Greetings Scarlet Caps! One of the biggest misconceptions about yoga, even among so-called "advanced" yoga practitioner, is that being in a yoga pose = doing yoga. Wrong. It's not modeling and it's not Simon Says.
Generally speaking, there are a few main concepts to get in yoga and I'm going to talk about two of the most important: moving with your breath and playing your edge. Assimilating these concepts into your practice is what differentiates yoga from stretching, or modeling. And it's transformational. Yoga will become easier and more enjoyable, more fun, more relaxed, more satisfying and less strain and struggle...yay!
Let's take these ideas one by one.
Breathing. This is what guides your movement in yoga. I say it all the time, "move with your breath." If you are not moving with your breath, you are not doing yoga. Period.
Breathe is the thing that grounds you in yoga and allows you to practice with focus and awareness, and a sense of ease. To release tension and strain. Focusing on your breathing during yoga will also keep you balanced, in a safe alignment and present for the moment--and the choices you are making.
Try this: as you inhale, allow your right arm to float up to your ear. Imagine the breath is raising your arm. As you exhale, imagine the breathe leaving your arm as it floats back down to your side. This is generally how you want to move all the time in yoga: in sync with your breath.
Most people let movement lead-the inhale lasts until you raise your arm, for example, and then you start exhaling. Try it the other way-try to get the movement to last as long as the inhale and as long as the exhale. The breath and movement should be so linked, so intertwined that one doesn't lead the other they just go together.
Edges. Think of your edge as a place of initial resistance in a yoga pose. That place where you first feel a stretch happening. When you practice, instead of going for maximum exertion, pause at the place where you first feel resistance, your "edge." And breathe. When you feel the sensation of stretch diminish, if you do, slowly move more deeply into the pose. Pause again and breathe. Continue moving with intention and awareness, edge by edge.
Otherwise, if you blow past your edges, if you push your body into the shape of a pose rather than letting your body open into it, you are only creating more tension and strain for yourself. Why would you want to do that? Try not to hassle yourself, in yoga or life. Ride your breath and let your body open into the shape of a pose. It's safer, and more enjoyable.
Initially, you may not feel comfortable or able to practice like this. Focusing on your breath may be really challenging. And if you're used to pushing yourself into a pose, playing your edge may feel like a step backward, especially if everyone else in class is in a picture perfect warrior one. This is normal. It takes practice, which is why we call it yoga "practice."
These principles apply to all yoga, whether you are a beginner, a veteran or even a teacher. We're all-even the teachers-still students practicing.
So the next time you step on your mat, remember: breathe and play your edge!