I love incorporating yoga into my fitness routine, but it is the yoga-mindset that I carry with me throughout the week. You do not have to go to a yoga class to enjoy all of the benefits. There are principles of yoga that have nothing to do with poses or flexibility. Concepts like being in the present moment, having awareness of your thoughts and feelings, being connected to breath, and living without self-judgment and comparison are all practices anyone can benefit from.
Research shows that yoga can help decrease stress, improve heart health, manage chronic health conditions, and improve mental wellness, among many other benefits. There are several components to a yoga class: movement through poses, connection to breath, and mindfulness. You can have your own yoga practice at home or incorporate these concepts into any other fitness routine you may have. The important thing is to get up and get in motion as often as you can.
Perhaps the most important place to start is connecting to your breath. Breathe deeply and slowly, in and out of your nose noticing how the air feels going in and coming out. If that is difficult try only focusing on your feet as you are walking. Literally just feel your feet. Your mind will naturally wander, but bring your concentration back to your feet. Checking in with yourself in this way can be a calming experience. It can also bring to light how often you are not connected to your breathing, on autopilot or multitasking.
Once you are comfortable being connected to your breath, you can deepen the practice by breathing deeper and more intentionally. This is an excellent tool to get calm, centered and focused. . It can even help lower your heart rate. An easy breathing technique that you can do anywhere is inhaling for three seconds and exhaling slowly for three (or more) seconds. You can begin lengthening your inhale and exhale for further relaxation.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present, connected, and non-judgmental in your daily life. This sense of connectedness serves to ground your mind and body and should be used in conjunction with other yoga-based practices like deep breathing.
When in a yoga class, you are often prompted to take inventory of how you are thinking and feeling and then you are asked to acknowledge those thoughts and sensations and release them. To do this in daily life, try doing a scan of your mind and body by checking in with everything going on in that moment. Maybe you notice that you are slouching, that your shoulders are tense, and you are thinking about an upcoming project. Then imagine letting all of that go and focusing on whatever you are doing right in that moment. Worrying about the future or fretting over the past can be incredibly draining and usually does not serve a positive purpose.
Grounding literally means connecting to the ground. This practice can help us to remember that we are connected to the ground, the earth, this planet that we live on and often forget about. It helps to have that counterpoint that we are all connected to something bigger than just us as individuals. To use grounding in day-to-day life, whether standing or sitting, feel the points of your body that are connected to the ground. While feeling that connection, bring your awareness upwards and feel the lengthening in your spine. Use this whenever you need a shift in perspective and ideally, in conjunction with mindfulness and deep breathing.
My personal favorite reminder from yoga class is to live without self-judgment or comparison. Today’s yoga carries an intimidation factor with it. From the outside, it can appear that people in class are far more advanced than you might be. That disconnect can create discomfort which potentially can prevent you from ever stepping into a class. I get it and I would be lying if I have not been intimidated too. However, I remind myself that my practice is in no way related to the practice of others. Think about it; how does one person’s flexibility relate to your own? I find that a gentle reminder that comparison is not necessary helps to take my practice to a more productive, internal place.
If you are ready to work on more yoga-specific movements and poses, I encourage you to start with a sun salutation. Doing this sequence of movements, especially in the morning, is energizing and can help create a peaceful mindset to start your day. If you are ready to go to a yoga class, explore the various types of yoga until you find the right fit for you. Check out this infographic if you need some guidance in choosing the right yoga style.