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How to get the most out of yoga

Practising yoga regularly can change your life and make you more flexible, strong and fit, as well as less susceptible to stress and anxiety. It can also help you become more balanced, in both mind as well as body.

But doing yoga isn’t simply just turning up to class and going through the motions. It’s about more than that. Here are five ways you can get more out of your yoga practice.

1. Be mindful

Mindfulness is all about focusing on the present moment and being aware of your body and its sensations. Ideally, you should be fully present in your yoga class. If you find your mind wandering or start thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner, or what you’re doing later, focus on the pose you are doing and your breathing to try to bring your thoughts back to the present moment.

Also make sure that you limit distractions as much as possible, this means turning off your phone and removing any jewellery that could get in your way throughout practice. You should also make sure you are not wearing clothing that will get in your way during practice; clothing that needs readjusting all the time, such as a top that is too loose, will only serve to distract you from your practice.

2. Don’t worry about other people

Your yoga class should be about you and your practice, and you won’t be able to make the most of the class if you are busy looking at the person next to you, or worrying about what they think of you. Looking at a fellow classmate to check you are in the right position is fine, but beating yourself up because you are unable to do an advanced pose while your classmate has no trouble is not helpful. In the same way, feeling good about yourself because you are able to hold a pose for longer than a classmate is also not beneficial. Your yoga practice should be about you, so try not to compare yourself to other people.

3. Make the most of the final relaxation

In our busy lives, it’s not often that we get the chance to fully unwind and relax, so don’t spend the final relaxation thinking about what you’re doing to after class. Listen to your teacher as he/she guides you; focus on the music, if there is some, and your breath. You can also do an internal full body check, this is where you notice each part of your body, usually starting with your toes and feet, and just observe how you are feeling. If you feel tension anywhere, try to focus on that area and “send your breath” to that area.

4. Have an intention

Some teachers will ask you to think about your intention as part of your yoga class. This involves thinking about why you came to yoga that day and what you want to achieve from your practice. It is best not to be too specific in your intention, for example, saying that you want to stay in warrior pose for five seconds may not be appropriate, as perhaps you won’t do warrior pose that class. Instead, choose something achievable such as “I want to focus on my breathing”, “I want to relax” or “I want to focus on balancing my weight evenly when I am standing”.

5. Know your body

Pushing yourself too hard in a yoga class can lead to injury, and you will learn to do yoga poses better if you build up to them slowly. If you feel you have reached your limit, or can no longer hold the pose, then you should stop, and if you want to rest, there is no shame in going into child’s pose and having a short break. Also, just because you were able to do a pose last week, doesn’t mean that this week you will be able to achieve the same thing. Don’t expect to improve in a linear fashion, as learning is an erratic process and your body can feel different, and be able to do different things, on different days.

There are many different yoga poses that can help you with various ailments. Some yoga poses are good for before you go to bed, for example. Yoga classes are also available for Imperial staff. Write to wellbeing@imperial.nhs.uk for more information. To read more about keeping fit and healthy and general wellbeing, don't forget to follow us on Twitter and like us on Facebook.