Part 1: 6 Misconceptions About Your Physical Yoga Practice
Whether you’re new to yoga or have been living it for years, don't give in to these big misconceptions about the practice of physical yoga. Although new yogis are more apt to fall into these traps, you can still find yourself, like I do, giving into these illusions even after many years as a devoted practitioner. Let this list help you see through your mind’s clutter and remember what is most important in your practice.
Misconception #1 - You make the asana (pose) the goal of yoga:
Physical postures are not and should not be seen as the goal of yoga. However, hatha (physical) yoga is one of the important tools for learning to ultimately better control your mind. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Sri Swami Satchidananda translates the second sutra (thread) as, “The restraints of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga”. The body is seen as a doorway into the mind. As your body opens, so does your capacity for mindfulness.
The experience of moving into poses and the awareness of your body and mind that you cultivate along the physical journey is much more important than any pose itself. Handstands don't make you a better yogi (but they are a fun way to play!). Opening yourself up to dive deep within and learn about your body and mind makes you a true student of yoga. Luckily, you can do this simply by having the courage and dedication to come to your mat and practice. Just don't forget that what poses you "accomplish" during your practice really mean little on their own.
Misconception #2 - You ignore your body and let your ego mind lead:
I always tell my new students, "Everything I say is an invitation and not an order. Only you know where your body can and should go". Yogis tend to either force themselves into poses they aren't physically or mentally ready for or they avert from those that seem too physically and mentally challenging. It's important to always bring mindfulness to your practice by tuning into what both your body and mind truly need - not just what your egoistic mind may crave.
I also encourage beginners to take a "resting pose" such as balasana (child's pose) or tadasana (mountain pose), if child’s pose is not comfortable, whenever they need to "come back to center". A resting post should be taken if you're feeling overexerted or exhausted in any way or if you simply need to reconnect with your breath. Speaking of your breath...
Misconception #3 - You take your breath for granted because focusing on making physical shapes is more important:
Yoga asana is movement united with the breath. New yogis are usually less familiar with conscious breathing and tend to overlook the importance of the breath, but all yogis forget to breath from time to time. Without attention, your breathing may become shallow or uneven. You may even find yourself holding your breath when the practice becomes challenging. As I always say in class, "Your breath is your number one priority and the pose comes second. Let your breath be your guide".
The incredible benefits of yoga can't be experienced fully if the practitioner isn't focused on their breath. Techniques, including the fundamental breath of hatha yoga - the ujjayi breath, are utilized to direct and influence prana (vital life force energy) within your body. Your yoga practice is meant to affect multiple layers that reside within you. These layers include the physical, energetic and mental. Your breath, part of the energetic sheath, is the bridge between the physical and mental. How can you get a handle on your breath? Your can start by simply working on sustaining more fluid, even inhales and exhales through your nose throughout your practice.
By acknowledging these big misconceptions and making an effort to see past them and through to the truth, you empower yourself to reap the full benefits of your yoga practice.
Brittany Szafran, Sass Yoga owner, is a registered yoga teacher providing private and group yoga classes. She teaches various styles of hatha yoga - vinyasa, yin, restorative and more - in a variety of venues from yoga studios, fitness centers and corporate offices to public parks and local beaches. Her intention is to provide a welcoming and inspiring space for all people to experience yoga. By creating a safe space founded in knowledge, professionalism and integrity, everyone can explore the unlimited benefits of their yoga practice. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or contact her through the form.