Tip Tuesday: 5 Ways to Avoid Yoga Auto-Pilot

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

Once you’ve been doing yoga awhile and you’re familiar with the poses, it’s very easy to go on auto-pilot in yoga. You body has some muscle memory and you no longer have to think as much about how to do each pose. Consequently, while you stop thinking about the poses, the mind starts to wander and think about other things. While your body might be in the pose, your breath, mind, and spirit have vacated.

When you practice yoga on auto-pilot, yes, you’ve technically done the physical practice, but how much benefit are you getting out of just going through the motions? It’s a bit like saying you read a book when all you did was turn the pages.

Auto-pilot is, well, very automatic. To stay out of it, I find that I have to trick my brain into getting back into my body. Here are a few ways that help me stay mindful and present in the practice:

1. Change the cross of your hands Clasp your hands, then move your fingers over one. It will feel very strange because you are not habituated to interlacing your hands this way. You can do this in any hand-clasping pose such as elbow to knee, ostrich, and wide-legged forward bend.

2. Start off on a different side If you usually start with your right side, start with the left. If you generally start with the left, begin with the left. Or mix it up. If you’re doing sun salutations, alternate starting with the right or left foot and/or alternate between classical and B series sun salutations.

3. Find a point of focus Pick an area of the body to be your focus as you come into the pose

4. Try a variation Play with different variations on classical poses. You might try dolphin or downward dog with one leg up. Or try reverse warrior with the back arm wrapped around the waist.  Get fascinated by what movements feel good to you and what variations help you experience the pose in a new way.

5. Take it up a notch Bring yourself out of your comfort zone and try out the next step in advancing the pose. If your balance is steady in tree, try bringing your arms overhead. Try turbo dog every time you come into downward dog. See if you can hold an intense pose for longer. If you’re feeling steady in forearm balance or handstand, explore leg variations with the legs in badha konasana, splits, or lotus. There’s always a place to find the next challenge in a pose.

Got a tip that helps you stay out of auto-pilot mode? Please share about it in the comments.


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