How are you feeling today?
We begin every Hatha Yoga practice with a centering & check-in on 3 levels: body, breath & mind. I’d like to highlight this short time at the beginning of practice. If you’re like me, oftentimes the distracted part of your mind says, “let’s get to the real part” of practice =). This centering time seems cute, yet the real stuff is Warrior II, headstands, backbends, right?
I love the asana part of Yoga – moving in & out of strong postures, even faltering in postures, feels GOOD. Even with my recent knee injury (thanks to over-enthusiastic dogs), I crave postures that make me feel calm, strong, centered.
Yet without checking in — really using those precious few moments to ask “How do I feel, REALLY?” on body, breath & mind levels — we may miss out on the deeper effects of the Yoga practice.
So, on the most obvious level, we begin with the body — we choose a position where we can relax our effort, feel comfortable & have support. In general, the postures we often use are Savasana (Corpse Pose), Makarasana (Crocodile Pose), or Sukhasana (Seated Pose on the floor or in a chair). Yet any posture where you’re doing the least amount of “work” possible is ideal.
When the body becomes still, we can tune in to its messages … Is my knee still hurting from that run yesterday? Hmm, I notice my low back is a bit tender, that’s new …
At a deeper level, once the body ceases its movements, the breath becomes more apparent. How am I breathing today? Is it shallow or deep? Jerky or smooth? Do I feel the breath more in my nose/chest/ribs/or …?
Finally, if we’re really lucky 😉 we can take a look at the mind: At the beginning of my practice, is my mind distracted, agitated, dull, one-pointed, clear?
So, in just those few moments at the beginning of our Yoga practice, we’ve begun the important practice of svadyaya, or self-study. All of this investigation is done with non-judgment, with a sense of compassion, kindness, gentleness … so that we move forward with a clear picture of how we are REALLY feeling today, at this time, in this place.
Self-study threads through our Yoga practice. We continue “checking in” throughout, being curious about what we find, & adjusting our practice accordingly. Maybe that backbend variation isn’t for me today, or counting the breath really helps settle my mind. The practice becomes a loving experiment, with the hypothesis that if we attend to our body, mind & breath with kindness, we will move closer to that sthira & sukkha, stability & ease, within our practice.
So whether you practice a physically challenging or gentle asana practice, whether your breathwork is stimulating or calming, whether your meditation is 2 minutes or 2 hours … checking in at the beginning of your practice on these 3 levels – body, breath & mind – provides information to inform your choices throughout your sequence.
And what of the end of class? In Hatha Yoga, the general principle is: your Yoga practice should be rejuvenating, not depleting. At the end of practice, we check in again: how am I feeling now? Does my body feel a little more stable / at ease? Does my breath feel more relaxed? Does my mind feel a little more clear, calm, tranquil? If yes, we give thanks & let go of our efforts. If not, we give thanks & let go of our efforts, & we ask: how might I adjust my practice next time?
I hope you’ve found a new appreciation for the precious moments that begin your Yoga practice. Checking in with body, breath & mind on the mat/chair can be a practice we take into our lives as well — checking in before we make that phone call, send that text, give that presentation. In this way, we study, we learn, we take care of our mind. And when we take care of our mind, we take care of the world.