On days when you feel as strong as a lion and can kick into Handstand without hesitation, you can take pleasure in your strength and balance. But on other days, when you feel as weak as a puppy and can barely move into Downward Dog, you may need to give yourself permission to curl up in Child Pose.
Knowing when to push harder or pull back comes from listening closely to your inner voice, which can help you determine if pushing ahead is a sign of abundant energy (something you want to do), or an ego-driven attempt to impress your teacher or the person practicing on the mat next to yours (something you think you should do).
Using a journal for ten minutes each day can help you pay closer attention to your inner voice. Here are five ways that you can begin listening:
1) Listen to your body. If you”™re feeling tired or lethargic, or if your muscles haven”™t yet recovered from your last session on your mat, you may need to take it easy. Instead of a demanding class, you might sign up for a quieting class so that you can regain your strength and energy. How does it feel to sit quietly and massage your feet instead of raising one leg in Three-Legged Dog? Are you able to listen to your body and let go of expectations? Or do you keep pushing yourself, even while resting in Savasana? (Write: 10 minutes)
2) Listen to your heart. It may sound counterintuitive, but there are times when an energetic class can help dispel lethargy and make your feelings of fatigue disappear. The problem is knowing when you”™re too tired to push or when tiredness is just another word for laziness. How do you know? When you step onto your mat and begin to practice, do you find yourself gaining strength or still experiencing fatigue? Do you resist taking it slow because you”™re worried of how it might look to others? Are you willing to accept who you are”¦ rather than strive to be what others may want you to be? Listen to your heart. What does it tell you? (Write: 10 minutes)
3) Listen to your yoga teacher. Find a yoga teacher who you can trust, a teacher who knows tons about yoga””who is passionate about yoga and teaching””and who has your best interest at heart (which means she or he wants to help you avoid injuries and grow into your practice at a rate that”™s good for you). If you”™re struggling in a pose without knowing why, maybe it”™s time to ask your teacher for suggestions. Sometimes a simple adjustment””tilting your hips forward, pushing a shoulder back””can make the most challenging twist easy and help you avoid injury. Ask yourself why you might hesitate to ask for help. What keeps you from relying on other people? How have your teachers helped or hurt your ability to learn? (Write: 10 min)
4) Listen to your voice. Your voice often reveals how you feel””tired, angry, frustrated, sad, happy, excited””and if you listen to it carefully, you may detect the source of energy guiding your practice. If your voice sounds weak, for instance, and so soft that friends have trouble hearing you, it might be a sign that you need to recharge with simple restorative poses such as passive chest openers in which gravity does all the work and your body only has to learn how to open up and let go. Sometimes, though, you might need to step away from your mat for a while. Go for a walk in a park. Hike on a beach. Ride your bike into the mountains. Or take a nap. How does your voice sound now? What is it telling you? (Write: 10 minutes)
5) Listen to your dreams. Often the answers that you seek to a particular challenge in your practice (or in your life) can be found in dreams. Try keeping a notebook and pen next to your bed and write down any insights that strike you just before going to bed or when you wake up. You never know when inspiration will strike or a “light bulb” will illuminate a pesky situation that”™s made you feel like you were practicing in the dark. When was the last time that you made an unexpected discovery in your dreams? How did it change you? (Write: 10 minutes)
If you pay close attention each time you step onto your mat, soon you”™ll begin to hear your inner voice as your body unfolds in each pose. Trust that voice as it emerges on the pages of your journal. It will lead you to the voice of your inner teacher so you can better understand the wise choices you need to make in your poses and in your life.
Bruce Black, the author of Writing Yoga (Rodmell Press), lives with his wife and daughter in Sarasota, FL.