To go deeper into your practice of yoga, it is necessary to challenge your body-mind-spirit on occasion. Use these four powerful techniques in combination or by themselves to challenge yourself further.
Go to the Edge
When holding a yoga posture you want to go to your edge. The edge is the place where you feel a deep stretch in your body or you feel the body working hard, but not going past that to where you hurt yourself or over work the body.
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The edge is a magical place, but a scary place too. Getting to know your edges is getting to know your body. Its a body thing, not a mind thing, so let go of any thoughts or distractions. Slow down and listen to the body, easing your way closer and closer. Find the place between pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, creation and destruction, openness and protection. Balance there, feeling both worlds, feeling everything, and breathe.
Incorporate Challenge Postures
Start off your practice with postures that make you feel strong and confident in your self, getting your whole body warmed and energized. Then add one or two postures to your flow that bring you to your edge, postures you feel you “can’t” do, postures you normally avoid. Move slowly into these challenge postures, focusing the mind on the breath and the body. Feel what is happening in the body without the temptation to react, judge, or criticize. Breathe, breathe, breathe, and let go of the “I can’t”. Take yourself right to your edge, breathe some more, and see if you can go just a tiny bit more. Give yourself permission to bail out at any time if the body (not the mind) is saying a big “no”. Challenge postures can bring up strong emotions, and it is important to be in a safe environment so these emotions can be fully expressed and released from the body.
The Power of Visualization
When approaching a challenging / difficult / strenuous yoga posture, you can harness the power of the mind to move the body into the pose. If you can see yourself in the yoga posture, you can do it.
Close your eyes, deepen the breath and see your body doing the yoga posture in your mind’s eye. See every detail, seeing your body’s alignment and how you are breathing. See yourself in the posture strong, confident, and graceful. See yourself holding the posture with ease. See a simile on your face! Keep this image clearly in your mind as you move your body into the posture. Simply allow your body to fill up this mental picture, without excess pushing, straining or effort. When your body is fully in the posture, keep your focus on the mental picture, and begin to feel your body inside this image, filling it up with your awareness.
Create Inner Focus with Pratyahara
Pratyahara is the pivotal point in the practice of yoga where the path leads from the exterior to the interior landscape of the body. Pratyahara translates directly as “sense withdrawal” and is the fifth limb or branch of an eight-staged yogic approach to the unification of body-mind-spirit. By withdrawing our attention from the external environment and by focusing inwards on the breath and sensations, we still the mind and increase our awareness of the body. With this awareness and focus we can move deeper into the practice of yoga, learning to move through our limitations, fears and expectations. The key to practicing pratyahara is observing the body, breath and sensations as a detached witness, as if you were watching and feeling someone else’s body. Used with compassion and discipline, pratyahara enriches the practice of yoga and leads to deeper stages of concentration and meditation.