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Triple the Benefits of Your Practice, Here’s How:

By JOE DALY
Balanced Yoga Practice
Last week, while waiting on an oil change that was a good 2000 miles overdue, I repaired to a local coffee shop to catch up on my reading and to enjoy a delicious, overpriced pastry with my fourth coffee of the day. Hey, sometimes you’ve just gotta splurge.

As I sat in the corner, I noticed that to my right was a middle-aged guy in a shirt and tie, reading a magazine devoted to men’s health and fitness; to my left, a young girl absent-mindedly thumbed through a women’s magazine.

Looking back and forth at the two, I noticed that the cover of each magazine offered readers the same essential promises: weight loss, great abs and mind-blowing sex. If the covers of these advertising circulars masquerading as periodicals were to be believed, then one could achieve all three goals by simply digesting the contents of those issues. No problem, right?

Anyone who has browsed a magazine stand is familiar with such warranties; for certain magazines, they are a non-negotiable component of every cover. While it would stretch probability to assume that most people actually believe that the answers to such complex problems can be resolved in a magazine article, nonetheless these promises continue to lure readers based on that universal human impulse called hope.

Even though we might intellectually understand that something that sounds too good to be true invariably is, some defiant urge within us asks, “Yeah, but what if?”

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. That’s the same impulse behind overcoming doubt, surmounting obstacles and persevering through challenging times. “This could never work…but what if?”

We here at Yoga Tropics would like to offer you something more than just hope. We’d like to offer a practical approach to your yoga practice designed to produce immediate results that will create exponentially deeper benefits if you continue to apply it.

Without further ado, here are Three Easy Tips to Multiply the Benefits of Your Yoga Practice:

1. Pick a pose and breathe.

Why do teachers constantly remind us to follow our breathing during practice? Because it’s easy to lose! Sure, maintaining your breathing throughout the first five minutes of the class is easy enough, but once you hit that first edge or once fatigue sets in, breathing is the first technique to fall to the wayside for both novices and super-yogis. We all know that breathing is the foundation of the practice, and through it all benefits flow. So how do we train ourselves to stay with our breathing when our minds drift elsewhere?

Easy.

This week, pick a pose and commit to breathing through it from the beginning through the end of the pose. Sounds easy, right? Just one pose? Do it two more times during the practice, preferably spaced out in the beginning, middle and end. Next week, pick three new ones. You’ll find that this practice will develop a new awareness of breathing which will eventually extend throughout your practice.

2. Close your eyes while balancing.

We know that the balancing poses strengthen the core and secondary muscles, but often, after some practice, we get comfy with a balancing pose thanks to muscle memory, thus reducing the pose to a break of sorts, where we plan our dinner, look around the room, etc. This is not mastery; it is plateauing.

The way to turn this pose into a new strengthening experience is to close your eyes. Baby steps are recommended the first few times you try: during a standing balancing pose, close your eyes for a second and make sure you have balance. If you lose your balance, open your eyes and gently and quietly start over. Keep your eyes closed for longer periods as you practice. By closing your eyes, you bring the focus inward, strengthening the core and summoning the support of other muscles to keep you balanced. Ultimately, the improved balance will allow you to explore new edges and more advanced poses.

3. Stay in savasana for five minutes.

Only a handful of people in each class take full advantage of the most important pose in the series. If your schedule allows for it, why not treat yourself to an extra two or three minutes of silent, heated meditation at the end of a challenging practice?

Especially when the class falls in the middle of the day, it is easy to finish the practice with our minds drifting towards the next item on the To Do list and many of us bolt out the door within the second minute of the final pose. In doing so, we essentially decline the greatest rewards of our efforts. We do sixty minutes of thorough strengthening and stretching in elevated heat, and yet we find it hard to allot five minutes to the most critical junction of the entire class—the pose where our body absorbs the benefits of the practice.

Before you lay down your mat at the beginning of class, resolve to spend five full minutes in savasana at the end. View it not as an indulgence, but as the opportunity to fill your body with all of the energy and circulation that you have just generated.

My secret? I picture a golden sphere of energy gathering in my core during practice. With each pose, it grows bigger and brighter until the final breathing exercise. When I finally lay down in savasana, I picture the golden sphere slowly melting as rivulets of bright energy flow into all regions of my body. I lie there until I’ve visualized my body fully-charged. Admittedly, I don’t do this every class, but when I do, the results are invigorating; I not only reap the benefits of a complete practice, but I’m on a different plane the rest of the day; better mood, more patience, brighter outlook, etc.

Try them this week:

1. Pick a pose and breathe through it.

2. Try closing your eyes while balancing.

3. Treat yourself to five minutes of savasana.

Be sure to let us know how you do!

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JOE DALY is a freelance music journalist who contributes regular features to a number of magazines, including Metal Hammer, Classic Rock , Bass Guitar Magazine and Outburn. He founded the music section of L.A. culture site, The Nervous Breakdown and he is the music and culture commentator for Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk’sLitReactor. Also, from time to time, he writes angry emails to his HOA. Joe has been writing about music for over twenty years and he has held an astonishing variety of positions in the music business including guitarist, singer, manager and PR slug. When he is not drafting wild-eyed manifestos, Joe enjoys life in San Diego’s groovy North County, doing yoga, running, playing guitar and spending tireless hours in deep and meaningful conversations with his beloved dogs, Cabo and Lola. You can check out some of his most popular essays here and follow him on Twitter: @JoeD_SanDiego

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