6 Ways to Bring Greater Presence to Your Yoga Practice
Have you ever finished a yoga class, or home practice on your laptop, and thought to yourself with mild confusion while lying in savasana, “I feel much better than before, but what did I just do exactly?” It’s as if you were on auto-pilot as you made your way through the asanas. It’s like you let your subconscious mind take over as you followed the teacher online, not unlike driving your car to pick the kids up from nursery school. You can’t remember if you did bow pose or shalabhasana. Perhaps you even found yourself checking your new iPhone while resting in seated forward bend. Sure, you still feel better and you know you did your body and mind a world of good, but there’s that nagging sensation that you cut yourself infinitely short – that by not being fully present, you didn’t gain all the amazing benefits that yoga brings. Not unlike life, when we’re not opening ourselves up completely to the present moment, we’re not experiencing the true depth and beauty of what our lives (and our yoga practice) has to offer.
Set an Intention
Set an intention to be fully present before you begin. Get quiet, sit in your seat with the eyes closed and have the thought, “today, right now, as I move into my practice, I intend to bring as much awareness to it as I have within me, in this moment. I know that I will tap into the true healing nature of yoga when I bring more awareness to my breath and movement.” Then thank yourself for setting such a self-loving intention. Drop into that intention a few times during your precious time on the mat. Throughout your practice, repeat the mantra, “I am fully present,” and use it when you find yourself adrift.
It’s amazing how much presence we can bring to the postures by simply slowing down the pace. So often we get caught up in a challenging vinyasa routine and find ourselves barely keeping up – let alone feeling and relaxing deeply into the poses. Stay in the posture long enough to really “do” it. Move through your sun salutations slower than you normally would. Allow yourself to hold poses longer than you might like, all the while bringing your entire being into the present moment, and into the pose.
Think of it as a Breathing Practice
At the core of yoga is the breath, and the simplest way to access the present moment is by breathing with awareness. You can control the breath, or you can simply observe it. If you wish to control it, try initiating each movement with the breath. Begin your inhale before you begin moving the body. Begin the exhale before you begin dropping into a pose. Think of the breath as the little train whistle that signals to your body that it’s time to flow. Let your breath be the conductor of your movement, and see how much more conscious awareness your practice naturally takes on. Now try observing your breath by using your senses to witness it. Listen to the ocean-like sound of Ujayii pranayama. Feel it as it moves through different parts of your body. You may even want to count your inhales and exhales to see just how deep or shallow your breathing is with each posture. By bringing this loving attention to your breath, you’ll be bringing the same loving attention to your practice.
Practice in Nature
While we can’t always practice outside due to the sometimes cold and harsh elements, we most definitely can when the seasons are warm and nurturing. Even if it’s too chilly outside to practice in your preferred yoga wear, layer up and take your mat to the back patio. When the weather does warm, make a point of practicing outside most days. There seems to be a sense of presence that naturally arises when we practice yoga with the pleasant song of birds, under the glowing sun, by the rhythm of the ocean, or beneath the glow of soft moonlight. If you have a dog, let it bask in the sun at the foot of your mat. Allow their presence to inspire your own.
Be Infinitely Curious
When your yoga practice becomes boring and you find yourself moving through the practice on auto-pilot, rejoice! And get curious. You’ve been practicing yoga long enough now that it has become routine – not something exotic anymore. William Blake tells us that finding innocence through experience is the true test of a human spirit. Bring a sense of innocence and curiosity to your yoga mat. The beauty of yoga, as well as life, is that we are not the same person from one day to the next. We are constantly evolving, changing – that’s the nature of it all. So when things feel mundane, as they sometimes do, get really curious. Drop into your “beginner’s mind” and say, “what else is there to learn here?” Ask questions as you practice. You’ll find this sense of innocence and curiosity naturally drops you into the present moment.
Regard Your Yoga Practice as Sacred
Because it is! And you are one of the lucky ones who has the knowledge and awareness to know that yoga is a necessary part of your life. You have the wherewithal to practice with regularity. You know that everyone in the world could benefit from such a thing and yet, you are one of the lucky few (relatively speaking) on the planet who are actually doing it. To enhance your regard towards yoga as a sacred ritual unique to you and your body in this moment, alight your senses with candles, music, incense, aromatherapy – whatever soothes your senses and brings in a feeling of the sacred.
As you bring greater presence to your practice, notice the healing that occurs on every level. When this happens bring deep compassion to yourself and let it all unfold before you, with a sense of surrender and opening to each moment.
Here’s to greater presence on the mat!