By Amanda Kaeser

I love seeing how a well structured yoga class can open the body and allow it to do extraordinary things. I love how the practice encourages it’s students to challenge themselves in a way that is mindful and respectful of the whole person. I love how each pose/posture/asana is a mini-yoga class inside the larger class in the way it builds and subsides like a wave. I love how a yoga sequence can be like artistry in motion. I love those times when the body, breath and mind are so intricately connected that it truly does become a moving meditation or prayer. I love how a good practice opens not just my body but also my heart and my soul and draws me closer to God.

I also love how yoga challenges me in ways I never would have expected. I used to feel like every time I stepped on my mat, I had to give 150% for every second of my practice. I truly thought that if I didn’t do this, I was robbing myself of some enlightenment I would receive through the “full expression” of a particular pose. The more I practice, the more I discover that this misconception has robbed me of a true, authentic practice for me. Most of the time, vinyasa (or power yoga) is what calls me. But not always and even on the days when it does, it doesn’t necessarily mean I should come into the “full expression” of every pose. Here are three reasons why:

1. I’m honoring my body at that time on that day.

I know this sounds like a broken record but it really cannot be emphasized enough and just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. So many things can affect the body’s strength, flexibility and it’s willingness to open. Some of these things include, but are not limited to: your mood, the weather, how much sleep you’ve had, what or if you’ve eaten, your stress level, amount of time since your last practice, etc. The list goes on and on. As an example, I am genetically predisposed to have pretty open hips. I love hip openers and always include them in my practice. However, it doesn’t always serve me to bring my forehead to my shins in forward fold. Some days, I come into the “full expression” of the pose FOR ME by just coming to where I feel it and breathing. Maybe this means my head is 10 inches above my legs. Remember, your practice is for you and you alone. So honor who you are at that present moment.

2. I’m creating a greater challenge for myself.

Oftentimes, the prep work for a more challenging pose is more difficult than the pose itself. Some days, I need a little extra challenge and foundation work rather than just taking an easy route and popping into a particular pose. Additionally, coming back to the prep work and some of the basics often teaches us something new about our bodies, our practice and emotional state especially after we’ve been practicing that pose for a while. As an example, when we come into shoulder stand (sarvangasana) during a class, even when we come through plow pose (halasana), we don’t always take the time to stack the bones and stack the muscles properly. Plow pose is tough and often we simply try to gloss over it and move quickly into shoulder stand because we haven’t taken the time to tuck the shoulder blades under the body and lift the hips directly above the shoulders. When we practice shoulder stand/shoulder stand prep with blankets up against the wall, we can take the time align the shoulders and hips before we even think about straightening the legs. Maybe we don’t even straighten and lift the legs off the wall some days because we are focusing just on the foundation of the pose that day or challenging ourselves by staying in plow for longer than usual.

3. I’m teaching myself patience through delayed gratification

We live in a society and a culture where everything is spoon fed to us. We are accustomed to having vast amounts of information at the tips of our fingers. There are apps and shortcuts for almost everything. Don’t want to sit in traffic? There’s an app to show you the best route to your destination right now! Don’t want to read this book? Visit sparknotes.com. Don’t want to watch commercials? DVR. The list goes on and on. There is nothing wrong with any of these things. In fact, they probably save us a lot of time to be used on other activities. However, there are no shortcuts on our yoga mat. We are all on an even playing field when we fist come to the mat and we all must put the work in to grow in our practice. Unless we are coming from a gymnastics background, we probably won’t get into arm balances right away. But when we do, sometimes the ego can take over. Some days, I don’t go into the “full expression” of the pose because I’m teaching myself to be patient and I’m keeping my ego in check. To be completely honest with all of you, my ego LOVES it when I get compliments on my practice. Which is why, sometimes, I hold myself back. The ego hates it when you delay gratification. This is not to say that I am against yoga selfies or students celebrating when they get a challenging pose. Quite the contrary! I think that means you have spent a lot of time on your mat working on your own stuff and you should feel proud of that. It’s a balance. Celebrate the breakthroughs and stifle the ego.