The Definitive Guide to a More Mindful Yoga Practice
Posted on May 31 2016
Yoga has many (and I mean many) health benefits. From a healthier body to a healthier mind, yoga helps everyone who practices it in many, many ways.
The benefits you see from yoga range from simple increased flexibility to a deeper sense of purpose and a clarity of mind that can be hard to find in other ways.
Yoga combines both physical activity with meditation, often improving the mindfulness of the person practicing it.
For the beginner just getting started, all the things that go along with yoga can be incredibly daunting.
How much stuff do you need?
Do you really need the mat, block, straps, meditation gong, or other tools to get the most out of it?
Do you have to do it in a class, or can you practice alone? What about if you’re a beginner – does that change how you practice?
While this blog is written for the beginner, even those who’ve been practicing yoga for a while might find some helpful tips for improving their practice.
Read on, and share any tips or advice you have with us in the comment section at the end of this post!
The Basics: What You Should Know Before You Start
Before you start, you probably have a few questions about yoga and the beliefs commonly associated with it. If you really want to get into it, I suggest attending a class or checking out the many resources online going into the terminology – there’s a lot to it!
But for a practical approach that you can embrace in your everyday routine, you don’t necessarily need to know all the complicated words associated with each pose and movement. Here’s the fundamentals that you should know or learn about ahead of time:
one of the biggest benefits of yoga practice is that it helps you focus on mindfulness. Shown in multiple studies to be incredibly beneficial for many reasons, it’s truly a benefit that applies to everyone.
What is mindfulness, though? When people talk about mindfulness, they’re talking about being in a state of active, open attention to the present. It allows you to think more rationally about problems, and to feel less stress when you’re having a rough day.
Practicing mindfulness has been shown to strengthen your immune system, improve your social relationships, reduce stress and depression, increase openness to new ideas, as well as an improved psychological mindfulness, or awareness of your own psychological state.
All of these things add up to improved well-being and a healthier you!
Why is it yoga “practice”?
Yoga is referred to as practice because that is, plain and simple, what you do when you do yoga.
There is no end goal to yoga – you practice daily, or several times a week, to strive for the most perfect version of a pose you’re capable of. It’s okay if you start out unable to do many poses – you practice regularly, and over time, you improve.
You won’t see dramatic improvements in your flexibility, muscle tone, or ability to be mindful and in the present right away. That’s also part of why yoga is practice – because to see the best benefits, like anything else you work at over time, you must practice.
What are chakras and why are they important?
Chakras are often referred to during yoga practice when it’s led by a yogi, either in a physical class or if you’re following along to a video. These are where the energy in your body is supposed to flow through – there’s 7 chakras, and each are related to different emotions, physical aspects, and even poses.
While they’re often helpful to learn about, especially as your practice gets beyond the initial basics, they’re not necessarily an essential part of the practical side of yoga. If you’re not quite ready to think about moving energy through your body into chakras, that’s alright.
It does help when you’re working on your mindfulness, though, as you focus on envisioning energy moving through you, so if you’d like to learn more about chakras, you can click here for a beginner’s guide to the 7 chakras. We'll also have a blog post of our own about them soon - so check back for additional information about the chakras, and how you can incorporate them into your yoga practice!
Do you have to be flexible to do yoga?
Nope! Actually, if you’re not flexible at all, yoga is a great place to start. Going back to the idea of practice, yoga helps you set up a routine that will get you on the way to increased flexibility. Most poses have modifications you can do that will help you get started, and as you gain flexibility, you can advance to harder and harder poses.
How often should I do yoga?
There’s no hard-set rule for how often you absolutely have to practice yoga, so do it as you feel you should. If you’re trying to set yourself up for a new habit to encourage mindfulness each day, it can be helpful to go through a short yoga practice at home each morning. Or, you could do yoga as a part of your regular fitness routine, attending a class once or twice a week.
