Approach each posture as a meditation in mindful movement, a slow gentle exploration of self, opening the body from the inside out. Be process oriented, not goal oriented. Be in your body. If your mind is primarily on the goal, the gap between where you are and where you want to be, can bring tension and hinder movement causing you to over stretch and injure yourself. The process is the pose. Every movement is a prayer, every breath a song. Be patient and allow your body to open at its own pace.
Respect your limits: listen to your body. Your kinesthetic sense will tell you when to deepen a pose, when to back off and when to come out of a pose. Never pull strenuously, bounce, strain or force yourself in or out of a posture. When ending a posture avoid collapsing or rushing out of the pose. Come out slowly as if reluctant to leave a good friend. Let your body sensations guide you from within. Your body is always your best teacher.
Breathe: ideally we coordinate the movements of yoga with the flow of breath and generally breathe through the nose with the mouth relaxed and closed. Usually we move into the pose on an exhale and return from the pose on an inhale enjoying a steady, smooth, even flow of breath during the pose. We hold the pose, not the breath. Mindful deep breathing triggers the relaxation response and allows muscles to lengthen with ease.
Alignment: take time to align the body properly before engaging the posture. Establish a solid foundation for each pose. Tuning into the details of skeletal alignment will help keep your joints safe and happy.
Asymmetry: the right and left sides of our bodies are almost never perfectly symmetrical. We all have differences in muscle length, strength and bone structure. Work the weaker, tighter side of the body more than the open strong side in order to create a better state of balance. You can hold the poses longer or do more repetitions on the weaker, tighter side.
Play your boundaries sensitively: an important skill in yoga is learning to play your boundaries. Your body has boundaries that mark its limits in stretch, strength, endurance and balance. In each posture there is a limit to flexibility that we call the maximum boundary. This boundary has a feeling of intense sensation that is not painful. Your boundaries can change from day to day and from breath to breath. They do not always move forwards, sometimes they retreat. It is as important to learn to move back if your boundary closes, as it is to learn to move slowly forwards as the body opens. If you reach for your maximum edge too quickly you may bypass many aspects of the process giving the illusion of a completed stretch, while the rest of the body has lost proper alignment and relaxation. Over stretching can lead to injury. Experiment until you find a balance between overachieving and underachieving. Avoid competing with yourself or others. If you feel pain, slowly come out of the posture and inform your teacher. She/he will help you to modify the pose to match your capabilities. Don’t hesitate to ask questions during class.
Think of yoga as an adventure in energy awareness: in any given pose there are many opportunities to direct “lines of energy” through your core and limbs. These lines of energy move outward from your center and move your body in opposing directions at the same time. They are flowing streams of intention that we direct to flow along a specific pathway in the body, thus creating a spacious sense of expansion and healthy alignment of bones and joints. Ideokinetic imagery and visualization techniques can also help you to deepen your poses with less effort, more poetry and grace.
Listen: it is important that you listen to what your teacher is saying to you during the class. Although you might very well know how to perform a practice your teacher may have introduced a subtle difference for a change. Pay particular attention to what your teacher says about not pushing yourself too hard, this is for your own safety and the safety of the others in the class.
Food and drink: please do not come to your yoga class on a full stomach. It is recommended that you do not practice yoga for several hours after a meal. Easily digested foods such as fruit can be eaten up to one hour before the class. During class no beverages are allowed and absolutely no food. (The exception is a Hot Yoga class, where you should hydrate as often as you need.) This is because some of the intense forward bends and twists will increase pressure in your abdomen and this will make you feel ill if you have a full stomach. Additionally you may be working with a practice to generate heat and drinking water will cool the body. After your practice you should drink plenty of plain water to help continue the detoxifying effects which yoga can have on the body as well as re-hydrate due to any water lost through sweat.