Keep initial costs low. Avoid overindulging with expensive shirts, shorts and mats. These things make their way into your practice with time, usually as gifts or when-the-time-is-right purchases. Strive to keep the material a non-issue.
Though community energy is a vital life force for any practitioner, so is perspective. Once you’ve got a few poses you enjoy, respect a solo home practice on occasion. Especially for advanced yogis, studios can too easily become spaces for perfect pose worship, or for showing off with more difficult iterations of a pose. Temper the ego with some solo time.
The poise to be had after a great session—that all-too-fleeting sensation of equanimity—is all in the little things. Cultivate it. Start by taking the mission out of going to yoga: Instead of ‘doing’ yoga, try to call it, ‘practicing.’ Keep your practice a private, personal devotion: Fight the temptation to broadcast it to everyone. Think, talk, and act about it the way you want to experience it, and it will become so.
Remember: The breath is your lodestar. When the connection slips, gets strenuous or choppy, back off. Take the pose back to its basic root, fold to child’s pose—whatever is needed to recover a smooth, deep, controlled breath. Without absolute attention on the breath—an endeavor that for most requires the full breadth of one’s will—it’s not yoga. It’s calisthenics.
Many poses are enhanced with a specific Dristhi, or a soft, focused gaze. For example, in triangle pose, the Dristhi is optimally on the skyward hand. Respect these nuances. Remove the urge to check out your neighbor, the pretty painting on the wall, or anything else besides the small space you embody.
When possible (that is, when you can comfortably move in and out of a pose), close your eyes. This keeps your precious energy focused inward rather than on others. Without the balance-boosting benefits of sight, the mind creates fresh pathways to calibrate the body as it moves through space. Over time, you can begin to truly listen to your joints, ligaments, tendons, fascia, and muscles—all the minute firings that happen when balancing or holding a pose. The benefits for this one are enormous.
Recognize that limberness, flexibility, strength, endurance—all forms of physical gain—are only stepping stones to the potential returns of a regular practice. This means abandoning false standards, such as placing strictures on yourself to meet every practice with advanced poses, or to ‘get better.’ That, too, will simply come. Cultivate acceptance, nurturing, and surrender while you still have a choice. We all age, after all. Though you may be capable of more, if an easy pose feels good sometimes it’s best just to enjoy it.
Respect savasana, or corpse pose. Some see the typical ending pose as a formality, something to be breezed through or ignored. Stay in as long as you can. (Be honest and take stock: Will 15 extra minutes truly throw your day out of whack?) The stillness that one gathers while in corpse pose seals the entire preceding practice; it’s the true and subtle reward for all the hard work of strenuous sequences. At its best, it’s an observation of and conversation with one’s inner thoughts and intentions.
Carry the yoga with you. It’s much more than the roughly 60 minutes’ mat time. It’s approaching daily interactions and decisions with calm, calculated, compassionate measure. It’s not about removing passion and becoming totally even-keeled (although some argue it is). Take an extra half-minute to chat with your barista or pay an old friend a call. Connect with others.
Use the positive influence of your practice to bring real change to unhealthy habits, detrimental relationships, destructive thought patterns. The net here is so wide it’s almost silly trying to cast it. We’re all so different, as are our goals and setbacks. But everyone could gain from counting their blessings; and yoga cultivates self-trust, as well as inner voice. Be brave when that voice speaks up and strive to act on bringing about the kind of life you want to live.