When I witness a yoga instructor go effortlessly from dolphin pose into a handstand and hold it for minutes without trembling, cursing or crying, I always want to scream, Howww do you that?! Tell me the secret, now! But that would be obnoxious, so I keep my mouth shut. Still, long after class is over, I’m dying to know—how do they do it?
To avoid coming across as a crazed yogi in the midst of meltdown, I decided to calmly ask seven Philly yoga pros, outside of class, what their secrets to success on the mat are. I asked each one: What is the one piece of advice you would give to a student to totally transform their practice? And let me tell you, the advice these instructors doled out—be present, trust yourself, have fun—is serious food for thought, on and off the mat. See what they had to say below.
Paige Chapman, Mama’s Wellness Joint
"When we enter a yoga class, our biggest challenge is to leave our egos at the door. We live in a very competitive world and, no matter what level of yogi you are, this is our work. My number one piece of advice to any student is to remember: It's not about them, it's about you. Why look around the room to see what everyone else is doing when their bodies have nothing to do with yours? Work on being present and taking care of yourself. It will serve you way beyond the yoga studio."
Jennifer Schelter, Mindful Strategies for Living
"If you are practicing yoga to be thinner, happier, richer, smarter; to have a better job, boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, kids, mother, father, sex life; to forget your past or make a better future; to attract cooler friends or a better boss; or to have less fat, less anxiety, more peace of mind and money—STOP. Stop fixing and stop judging what’s less and what’s more. Stop comparing yourself to some ideal of perfectionism and what you think your life should be like. Instead, ask yourself, What am I practicing? What am I teaching myself? For one breath, stop fixing your past or planning your future, and embrace your life unconditionally. Let go and enjoy yourself. "
Justine Bacon, Philly Yoga Factory
"One thing that I always speak of in class is the breath: Be with your breath, stay with it, listen to it, and listen to others. The breath does not lie to you—it will tell you when you need to back down or that you're pushing too hard. We can draw strength from our breath to flow from one asana to the next with fluidity and purpose. The breath directs the mind inward and brings presence. It physically calms the body, and just the sound of it is soothing. Our breath is a bridge from the mind to the body and back again. If the breath is not strong, how can we expect strength from our bodies?"
Malik Wilson, Dhyana Yoga
"I am always telling practitioners to breathe, look inward and allow the posture to grow from within. We are spiritual beings blessed with a physical body to have a human experience—for our spiritual development, we must transcend a world based primarily in a physical existence."
Ewa Zeljazkow, Philly Power Yoga
"All of your experiences and needs will vary throughout your life. Just tune in, focus, pay attention and be fully present in that moment. Listen and feel–your mental, physical and spiritual body will let you know what it needs. Be respectful to what it is trying to communicate and simply take care of yourself. Your practice will change your life."
Mariel Freeman, DIG Yoga
"Yoga doesn't end when we roll up our mats. The 'advanced' practice is how we offer ourselves to the world and engage the world in our daily lives. Yoga reminds us that freedom is our true nature—we are free to be virtuous and we are free to be assholes. We are totally free. We have a choice. Intentionally practicing particular virtues on and off the mat—patience, generosity, kindness, courage, and the list goes on—will not only transform your practice, but will also transform your relationship to yourself along with your relationship to the world. Offer these virtues to yourself as you practice, and then continue the practice by offering them to everyone you encounter. This actually makes the world a better place."
Michelle Doyle, Aqua Vida
"The best advice I could offer a student is that you are your best teacher. You are the only one who knows your body and its strengths and weaknesses. Trust your own intuition, both on and off the mat. We as teachers are there to guide you deeper into the journey of the self, but only you have the ability to take it to next level. You will laugh, cry, get angry, be humbled; it's a journey, as is life. Never give up, because the only person you're giving up on is yourself. Trust yourself, smile, and laugh your way through your practice. It’s amazing what happens when let go and have fun!”
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