Awareness: What to do and not do in your yoga class to achieve it

Yoga is rooted in love, non-judgment and compassion and I assure you I genuinely believe that so I am sorry to joke a bit here but I just can’t think of a better example to highlight my point and hopefully pull some folks out of the trap they fall into in a yoga class as I know all too well it can happen easily and to anyone.  Know that it is with a light heart I call you out (if this is you) and that ultimately, I want you to get out of this what I think you really came for. 

I am talking about the person who comes to class exuding confidence, is slightly arrogant and will not only appear to nail a pose but take it well beyond expectation to create their own more challenging version of it.  I commend the effort and even applaud the skill and determination it takes to achieve the shape you are in and I understand it is your practice and I am merely a guide however, 9 times out of 10 you are completely out of alignment.  In an effort to get these folks back the instructor cues the entire class to avoid singling you out.  They do this because they want to give you the opportunity to step outside of yourself and become aware, stop confusing everyone around you that this is what they are supposed to be doing and lastly because they might fear your will hurt yourself and hold them liable.  The worse part is that when the teacher cues, you either look at yourself and do not adjust or you ignore them all together because you assume they must be talking to someone else.  I know this person all too well, I have been this person. When I first found yoga I thoroughly enjoyed how my flexibility as a gymnast allowed me to go beyond the structured simple poses, at the time I had no idea I was missing the whole message.

Case in point, this person has missed one of the greatest lessons offered when you show up to yoga, and that is awareness.  Awareness is one of the greatest lessons to be learned in yoga and although you might not show up to a yoga class with the expectation to become more aware there is a high likelihood you will walk away more aware because that is how the practice is designed.   

Awareness is simply our knowledge or perception of the situation we are in.  Although it is a mental state it applies to both our thoughts or mindset as well as our physical form.  When we take a yoga class we are essentially allowing ourselves the opportunity to practice awareness of the physical form by listening to the cues the instructor gives for each pose and leveraging our mental capacity to guide the body into that pose.  After all the body is the vehicle for the mind. Physical awareness is tangible, we can see it and work on it over time with repetition and focus.  Through our practice of physical awareness we can better develop our mental awareness which is less tangible but leads to mindfulness.  The physical practice becomes a mechanism to train our brains over time to naturally be aware of all things at all times.

How can you start or increase physical awareness in yoga?   Try these steps at home and if they work take them to your next class and use them as a guide as you explore more involved poses.

Photo by Form on Unsplash

Pose: Warrior II/ Virabhadrasana II

Step 1: It is obvious but I will say it anyway don’t let yourself be the overachiever here.  Pause, take it slow and focus.  For more info on the overachiever checkout this satirical blog post.

Step 2: Set up for the pose with a mirror to your left side.

Step 3: Carefully listen to the instruction or cue for the pose.  In this case from a standing position at the top of your mat take a big step back with your right foot making it perpendicular to the front foot and ensuring the arch of the right foot tracks to the heel of your left foot.  Ensure your left knee is stacked over your left ankle then ensure the back edge of your right foot is rooted down so that the weight is distributed evenly across both feet and legs.  Internally rotate your thighs while pushing forward with your front foot and backwards with your back foot.  This will create opposing forces in the legs where the feet push outward and the thighs draw in.  Allow the spine through the cervical spine and the crown of the head to stack nice and tall on top of the hips in a straight line.  Place the arms in the shape of a T after drawing the shoulders up to the ears and then down along the back with the left arm reaching forward and the right reaching back, palms facing down and the head gazing over the left hand.

Step 4: There is opportunity for awareness with common misalignments in this pose. Check in with these 3 areas.  Make sure you are not reaching so far forward you are leaning forward including your spine, it will feel slightly unnatural but the majority of the time you will need to draw the torso back slightly.  The back edge of the back foot will not be connected to the mat as you have shifted your weight forward. Your knee will drift over the left ankle.

Step 5: Take a look in the mirror, are all of your joints stacked, knee over ankle, spine in a straight line, arms in line with shoulders, etc. 

This pose seems simple but there is a lot going on and it offers many opportunities to practice physical awareness.  Play around with it going through the checklist then looking in the mirror or getting into the pose with your eyes closed focusing on your alignment and bringing awareness to your body then open your eyes and look in the mirror.  If you enjoyed this extra guidance into the pose and learned anything about yourself through the exercise I would welcome your feedback in the comment section.

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