How you practice on the mat, is how you will feel off the mat.

A student was talking to me after class recently and mentioned that her friend is really ‘good at yoga’ and that there are loads of people in class who are ‘better than her’. It strikes me that there is a tendency for all of us to focus on the aesthetic of the postures without really examining our thought patterns and judgements while we move through postures. That is to say, we automatically jump to how things look, and put the stamp ‘good’ or ‘bad’ on them. Notice if this is something you have done yourself recently in yoga… and then notice if you’ve done it anywhere else in your life. Chances are, you are internally nodding and can think of a few examples of how you have focused on how things look to others, and not how they feel to you.

Because we’ve all done it. We live in a culture where advertising and social media catch a glimpse of a pose and label it ‘advanced’ without much analysis of what the person in the pose is thinking, feeling or focusing on in their yoga practice. When we focus on the aesthetic, we can lose connection with what’s really going on, or what we really want to achieve.

Maybe you came to yoga for an aesthetic reason, which is really common for a lot of people. But if you’ve found you’re constantly focused on that reason, you may miss out on some of the deeper ways yoga can benefit your whole life. For example, if you came to yoga to get a toned bum, maybe you genuinely want a toned bum and you see yoga as a tool for getting you there. But go a little deeper – what’s the reason behind wanting a toned bum? Is it that you are striving to feel more confident, attractive and loveable? Probably one or all of the above. So pay attention to how you practice – are you practicing with those intentions in mind – are you speaking to yourself in a way that makes you feel more attractive, confident and loveable? Or are you pushing through poses internally bashing yourself to get to the ever-moving goal posts of what your mind says is ‘enough’?

Next time you roll out your mat ask yourself 3 questions:

  1. What am I looking to achieve today on my mat?
  2. What would achieving what I want make me feel?
  3. How can I change my thoughts to feel that way for the next hour?

Try it out. It might change how you practice – it certainly has for me. I have learned and re-learned this lesson many times and slowly but surely, my practice is deepening with my learnings (and constant reminders to come back to sensation and the focus of the practice). Setting the intention to practice in a way that reflects your deeper goals can transform how you feel on and off the mat.

How do you stay focused on how you feel on the mat? Share any tools, resources or habits you find helpful so we can all bring more self-kindness and non-judgment to the mat.

Laura Linehan

Author Laura Linehan

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