By Cassie Aitken, Hot Yoga Jupiter Founder , Yoga Teacher & Global Hot Yoga Lead Teacher Trainer
Function before form.
Proceed gradually. Be gently persistent. Be attentive to the moment, not to a goal or an idea of how a posture should be. Listen to your body. Discover where in your body you overwork and where you under-work. Your practice should nourish you, not deplete you. Rest when you need to. Proceed when you are ready. Understand what you hope to get, your intention, and work steadily toward it. Choose your priorities, sometimes it may be more important to relax and meditate instead of doing a strong asana practice. If you skip a day (or more) get back into beginners mind, again, it may not be appropriate to pick up exactly where you left off. Observe how poses are connected, related, progressive, one leading to the next. Watch for, challenge, and patiently extend your limits. Be assertive, attentive and kind, not aggressive, violent or harsh. You are more capable than you realize and with practice, in time, you will exceed your own expectations. An open mind and willingness to try are assets that will bring untold benefits, both on and off the mat.
Form before depth.
Align the bones, then firm the muscles to support the architecture of the pose. Deepen the pose edge by edge, stage by stage. Build your attention from the base up, make sure you are grounded, then elongate your core (spine) and think outward from your center as you fill out the shape of each pose. Using the mirror to check your alignment isn't so much about "posture" or "line," getting it just right. It's more about seeing what you're feeling so that your inner sensitivity and awareness increases. Also, practice what you don't like to do, as well as the poses you enjoy, strengthening poses as well as stretchy poses. Deepen your stretches slowly, otherwise you may over-stretch the already-stretchy areas and neglect what truly needs to be opened. Open slowly, evenly, do not be in a rush. Take deliberate care both in activity and attitude.
Breath before everything…
Breathe. The breath orchestrates the feeling-tone of the pose and brings the practice to life. Attentive breath helps focus the mind, calms the nervous system, increases awareness, and can prevent injury. Remember, if you are unable to breathe or maintain calm during a challenging pose, you may be hurting yourself. Whenever you are not sure what to do, bring your attention back to the breath. Doing so will help you learn to keep your attention in the now and to be with what you are doing. Maintain a steady, even breath and observe the differences between inhale and exhalation. Never (rarely) hold the breath and do not grunt or puff or push the breath loudly. Interestingly, some observe that breathing slowly seems to make time pass more quickly. Allow this time with your breath to be an opportunity for curiosity, growth and discovery, not a test, not a competition. Allow this valuable time to be adventurous and fun.
… and Everything to your own degree.
If you push too fast you can easily get into pain and jump out of the pose sooner than if you had patiently allowed opening to occur. Or worse, you might injure yourself and be unable to practice for a while. Again, never be in pain. Isn’t it a relief to hear that you don't have to be pushing yourself into pain all the time? Instead, cultivate feedback-sensitivity, letting the body tell you what to do, when to deepen, when to relax, when to push. Internal thoughts like, "I don't want to be here, let me out,” are symptoms that you are pushing yourself too hard. Pushing the body into the "ideal" or completed pose ignores your body’s feedback, so might trying to conform to verbal instructions that a teacher may issue before you’re ready. All of that is using the body to attain postures, instead of using the postures to explore and open the body. Do your best and explore your edges but don't be so inclined towards accomplishment that you disregard the process.
Forever a student myself, you are my greatest teacher.
I know you don’t have to come to class and I’m so happy and appreciative when you do. It’s exciting for me to witness your progress, and I’m honored to be part of your practice. I learn from you, I’m inspired by you, and I appreciate your feedback. If I know you’re working on something, I love having the opportunity to help you with it. So please don’t hesitate to let me know if you want help, have concerns, or really liked something in particular. I value our relationship; it makes me a better teacher and it’s what makes teaching so rewarding. Thank you for teaching me about myself, the essence of yoga, and the heart in all beings.