Do yoga as often, or as seldom, as you’d like. To see the most results for increased flexibility and mindfulness, though, a consistent practice of daily or every other day is probably your best bet.
What’s the difference between yoga and just stretching?
Yoga does more than help you stretch – as you move into harder poses, you’re actually working your muscles as well.
In addition, a major part of yoga is the mind. You should be focusing on your body, on breath, on your own mental state as you go through your yoga practice. It’s much more than just stretching, even though it accomplishes many of the same physical benefits.
Think of yoga as a sort of moving meditation – that’s the key difference between yoga and a sequence of stretches.
Set Up Your Space
As you prepare to practice yoga for the first time, or the thousandth, you should still pay attention to your surroundings.
With the focus of this post being on having a more mindful practice, there’s several ways to ensure your environment is as supportive of this goal as possible.
Clean up the area you’ll be practicing yoga in. A tidy area is important to keep your mind from wandering into what you should be doing – such as cleaning up the mess you can see around you! A clean environment will help you focus
More than just clean up, de-clutter the space
Remove anything from view that isn’t functional or beautiful. Put thought into your space, and decorate it with an eye to images and items that will help you focus and find clarity.
Decorate with colors that are muted, cool tones, or warm whites
These won’t draw undue attention while you practice, and will help set a calm, peaceful atmosphere in the area you choose for your practice.
Set the mood with the right lighting
Use candles, dimmed lights, or soft curtains to mute the light from the sun. Practice in the morning, when the light is gentle and flattering, or use softer light sources for practice later in the day. Think of your yoga practice as a date with yourself, and light your space accordingly.
Accessorize with intention
. Anything you use for decoration or to set the mood should be considered with the intention of aiding your yoga practice in mind. Setting an intention for a space is a powerful way to set up a mindset that cultivates success. Consider using scents, such as incense or an essential oil diffuser, to help create a welcoming air when you enter the space. Set up a shelf with a single candle, statue, or plant as a physical representation of your intention – place it where you can easily see it during your practice.
If your space is outside, make sure it’s flatIf you opt to practice outdoors, make sure the area you’re practicing on is a flat one. Check grass lawns for hidden hills or dips, or if you’re on a patio or deck, make sure there aren’t any hidden bumps. You’ll be using a mat, but you still want the ground underneath it to be flat so you don’t misstep during your practice.
Stumped on how to decorate a space that feels suitably sacred or inspiring for yoga?
Take a day trip and check out your local thrift stores for lanterns, tapestries, or hanging lights. If you’re lucky, you might even find a Buddha statue – if you don’t find one at a thrift store, it’s worth hunting around for one you do like. Cheerful, chubby, and full of luck, they’re a great accessory to add to your yoga space.
Lots of candles!
Nothing makes a space feel more special than having lots of candles. Vary the colors, shapes, and holders you use for them to increase the feeling of your own little nook.
Pick up some crystals, seashells, driftwood, or easy to care for plants to help you remember to reconnect with nature.
Crystals have their own set of beliefs and intentions that are often associated with the different types, so if you want to incorporate specific stones for specific intentions, a little research might be fun.
The easiest to find crystals also have many benefits associated with them, if you want to bring those into your practice.
A few to start:
Helps to balance the spiritual, physical, and emotional aspects of your psyche. Found in many shades of purple and many different forms, it’s a beautiful stone that can inspire feelings of calm and relaxation when used to help focus your meditation.
Most popularly referred to as a love stone, add some rose quartz to your décor to help bring love into your life. Not just for new romantic love, rose quartz also helps with self-love and self-acceptance, making it a perfect addition for a mindfully decorated space to practice yoga!
A beautiful, yellowish to clear stone that’s been known throughout the world as a stone of luck. Citrine is supposed to help bring wealth, prosperity, and luck to the bearer – and it’s beautiful!
