Between holiday travel and crunch time at work, it’s more important than ever to hit the mat this time of year. Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or a newbie just buying her first piece of Kate Spade yoga gear, everyone can benefit from a little expert advice. So we reached out to top instructors to get them to spill their best yoga secret. Here are their top seven words of wisdom.
1. Focus on the Basics. Sure, it’s normal to get classroom envy of the lady or fella who’s holding a headstand like it ain’t no thang, but mastering the fundamentals and devoting your energy to honing in on the simple poses is key. “It’s a yoga practice, not a performance!” Gina Marciano, yoga instructor at Studio Three in Chicago, reminds us. “It’s not about perfection, it’s about progress. Oftentimes, yoga poses are most beneficial when you go back to the basics and strip away the fancy variations,” Marciano adds. If you aren’t ready for certain poses in class, don’t be shy about grabbing a block to prop you up or other aids like foot bands. “This will not only make a posture more accessible, but will also allow your breath to deepen and for both your body and mind to be more responsive and less reactive to tension,” explains Marciano.
2. Try and Fail: It’s Okay! “Even if a pose looks super crazy or impossible, give it a try. You may surprise yourself, but even if you don’t, every time you try, it builds strength and confidence,” offers Rebecca Weible, Director and Founder of Yo Yoga! in New York City. Perfect example: You know that time your instructor tells you to have faith and let go and throw your feet into the air for crane pose? Trust yourself and just count “1-2-3” and then go. Hey, the worst that can happen is you teeter over and try again.
3. Connect With Your Breath. The secret? Well, it’s right under your nose and happening without you even noticing. “It’s your breath!” exclaims Karen Verechia, Yoga Instructor at Hilton Head Health, a wellness retreat in South Carolina. If you’re feeling stressed or frustrated, the yogi principle of connecting with your breath is key. “Focus on slowing down your breath. You can switch from your sympathetic nervous system (aka, the ‘fight or flight’ system) to the parasympathetic system (aka, the ‘rest and digest’ system), by simply taking the time for a fuller breath. You’ll emerge more relaxed and focused,” explains Verechia. Some important notes: Make sure your exhale is longer than your inhale by about two times. First count your inhale, and then double that count as you exhale. Verechia suggests trying for five to seven breath cycles in a minute, with a cycle of an inhale and exhale counting as one. When coffee cravings strike at work and you’re feeling sluggish, fatigued and like you totally can’t concentrate, try this “breath of fire” technique first, suggests Verechia: “Exhale strongly out of your month and pull your stomach in (like panting). Inhales just happen. Focus on the exhale and get a rhythm going. Aim for 60 counts, then rest. Notice. Repeat if necessary.
4. Choose a Mantra. “Before class, I say to myself, ‘I picked this choice. I did this for a reason. I don’t hate being in the brutal heat and humidity. I’m feeling fine.’ then I wish myself good luck and knock it out like a champ,” advises Patrick Mason, a TruFusion Yoga Instructor in Las Vegas. Whitney Owens, also a Yoga Instructor at TruFusion, shares “I like to begin my yoga practice in child’s pose to ground myself into the room and get present to listening to my body throughout the practice. I use the mantra, ‘Listen and trust your body.’ That way, I am working to stay away from injury, but finding my edge in each practice.” For you, your mantra might be as simple as “I am enough” or “Let go.” Use the quote to motivate and guide you throughout the whole class, particularly when you’re trying to hold a tough pose or find yourself struggling with a move. Check out these motivational posters for some inspiration.
5. Let Things Evolve Naturally. You’ve powered your way through planning and pulling off the perfect Friendsgiving and are a rock star when it comes to acing your cycling class. So, why are you having such a hard time nailing that Chaturanga in sync with the rest of your class? Don’t be discouraged. “Yoga is meant to be a lifetime practice, so there’s no sense in attempting to master every posture in the first week, six months or even year. Allow this to be the one part of your life that isn’t goal- or task-oriented and enjoy the freedom and ease that comes from that,” comforts Gina Marciano, yoga instructor at Studio Three in Chicago. “Forget about the destination and embrace every moment of the journey to self-discovery and abundant peace,” reflects Marciano.
6. Ditch the Mat Envy. You know the drill: Arrive in class, cool and confident. Until you realize you are next to the world’s most limber yogi who manages to have perfect hair and clothes and goes through class without a bead of sweat on her forehead. Instead of being jealous, remember this: “Don’t compare yourself to others while practicing yoga! Easier said than done, right? When we compare, we automatically focus our attention outward rather than inward and lose our connection to the breath and the present moment. As soon as you observe your thoughts starting to wander, bring yourself back to your breath. Take a deep inhale, exhale and bring your attention back to your own body and mind,” says Katie Manbachi, Yoga Instructor at Yo Yoga! in New York City.
7. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate All Day Long, Especially Before Hot Yoga. You might think sipping on good ol’ H2O during class is enough, but yoga pros know better: “Hydrate well with electrolytic water throughout the day. If you are fully hydrated before class, you should not need water during class. Once class starts, it’s too late to gain the benefits of the hydration and drinking water becomes simply a psychosomatic crutch,” says Mark Balfe-Taylor, Director of Yoga at TruFusion. “However, for those who struggle with the temperature of heated classes, ice water will reduce your internal temperature, enabling you to cope better,” Balfe-Taylor advises. Bottom line: Sip on water throughout the day (here’s another reason to raise your glass, in case you need it), and still bring a bottle along to class.
Do you have a favorite yoga pose? Tweet us at @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)