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Everywhere you look these days there is some new book or magazine touting the benefits of yoga. We can see everyone from celebrities to the girl next door striking a yoga pose on YouTube, Facebook, television and book covers.

If we believe there is a right way to look or feel in a yoga pose, we are denying ourselves the process of learning about our own bodies.

They tell us, over and over, how yoga can help relieve your achy joints, back pain, and a host of other ailments until I bet you’re quite sure there is nothing yoga CAN’T fix. While there may be some truth to that statement, it can also be intimidating. Many of us look at the pictures and think “I can’t do yoga. It’s not for me. My body doesn’t move like that.” Even worse, we may push our bodies into the pose hoping that if we just get it right, we will have accomplished “Yoga.” Unfortunately, this kind of pushing can set us up for an injury. While yoga can be a wonderful way to reconnect with our bodies and improve our health and well-being, the number of yoga injuries is on the rise.  

How can something so good for us cause us harm? It may not be the yoga that is harming us, but rather the way we are doing it. If we stop trying to do yoga from the outside in and we begin from the inside, the whole practice changes. Trying to do someone else’s yoga will only take you further away from yourself and your own understanding. Yoga from the outside leaves us constantly pushing ourselves to be something other than what we are. If we believe there is a right way to look, or feel in a yoga pose, we are denying ourselves the process of learning about our own bodies. Or even worse, we may end up injuring ourselves rather than helping ourselves. Yoga invites us to practice with a sense of inquiry and openness, as we listen from the inside. This is the yoga of self-exploration. Here are some things that might help shift your yoga practice:

Take Time to Center Yourself

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Move your awareness inward and systematically relax. Let go of the day and all the “to do’s” so you can be present in this moment. Gently give the body to the floor as you rest against it. Allow your attention to rest on the breath as you follow it as it comes in and as it goes out. If your mind wanders away from breath come back. This practice may only take a few minutes but it will help you to slow down and shift into a calmer space so you can listen rather than letting the mind bully the body into position. Bring your attention into your own body with all of its conditions and limitations and be content to be with yourself just as you are in this moment without wishing or wanting it to be different. Settle into what is. This is the place to start yoga. This Ornish video, Breath Awareness for Centering, will help you get started.

You are Your Own Teacher

As you practice the pose, let the pose be defined by what you feel from the inside rather than the outside. Don’t compare yourself to anyone. Notice how you feel in the pose and what you feel in the pose. As you begin to notice sensation, pause and breathe with that sensation. Does it get stronger? If so, find a place where the sensation is less pronounced. If you are fighting with your body, it will trigger your sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight mechanism) and your muscles will tighten even more. See if you can let go and soften around the edges of sensation.

Do Your Version of the Pose

Even though photographs and videos make it look like there is one way to do a pose, there are as many versions of a pose as there are people. Find your version by starting small and listening to the body. Let yourself become deeply interested in your own version. Don’t be seduced by pain and discomfort. Remember “More pain, less gain” in yoga. How do you practice yoga from the inside?

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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