The greatest benefits of yoga can be gained from turning your practice into an exercise in conscious movement. But what is conscious movement?
Conscious movement is the practice of mindfulness in movement. When really listening to your body and paying attention to the muscles you are engaging and incorporating breath into your movement, you can avoid injuries.
We are going to look at how you can deepen your practice and some tools to help you feel more in tune with your body and how this can benefit you both on and off the mat.
In many kinds of exercise like Crossfit and HIIT the objective is to complete many repetitions and different exercises in a short time can lead to compromising on form. When lifting heavy weights or doing a lot of strong, repetitive movements, doing everything quickly can lead to injury.
So how can I practice conscious movement? Here are six tips on how to incorporate it into your yoga practice or any other exercise.
Go slow – fast does not always mean better. In a world where people want fast workouts and fast results, slow and conscious movement may not seem so appealing. However, slowing down can lead to more challenging workouts and better muscle control. One way to incorporate this is by taking more time in each yoga pose and holding it, before moving onto the next pose. Paying attention to form is important as it can significantly reduce the chance of injury. In high-power yoga classes such as Ashtanga, the many vinyasas of jumping backwards and forwards often causes the form to deteriorate as the practice goes on. One tip is to focus on your form in the first few jump backs and when you start feeling like you’re getting too tired, change to stepping backwards and forwards to avoid jarring the shoulders and injuring your wrists by not maintaining the correct form.
Close your eyes – This is my favourite trick for tuning in to your body. When you remove external stimulation and distractions, you can really deepen your practice. By not paying attention to others around you and what they are doing, comparing yourself to them, you can listen to your body and find the adjustment that it needs that day. You can also pay closer attention to your breath and any pains or discomfort you may be experiencing in a pose.
Take slow, deep breaths – focusing on your breath in your practice and trying to maintain a rhythm of slow, deep breathing can trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to slow your heart rate and allow you to better conserve your energy without running out of steam too early. Slowing your breathing down can also decrease your stress and anxiety and encourage your muscles to relax in the poses. This is arguably one of the most important aspects of mindfulness in yoga movement.
Play around in the poses – imagine trying to bring your hands and feet closer together in downward dog by trying to drag them in without moving the position of your hands or feet, or try pushing them by pushing harder into the mat. Playing around with how you engage your muscles in each pose can help you find the most comfortable alignment for your body and help enhance your balance, especially in standing postures.
Imagine you’re a wild cat – Imagine how a wild cat moves through the jungle with grace and elegance. Try to incorporate the sinuous and powerful movements of a wild cat into your sun salutation and your practice, making each transition more graceful. Thinking about trying to move like an animal will make you more conscious of your movements.
Listen to what your body needs – in the fitness world, there is so much emphasis on pushing yourself hard and sometimes we are unforgiving with our bodies. Maybe today you’re on fire and you feel strong and you want to really push yourself, other days you might be exhausted from work and your body just needs something more restorative or relaxing. Listening to what your body needs and how you feel is the key to avoiding injuries. Yoga is not a competition, nor is it a performance. It’s a practice for you and you alone to get to know your body better. Listening to what it needs from day to day, practice to practice will help you become more attuned and be kinder to yourself. Students should not feel embarrassed to take a rest if their body needs it and teachers will usually tell their students to come into child’s pose whenever you need.
Pay attention to every posture – when you’re in a pose, think about what muscles you want to work and really engage those muscles. Just thinking about contracting or engaging muscles will send signals to your brain to develop strength and perseverance. Thinking about alignment and feeling where your body is resisting or hurting can also give you a good indication of how far you should go in your practice today. This technique can be applied to all kinds of exercise.
Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments!