Tip Tuesday: Celebrating Success in Your Yoga Practice

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.

The other day I had my students practicing crow pose. For most of us, this is a pose that comes in stages before we can balance in the full pose. Everyone was trying so hard and I got very excited when many of them began to “get” the pose. But I noticed a pattern. Anytime the students made progress in the pose, they almost immediately would negate their achievement. I congratulated one student who got the hang of the alignment and managed to get both feet off the ground for a second before falling out. She was happy about it, but added, “Yeah, but I still have so far to go.”

How many times have you degraded your progress in your yoga practice? “I’m not good at this pose.” “Well, I got further today, but I doubt I’ll ever get the whole pose.” “I should have gotten it already.” Or when you land the full pose, “Well, it sure took me forever to finally do it.”

When we diminish our progress we also successfully diminish our desire to keep practicing. When you only look at the balancing pose you fell from, your hands not reaching your toes, and all those poses you should’ve been able to do by now if only you were a better yogi, you’ll dread getting on the mat. Without looking at the wins in your practice, it can just seem like a daunting race where you can’t keep up and eventually want to avoid all together.

However, when you start looking for the successes in your practice, the practice inevitably starts to be more enjoyable. Success is motivating. It gives us hope and the energy to keep trying.

Shifting our perspective to focus on our small wins and celebrating our success is a process of breaking our habitual self-negation. There are ways you can start to make the shift:

Begin to look for your wins. Find the successes, however small, however insignificant you think they are. Perhaps you held an arm balance, even if it was only for a second. Maybe your hip opened up another 1/4 inch. Or that pose that’s usually hard for you felt easier. Take a moment and breath that positive feeling of success into your body.

Focus on one instruction at a time. Instead of thinking of the full pose, focus on each smaller component. “Inhale, lift chest. Exhale, draw tailbone down. Relax the neck.” Taking the pose one cue at a time helps you stay present and get curious about what each component in the pose does for you.

When you do make that quantum leap, celebrate! Rather than lamenting how long it took you to get there, take pride in all the conscious efforts you made again and again to get there. And feel how good it feels when you do pick both feet up and fly.

 

Tip Tuesday: Find Delight in Your Yoga

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.

How do you find delight in yoga? I’m not talking about mild enjoyment, “Sure, that’s a nice stretch. Yes, my body feels less tight.” I’m talking joy, excitement, and aliveness surging through you.

Finding delight in yoga is a theme we frequently explore in Forrest Yoga classes. At first, delight might seem elusive, especially when you’re in the middle of a touch sequence of abs or holding bridge pose for what feels like an endless amount of time. In fact, suffering might seem more like it. So where do you even begin cultivating delight in your practice?

It helps me as I’m starting my practice to close my eyes, breathe, and reflect on what brings me joy. It might be a person or a particular place or maybe just a time in my life where I felt an overflowing sense of happiness. For me, this might be: visualizing my good friends, the high I felt after skydiving for the first time, sunbathing, or the warmth of my kitties sitting on my lap. You’ll have your own joys to draw upon.

As you connect to this joy, get a visceral sense of what it feels like in your body. I notice my body brightens up, I get a little smile on my face, and my shoulders feel lighter. Feel what’s true for you and breathe in this experience of joy.

Now comes the trickier part–keeping this feeling of joy as you go through the yoga practice. Sometimes this is easy. Hitting child’s pose after holding onto dolphin pose for a long time feels like a glorious rest! However, when it comes to a particularly challenging or dreaded pose, our first instinct is to often go into survival mode: I’ll just hold on in the pose, hate every second of it, and hope that the end will come soon.

Instead, what can you find to like about a pose? Now I used to really hate abs, especially elbow to knee pose. My abs weren’t all the strong, I had a hard time getting the breathing right with the movements, and we seemed to move agonizingly slow. I gritted my teeth and looked forward to the moment where we could release the pose. So I tried to think of how I could find something to like about abs instead of being miserable (after all, there’s always abs in Forrest Yoga, so might as well start finding enjoyment in them). I observed that elbow to knee gave me more energy in my core and I felt more awake (even if my abs were sore). Even if I disparaged myself for not getting the pose right, I had to admit I liked the fact elbow to knee forced my brain to be focused. As I continue to practice, I find I begin to appreciate more subtle aspects of the pose such as the opening in my inner legs and release in my hips.

You can of course find delight by doing your favorite poses. What poses get you excited and how do they make you feel in your body? One of my favorites is dolphin strut (video link). It makes me focus on my balance, gives me a terrific hip opening, and juices me up. I love how powerful and non-self-conscious it makes me feel. Consider what poses you love to do and why and then go and do them.

Just like we can develop our proficiency in yoga poses, we can hone the skill of finding delight in the practice. Why settle for just enjoyment? Let’s go after the delight!