For those first starting to practice yoga, the constant reminders about the mind body connection can seem vague and elusive. Yoga teachers often speak of "listening to your body". Truth is, though, most people go throughout their days without having a clue what their body is telling them. How often do you recognize the action of getting out of a car, or washing a dish? How often do we think of the various muscles used to sit down on the couch? Yoga teaches us to bring mindfulness to everything we do, not just the practice. It takes a while to get to this point, though. Most of us will never be completely mindful when moving about our day to day tasks. Trauma, neglect, and general lack of awareness of our bodies can prevent us from being receptive to what the body is telling us. In our practice, we need to find the delicate balance between stepping outside of our comfort zones and mindfully practicing, with deference and gratitude towards our body. Our bodies sometimes, but don't usually scream out "Hey, stop that!". It's typically a twinge here, the feeling that something is not right in your quadricep the next day. How do we know when to stop? Am I pushing myself beyond my edge? Is this my ego pushing me to go deeper than the person next to me? Teachers are there to cue breath, alignment, and to help you find your edge, mentally and physically. You are the only one who knows where your body is at, though, and when to step back. Here are some examples where it might be a good idea to step back and smell the roses:
1. Breathing: Breath keeps us in the present moment. Teachers cue breaths, and for the most part this is a goal, but you need to breathe when you need to breathe. Don't worry if you need to take an extra breath, do what you need to do.
2. Adjustments and Assists: Yoga teachers make adjustments and assists. Adjustments correct alignment and assists can help a student gain deeper access to a pose. You are in control of your body, and if something doesn't feel right say "No thank you" or let your teacher know.
3. Inversions and Balancing poses: Sometimes we just have an off day. This is when I say no thanks to the headstand, I'm headed for legs up the wall. It's fun to try new things when you're up for it, it's not so fun to injure yourself when you probably just needed a rest. Child's pose is always there for you.
4. Beginning of class and Savasana: This is an excellent opportunity to conduct a body scan. Slowly move from your toes up to the crown of the head, focusing on each individual body part. Check in with each one. "How are you today, knee? Feeling creaky? Let's be good to you today, then."
Learning to watch for subtle changes in your breath, balance, and asana will bring you closer to that mind body connection. Ultimately, two people may look the same in a pose but they will almost never feel the same.
Always practice ahimsa (non-violence) on yourself, first and foremost. "Take care of your body, it's the only place you have to live." Jim Rohn