The title of this post applies to life in general, not just yoga class (but since this is a yoga blog, after all, I'll just tackle the yoga piece). There's a lot of talk about present moment awareness, being conscious, and calming the fluctuations of the mind in the yoga world. Sounds simple right? All you have to do is be here now. Simple, but certainly not easy.
One of the things I noticed when I starting practicing yoga 5-6 days/week is that I began to operate from muscle memory rather than conscious awareness. My body knew what to do, so my mind felt free to wander. Even worse, I began to tune out the teacher's instructions. As many of your know, doing your yoga practice on autopilot is an invitation to injury.
As time went on, I started feeling like a haughty intermediate yoga practitioner. Yep -- as if I wasn't already listening to the teacher before, now I was approaching my practice with a ego-maniac I-know-all-about-this-yoga-stuff attitude. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't injure myself more often. Luckily, my ego was tempered by some body awareness, so I mostly suffered from tweaks as opposed to injuries.
How did I pull myself out of my ego spiral? I became a student. I signed on for a yoga teacher training in a completely different style of yoga than I had originally trained in. Ah, there's nothing more humbling than to realize that you really don't know what you thought you knew. Actually, that made me a better teacher, for I realized that I didn't know rather than remain under the illusion that I did know. Not knowing what you don't know is a dangerous thing.
In this training, a teacher led us through Cakravakasana. My mind immediately chimed in with, "Oh, this is a fancy Sanskrit term for Cat Cow." I was thinking something like this . The problem with this is that when you come back into Child's Pose from all fours thinking Cat Cow, you get an mid/upper back stretch rather than the lower back stretch of Cakravakasana (which is why I like to call it Cakravakasanaaaahhhhhhhh). The key to getting the lower back stretch is dropping the head before moving back into Child's. It's a bit of a suble difference -- one that you wouldn't notice if you were on yoga autopilot.
So how do you stay off yoga autopilot? No, it's not necessary to shell out the money for a teacher training. Try these simple tips instead:
Be aware of the fact that you might, in fact, be on yoga autopilot. Yes, I know it's hard to admit, but be honest with yourself.
Try a class in a style of yoga completely different than your current style. If you're an Ashtanga Yoga lover, try Restorative. If you're a Vinyasa Flow fan, try Kundalini. Go different...very different.
Sit on your mat before class with an intention to be conscious throughout your yoga practice. Yes, it sounds dubious, but the power of intention is quite strong.
Take a pose that you're uber familiar with -- say Downward Dog or Warrior -- and notice what your body is doing in the pose. Listen to the instructions the teacher is giving and follow them as if it were your first time attempting the posture.
Practice along with a beginner yoga DVD or take a beginner-level yoga class. Ah, to be a student again...one of the best ways to approach your yoga practice with Beginner's Mind is to pretend that you are a beginner.
Start your yoga practice with a body scan and/or some simple pranayama (inhale for 4 counts, hold the inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, hold the exhale for 4 counts). This will help you get out of your head and into your body prior to starting your yoga practice, which should help you have more awareness.
Enjoy the surprises and delightful discoveries that come along with being a beginner again!