This is a post about yoga. Yogis will appreciate it, but I’m hoping those of you who just don’t get the yoga thing read it too. Maybe it will help you understand why we devotees keep rolling out our mats. Or maybe it will reinforce all the stuff you already think about us peace-loving body benders. Open your mind to a place of acceptance!
One of the things I love most about yoga is that you can do it anywhere, and expect certain constants. I’ve down-dogged on a beach in Puerto Rico, a barn in Martha’s Vineyard, and a strip mall in California, and teachers often use the same words and phrases to lead the class.
Enjoyment of yoga is extremely dependent on the teacher and how he/she communicates. Some may lead a rigorous, challenging class but don’t give enough cues to help students grow in their poses. Others talk too much, which can be distracting. In my experience, the best teachers are those who talk just enough to keep my mind focused, and in the present, and my practice growing.
Here are some of my favorite yoga words that motivate me in even the toughest poses:
Practice-– I love the acceptance you feel inside a yoga studio. Of all the exercise regimens I’ve tried– and there are many– it’s the least competitive, and you are mostly competing with yourself more than the yogi next to you. Teachers will say “if handstand is in your practice, go for it”…which means you have a few minutes to “practice” standing on your head, but there’s no expectation of achievement or perfection. You do the best you can. Even the most experienced yogis are always “practicing.”
Intention-– Often at the beginning of class, a teacher will ask you to set an intention. It’s a moment to focus on something you want to achieve that hour, that day, this lifetime…something like patience, acceptance, or stillness. It’s also a way to dedicate the work you do in class to people who need positive energy, if they’re sick or having a tough time. If I don’t have an obvious person or concept to think about, I may dedicate my practice to one of my kids. Then a few times during class, the teacher will remind you to return to your intention, either to refocus your mind, or give you strength in a challenging pose. Thinking about one of my kids has gotten me to push harder in a core-killing boat pose more than a trainer yelling at me ever would. And I like having a reason to think about something outside of myself.
Breathe— I swear we could solve world peace if people would just remember to breathe. It’s so simple, and so misunderstood. Yoga has taught me to breathe deeply, and slowly, to let go of the the tension in my body and the noise in my head.
Invite— This is one of those words that teachers use in many ways but it always makes me giggle inside. Sometimes it’s “Invite your breathe into the pose,” to ease up when you’re clenching. Or inviting a muscle to twist or extend itself beyond your comfort level. Should I knock on the door of my thigh muscle to ask if it wants to come over and play with my femur bone? Or maybe my breath needs an engraved invitation to reach deep into the places in my body that hurt most. I invite you to think about it.
Notice— Teachers will often ask you to notice how you’re breathing, or notice how your muscles feel in a challenging pose, or– my favorite– to notice the effects of your practice when you’re resting at the end. There aren’t enough opportunities in our busy lives to stop and notice things, especially how we’re feeling. It’s permission to check in with yourself.
Shine— As in “let your heart shine forward” when opening your chest for lifting poses like cobra, up-dog, or lunges. It’s also used to encourage you to let your inner light shine through, despite all the twisting and stretching that might be making your limbs feel like they’re on fire. I like words that sound happy and positive when I’m up against pain and suffering.
Svasana-– Is there another form of exercise that enourages you to rest at the end for at least 5 minutes? Svasana is the customary down time at the end of class where you lie on your back with arms and legs spread out, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Sometimes it’s the only quiet time I get all day.
So there you have it. Yoga words to live by. Did I lose you nonbelievers? I’m inviting all skeptics to take a deep breath, and set an intention to open your minds a crack to make room for the possibility that practicing yoga could be worth a try. Everyone needs a little svasana now and then.