One of my favorite stones, this is a beautiful, highly variable crystal that’s supposed to help with focus and calmness. Fluorite is supposed to help remove negative energy and help cleanse your spirit – making it another helpful crystal to add to your intentional arrangement.
Prepare Yourself For Practice
Of course, all this decorating of your yoga space is for a purpose – to practice! There’s a few practical items you need for your yoga practice:
A yoga mat
For practicing indoors, especially on hard floors, you may want to invest in a sturdy, thick yoga mat. For outdoor practice, a thinner, inexpensive mat is probably a good idea, so you don’t have to worry about the elements damaging it. A 72” mat is big enough for pretty much anybody, but if you’re shorter in stature, you could use a 60” matt instead. At 5’7”, I need the 72” mat to fit myself on comfortably - when in doubt, get a longer mat!
These aren’t immediately necessary, but if you’re not very flexible or struggle with balancing at first, these can be a life saver. They’ll help you stay supported during poses where you can't quite reach the ground, or help elevate your joints in poses that might put a bit of strain on them at first.
Yoga strapsLike the yoga blocks, these aren’t a mandatory purchase, but if you’re looking to increase your flexibility, they are a huge help. If you can’t touch your toes yet, this is a must-have to help you as you practice.
Before you get set up to practice, prepare your mind and body to get the most out of your time. Take a moment to mentally set your intention for the practice, standing or sitting with your eyes on the item you chose to represent your intention for the space.
Your nose has powerful connections to your mind and body - don't neglect it during your yoga practice.
Burn some incense, or diffuse an essential oil blend that will help you connect more deeply to the intention you set.
Essential oil blends you can diffuse during your practice for specific intentions:
The peace blend is a mix of geranium, lavender, marjoram, Melissa, neroli, tangerine, and ylang ylang essential oils. These oils will help calm your spirit and ground you, providing a pleasant backdrop to your practice.
For a practice that connects you more deeply with your inner self and promotes your sense of well being, diffusing the spirit blend while you practice is ideal. With bergamot, lavender, and tea tree oil, it’s a bit more stimulating than the peace blend, making it perfect for your morning yoga session.
My absolute favorite blend, the joy blend is full of such warmth and happiness that I can’t help but smile when I smell it. This blend combines bergamot, geranium, jasmine absolute, petitgrain, rose otto, ho wood, sandalwood, and ylang ylang – the scents of peace and spirit, with the warmth and soul-soothing scents of sandalwood and ho wood.
If your intention for your yoga practice is to bring yourself joy, this is the blend to diffuse!
In addition to setting up your room for your practice, you also need to set up your body.
Choose loose fitting, comfortable clothing for your practice – yoga pants are optional, but they’re designed specifically to enable easy, fluid motions! Gym shorts, tank tops, or your underwear – if you’re practicing yoga at home, you can wear whatever you’d like.
If you’re stiff or still working on your flexibility, massaging your joints ahead of time can be helpful as well. Mix the move blend with a carrier oil and massage it into your ankles, knees, wrists, and elbows to keep these joints limber and fluid as you begin your practice.
Alternatively, you can use the roll on blend to roll the essential oils onto your skin, massaging the joints once you’ve applied the oils.
I like to anoint myself with a chakra blend before my practice to further set my intention and get me in the mindset for a mindful practice. For more information on the chakras and the essential oils you can use for anointing before your yoga practice, we'll have another blog post coming soon. :)
Anointing is the practice of placing a single drop of essential oil on your finger tip along with a single drop of carrier oil, and then lightly dabbing the oil on your forehead and/or breastbone.
Anointing has deep roots in religion and spirituality, and can help bring you closer to a spiritual side for your yoga practice.
During Your Practice
When you practice yoga, keep in mind that it’s just that – practice. It’s okay to not be able to do all the poses at first. It’s okay if you can’t place your heels flat on your mat during your first downward dog pose, or if you can’t touch your toes.
I can’t do either of those things, and I practice yoga every morning to start my day!
