There’s more to yoga than just getting to class, doing a few flow sequences, and being done with it. Unlike some forms of exercise, a yoga practice requires much more than just going though the motions. “It’s what sets yoga apart from other disciplines,” says Colleen Saidman Yee, internationally acclaimed yoga instructor and creator of the new DVD Calorie Killer Yoga. “Yoga tones from head to toe, but focuses on training the mind.” And Colleen’s yogi husband, Rodney Yee, agrees, saying that in the beginning, the practice honed in on the mind. “We’ve turned it into physical fitness,” he says. “It’s fine if that’s the doorway for most people to find yoga, but it’s much more than that.”
Learn how to get more from your practice — inside and out — with these tips from Colleen and Rodney.
A Mindful Practice
While you may have heard the term, you’re not alone if you aren’t sure what “mindfulness” means. About 2,500 years ago, when the practice was just beginning, the sole focus was on the mind. Recently, it has become more about getting physical fitness and getting a workout in. And while that’s OK for students to do, being present, mentally present, can make all the difference when it comes to a yoga session. “A good teacher will keep your mind there,” says Colleen. She and many other instructors use breathing to bring students’ minds back so they can reap the many benefits that come with focus. “What they come in and get on their mat for, isn’t what they leave with,” says Rodney. “They could come in for spirit and leave a vegetarian or come in just to get in shape but leave feeling more in tune with their thoughts.”
Reaping the Benefits of Yoga
It can take time to start seeing breakthroughs in your practice. But these fundamentals can help get your journey underway.
1. Drop the distractions.
It’s easy to get so caught up trying to focus that you begin to get frustrated with yourself when you can’t turn your mind off. “A main tool is to try not to push anything away,” says Colleen. “Accept where you are and in that acceptance something softens.” Keep in mind that you’re not trying to get rid of any thoughts but rather make space for everything so that you feel a sense of relaxation. “Science is proving now that there is no such thing as multitasking, but that you might just be jumping from one thing to another,” says Rodney. “Try bringing yourself back to the activity at hand and dedicate time to your practice. “
2. Just breathe.
Why is breathing such an essential part of yoga? The process is both voluntary and involuntary, but by focusing on it, you can give it power. “Your mind wants something and by giving it breath, it’s not chatter or a to do list,” says Rodney. “[The breath] satisfies the mind by giving it something that isn’t verbal.” Plus, by listening to the breath, you allow it to calm you down. “It becomes a source of meditation to calm the mind and the physiology of the whole body … and be present in your practice,” says Colleen.
3. Tune out the crowd.
What, you don’t enjoy when someone accidently kicks you in the face during a vinyasa or a sweaty armpit ends up right next to your face? A crowded room can be the pits (literally) for some students. So why not just leave? “I actually think this is when you get your deepest practice,” says Colleen. “Not only do you have the support of everyone being there with you, but with a small space and lots of breathing and sweating around you, you’re forced to go into your own space on your own mat and bring your senses inward.” According to Rodney, you really can benefit by stepping out of your comfort zone and sticking it out. “You get this influence of energy, like someone playing solo music versus a huge symphony — it’s a completely different beast.”
4. Maintain consistency.
Like anything in life, the more often you do yoga, the quicker and better it all soaks in. “It’s sort of this everydayness of something, so it’s not special but ordinary,” says Rodney. “Being ordinary, it seeps deeper into the fiber of your being and you don’t have to try so hard.” The more frequently you practice, you won’t have to think about it as much as it will become routine. And this type of practice will help you advance in yoga.
5. Acknowledge your progress.
“Some people can have this dynamic ‘aha’ moment in their first class and then search the rest of their life to get that back,” says Colleen. But the bigger picture benefits can be just as meaningful. “Out in the world if you’re having an argument or someone cuts you off on the highway, you can stop and notice your breath or your feet and you can hone in on those sensations. It’s incredibly powerful.” And the more you practice, it sets the groundwork for you being able to reach those moments of zen (especially when they are much needed) more often.
“We have a strange philosophy that more is always better, says Rodney. “Even though we know that’s not true, we’re stuck on it.” So what happens when you finally unplug and experience that sensory withdrawal to help recharge your batteries? “Everything is more accessible and clear,” says Colleen. “It’s the most beneficial thing you can do for productivity, relationships, basically everything.”
Remember that yoga is about regaining quality, not just adding quantity to your practice. “Be attentive to that,” reminds Rodney. “Otherwise, you’ll get to the end of life and think ‘Why did I always have my glass at full tilt?’”
To better your yoga practice, head to DailyBurn.com to personalize your routine at home, in the gym, or on-the-go. And to take class with Colleen or Rodney check out Yoga Shanti in New York City or Sag Harbor, New York.
Originally posted on April 11, 2014.