sense of optimism and playfulness. That might mean going to a yoga class at 6am with a friend when you're always a night owl. Eat differently, drink tea, change bad habits - we're all beginners at finding the best lifestyle for ourselves. Getting out of your comfort zone, and starting from square one can actually be liberating!
3. Find your edge
Yogi Joel Kramer once described how finding your edge in yoga means you're really paying attention to your body.
"The body has edges that mark its limits in stretch, strength endurance and balance. [The] edge has a feeling of intensity, and is right before pain, but is not pain itself. The edge moves from day to day and from breath to breath." Joel Kramer, Yoga Journal
That last sentence is my favorite. Our edge keeps moving, so we have to really pay attention to how we're feeling in order to not push ourselves too little or too far. You're only cheating yourself if you don't practice on your edge.
4. Mind matters most
I've started trying to meditate for at least twenty minutes every morning before my day really begins. Sitting in a comfortable position, hands resting comfortably in my lap, eyes closed, and lips sealed. Our posture influences our attitude, too, so sit tall with confidence - maybe on a cushion. Paying attention only to my breath for 20 minutes and letting my thoughts float by isn't always easy. Do I do it perfectly every time? Of course not, but it's not about perfection. It's about working in a direction to give my mind a break at least once a day. It helps put me in a more peaceful frame of mind to tackle my day.
5. Become less reactive
After I'm done meditating, I really feel like I can think more clearly before I act. Take a breath. How is what I am about to say going to affect the person I'm talking to? Do I really need a third cup of coffee? Do I really feel like drinking so much alcohol tonight? This is supreme awareness that comes into our daily lives. I'm not just reacting to what I think I others want me to do, I'm in touch with that I actually want to do, and what will make me feel good. I finally can properly weigh the consequences of how my actions affect myself and my world.
These are just a few simple tips to take with you, both on and off your mat. Remember: It's only a direction, there's no such thing as failure, and keep working at it! Following one or all of these tips will hopefully go a long way toward bringing some beauty and peace into your summer. Namaste!