Pure Presence: 5 Tips for Staying Present Within Your Yoga Practice


I remember the exact moment I started to truly be present on stage. It was a moment that I had replayed a thousand times in rehearsal and in front of audiences, yet for the first time I was actually breathing for the character I was playing and inhabiting the space of her moment. I was suddenly completely connected to her, to the other actors sharing the moment with me, and can remember to this day my costume, the blocking of the set and the actors at that particular time, as well as, the colors of the lights that shone down on us to help us relay the story to our audience. It was at this point I realized I had always “played” at being an actor and now I was actually in the motion, the breath in which I was truly embodying the person I was portraying.

But now as I look back at that moment I realize that it was just one of the many moments in which I found myself in the Now with all of the thoughts, anxieties, and questions that plague my chattering mind completely falling away. It was time to enjoy this moment, this tiny space of time, as well as, feel what it was like to be in this body.

I was reminded of this feeling once again when I attended classes at a Women’s Retreat last week. The facility was great and the classes were drippy to say the least, but there were no mirrors. Mirrors are a big part of the Original Hot Yoga practice as the belief is you make your own adjustments as you listen to the words of the instructor and gaze at yourself doing the postures and responding to the words. To do the series without mirrors means you need to be extremely present and in your body. You need to feel the postures instead of see them and adjust accordingly.

So, on the first Thursday night class, as I compressed and stretched into the first set of Half Moon Pose , I remember thinking to myself, “Oh, yes, this again.” Having practiced for almost nine years there have been plenty of situations where I did not have a mirror at my disposal. This would happen when I tried to do the series on my own when out on the road performing and there was no studio within a 3-hour radius. It definitely took place during teacher training where I was one of hundreds of trainees and was sometimes placed at the back of the room. And it also was the way I trained for yoga asana competition last year, going over my postures over and over again, learning how to feel, instead of see, what I needed to accomplish.

There are many benefits to the mirrors, but there are times where I get too caught in them. I sometimes find myself watching the woman in the mirror bending, stretching, and pulling for duration of class and not connecting that this woman is me – that I am the one doing all that work.  So, it was great for a weekend to just connect with the way the postures feel. I could hone in on the compressions of the backbends, the stretches of the hamstrings, and the opening in my hips as I moved through the series. I felt completely present in my body, my breath, and ultimately my mind. And I realized once again that that is how it should always be.

How often do we arrive on our mat, space out, let the body go on autopilot, and wake up sometime around end of class?  I know there are times where I have let it happen.. and too often. And I know this isn’t my best work no matter what I achieved within the confines of the class. A class you can be proud of is one where you are still present in the body for each breath, each drip of sweat.  With this thought I decided to share some of my tips for staying present within your practice, so that you can reap the maximum rewards and benefits from your time on the mat.

  1. Feel something. Make sure you are not just getting into the postures and dully gazing at your reflection. Combine the look of the posture while paying attention to the muscles you are using. Can you feel that stretch in the hips? Can you feel that opening in your shoulders? Can you create more of a backward bend by really paying attention to the back muscles and engaging them?
  2. Keep your eyes open. So many times I see students trying to shut out part of the series. By simply closing your eyes you are trying to escape. Let the studio be your happy place, no matter how grueling. Do not drift off to another place in time. The instructor will tell you where to look. They won't say, “And now close your eyes.” Ever. Unless it is the end of class. By keeping the eyes open you are keeping your awareness to the activity you are engaging in.
  3. Breathe. The breath will always bring you back to the present moment. It is the key to being in your body Now. When you catch your mind starting to wander to other things that have nothing to do with your yoga practice always go directly to focusing on your breath.
  4. Keep the focus on you. It’s easy to get distracted by the heavy breather on your left, the sweat flinger on your right, and that girl with the too, too cute yoga outfit at the front of the room that is rocking out the standing splits in Standing Bow Pulling Pose. Always try to keep your eyes on you. Let nothing steal your peace in the hot room. You are important. That’s why you showed up, so make your practice about you.
  5. Listen to Your Instructor. The instructor's work is to keep you engaged. If you truly begin to listen to the words they are using, searching for new information about the posture, no matter how long you have been practicing, you will stay present in the given moment. Drown everything else out and hear every word.

Being present and in your body during your practice is important. The lessons you learn from the yoga are not meant to be contained within the studio walls, but brought into your everyday life. If you are present when you are hot, sweaty, and at times impossibly uncomfortable, you will be able to maintain your presence with friends, family, and co-workers to become an engaged, efficient, and well-balanced individual, contributing to the world and functioning at your highest level.

Find your focus, your breath, and your every moment and you will find the key to a life blossoming with abundance, helping you shine in every situation.

Originally posted to viewsfromthepodium.com on August 12, 2014

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