Every person’s body is just a little bit different, so your areas of stiffness or flexibility are going to be different than someone else’s. And that’s okay. Just keep up with your practice, and in time, you’ll get more and more flexible, and be able to sink deeper into each pose.
One of the major parts of yoga is breath – focus on your breathing while you go through the poses. Keep your breaths even, and try to keep them in sync with each movement you make.
I find it helpful to have a yogi narrating as I practice, but I usually don’t want to attend a yoga class first thing in the morning. Instead, I’ll find yoga videos on YouTube, and follow along as best I can. I’ve linked my favorite yoga channels for you below:
Bad Yogi – an extremely fun channel that has all the yoga poses and practice tips for the beginner up to a more advanced yoga practitioner, the 30 day yoga challenge is an excellent place to start if you’re completely new to yoga.
Yoga with Adriene – Some videos are more advanced, but there’s plenty of great videos to get you started. I love her sun salutation videos, as well as her longer flows for when I want a longer yoga practice.
ForeverFit TV – A great channel for yoga and more, this youtube channel has the yoga staples along with longer flows with different areas of focus. This has a great variety of long and short videos, so if you’re not sure what you’d like to practice, you can browse through their selection and find something you like!
Be Fit – In particular, I often follow along with the Jillian Michaels yoga workouts. These aren’t great for the ultimate beginner, but if you’re looking for yoga practice that’s got more muscle-building aspects to it, this is where you want to look. These are tough – I couldn’t finish the first workout I followed along to, but that’s okay. It’s all about practice, remember?
If you want to search YouTube for your own favorite channels to get started, start off by looking up sun salutations. These are a staple for morning yoga practice, and they’re incorporated in some form or another into most yoga flows. They can also be fairly short, making them perfect for a quick 10 minute yoga session before work.
After Your Practice
Once you complete your practice, don’t skip the final step – shavasana. That funky word is used to describe the final part of yoga practice, where you lay on the floor in “corpse pose” and focus on relaxing your entire body. This is supposed to help the yoga practice “set” in your body, allowing your muscles and joints to absorb the practice.
It also helps slow your heart rate and allow you a final moment of introspection and meditation before you end your practice and go about your day.
After letting your body absorb your practice, there’s a few practical steps to take.
First, change your clothes and take a shower – especially if your practice was difficult and resulted in a bit of sweat. Not only is this important to mentally prep yourself for the day, but it’s also good for your skin!
Staying in your sweaty yoga or workout clothes after you’ve finished your workout is a surefire way to get acne on your body, so to avoid that, make a point to change your clothes and shower.
If your muscles are sore or just getting used to regular activity, massage them after your shower to help them relax and to move the lactic acid out of the muscles. Using the Soothe massage blend to do this is extra helpful – click here to read my blog on soothing sore muscles!
I used the Soothe blend almost daily as I got back into regular exercise, and it’s a huge help when you’ve got painful muscles and joints.
Make sure to tidy up your space after your practice if you set out crystals, lit incense, or candles. Put everything back in its proper place to keep the space clean and beautiful. This will also give you a head start on your next practice – you won’t be tidying up after your last practice!
To keep your yoga mat clean and smelling nice, spritz a little flower water on the mat after your practice. Let it rest on the mat for a moment, and gently wipe it down. Let it air dry, and then roll it back up and store it.
Using flower water helps keep your mat fresh and clean, and if you’re anything like me, as soon as you smell the subtle scent of your favorite flower, it’ll bring a smile to your face.
I also like to spritz flower water in my gym bag and on my gym shoes! When is the last time you opened your gym bag and smiled? With some flower water to help, that’ll happen much more often than you expect.
I hope you found this guide helpful – it was short on yoga poses, but long on ways to help your practice become more mindful and meaningful!
Share your favorite yoga poses and tips in the comment section below, and help others who are just discovering their own love for yoga!
-Jen, your friendly essential oil (and yoga!) enthusiast