Knowing Ourselves — Observing without Judgment
As I’m sure you’ve heard before if you practice yoga regularly, we must begin where we are today. In many yoga classes, the teacher will ask you to begin by deepening your breath, closing your eyes, and “looking” inside. You are encouraged to breathe deeply and slowly, while searching your entire body for tension, as if you are shining a spotlight on one area of the body to the next. This shift to an internal rather than external view is imperative in yoga. We must feel more than think, and based on what we feel move forward appropriately with our practice. This way, we get the most benefit and ensure that we don’t hurt ourselves.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know yourself and what is going on in your body, listen to your intuition, and create or modify your yoga practice based on this knowledge. At home it might be easier to decide what type of yoga you need; in a class, you can modify and take child’s pose when needed. Our energy level is constantly shifting and what’s appropriate for someone else may not be appropriate for us. What’s appropriate one day is also not necessarily the best thing for us the following day. Please don’t compare yourself to others. We are all different, our bodies are shaped differently, and our yoga poses are going to look differently from others’. Know yourself, observe without judgment, and proceed accordingly.
The ability to truly feel what is going on inside (physically, mentally, and emotionally) will sharpen with practice. It takes some letting go of ego at times. For example, especially when I first started going to yoga classes, I always strived to keep up with the rest of the class despite the instruction to take child’s pose when necessary. I struggled to get through intense heated power yoga classes because everyone else was moving and I felt like I had to keep up. My breath was labored and at times I became dizzy. Here’s the thing: when I was unable to maintain a consistent, smooth, soft breath, I wasn’t really doing yoga. The quality of the breath is usually the first sign of whether or not you are doing what’s right for you at that moment. Eventually, I learned to observe my breath and be patient with myself. I learned to modify poses (or come out completely) until I was truly ready for them.
Although we often practice together, and that group energy can be powerful, yoga is an individual practice. Each person is unique and has a different set of physical, mental, and emotional needs. These needs are constantly changing. When we are acutely aware of our current state, we can practice yoga intelligently, gaining the most benefit.