The ancient science of yoga offers profound benefits that go far beyond the physical. But in order to enjoy all of yoga’s benefits—physical, mental, and spiritual—we need to cultivate a certain mindset.
Asanas were designed to enable the practitioner to sit for long periods of time in meditation, so as to achieve the ultimate goal of self-realization. Even if our goals are less lofty, our asana practice can help us develop qualities that contribute to inner peace and a higher consciousness.
When practicing asanas, we should feel comfortable in the poses. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t feel a stretch or gently extend our boundaries—on the contrary, without doing that, the poses won’t get any easier. But it should be a gradual process, approached with acceptance, determination, and patience. Acceptance of the body as it is now, determination to practice regularly, and patience to take it slowly so that we don’t get injured. Cultivating these three qualities as we practice will help us reap the greatest rewards.
So don’t struggle in the asanas. If you notice your breath is no longer smooth and even or you’re holding your breath, it’s likely you’re struggling. Back off a little. If an easier modification is offered, try it out. In most cases, you’ll still feel the effects of the pose, but it will be more comfortable. Use your breath to help you gently stretch your boundaries rather than trying to muscle through it physically and mentally, which is stressful. Cultivate acceptance, determination, and patience, instead of cultivating stress. We have enough sources of stress in our lives; we certainly don’t need our asana practice to be another one.
Remind yourself that you’re practicing for your own well-being. Take your time, listen to your body, give yourself permission to come out of the pose when you feel the need, or do an easier version (for example, when doing Warrior 1, you can practice with your hands on your hips or looking forward instead of up). Notice how nice it feels not to struggle. You are not only reducing stress, but cultivating qualities that can bring you closer to the inner peace and happiness that yoga offers.