It is easy to think that asanas - yoga poses - belong in specific categories: energizing, strengthening, calming, etc. Practiced the right way, though, an asana can become whatever we need it to be on that particular day. And, there are many days when yoga focused on restoring the body and mind will be the most beneficial. See if applying some of the following techniques begins to transform the way you think of individual asanas and sequences of yoga poses.
Balance the Effort
Often, we put too much effort - or the wrong kind of effort - into yoga. There are times when it needs to be a strong physical practice, but overdoing the physical aspect of yoga shortchanges its other benefits. By shifting the focus of our effort, we find asanas can be more nourishing, if not during the actual pose, then immediately after.
After entering as asana, once the physical alignment is in place, bring attention to the breath, allowing it to become even and smooth. Make sure your face is relaxed and your eyes are soft. Keep your attention on that breath and relaxation. Observe if that makes the physical effort easier. This may not happen the first time; practice it on a regular basis.
Using props, whether it’s blankets, blocks, a bolster, strap or chair, is one of the easiest ways to make yoga more restorative. For example, doing standing poses with your back at a wall offers light support, allowing you to hold the poses longer. Again, that eases the physical effort so you can shift your focus.
Try downward facing dog with your hands on the mat as usual, but right at the base of a wall so your hands don’t slide. Place a block or folded blanket under your head so it has light support that does not shorten your neck. Those simple additions of light support make the pose quieter and more stable. This approach can be applied to many other poses.
Observe and Evaluate
Practice detaching the intellectual, thinking part of your mind during yoga. Instead, just observe. Watch the breath and the body from inside. Maintain that detachment, that quiet mind, for as much of your yoga practice as you can, even when you are in a class. After yoga is the time to evaluate, to think about the poses you did and what the results were.
Staying in yoga poses for an extended period of time allows the body and mind to receive more of the benefits. Though it would seem that staying longer makes yoga more physically challenging, often, with the methods described, the effort becomes more effortless. When you need a quieter practice, you can always turn to the classic reclining, restorative poses - savasana being the most obvious example - but learning to make traditionally active poses more restorative brings depthand a range of options to your yoga practice.