What to Think and Feel in a Yoga Class

Monday, July 10, 2017

The other day a brand new yogi came up to me after his very first class and asked me a question.

"What am I supposed to be thinking and feeling in there?"

The question made me smile, in big part because I know the wheels are turning and engagement is happening, but also in part because we all, at one point or another, wonder exactly the same thing. What are we supposed to think and feel on the mat?

During a typical class, we might hear, "Focus on the breath; let the breath guide you." Or perhaps, "Make sure your knee is tracking directly over your ankle," "Engage your core," "Soften your jaw." There are so many cues for someone brand new to practice, so many things going on at once. And that's without bringing into the equation every sensation we might be feeling for the first time in the asanas. Given all this, the question this new yogi asked is quite valid, and speaks to the desire to "do it right."

As sincere is the desire to "do it right," there is no set rule or formula for "right." When this new yogi asked me, "What am I supposed to be thinking and feeling in there?" I answered with another question: "What were you thinking and feeling?" Because the truth is, whatever he was thinking and feeling in those moments was exactly what he was supposed to be thinking and feeling. He can't go back and erase his answers, so to speak. He can't un-feel or un-think. All he has is what he thinks and feels in each moment. The trick is simply to notice his thoughts and feelings. Experience the feelings. Wonder at the thoughts.

When you go to a museum and look at a piece of art, do you wonder what you're supposed to think or feel? You might, true, but when it comes down to it, what you think and feel as you observe and interact with the art is exactly what you are supposed to think and feel. The museum can't dictate your response to art, although they may provide context and push toward a certain evocation of thought or emotion. Your response is your response. So it is with yoga, only the art here is yourself. How are you going to respond to yourself?

May I suggest observing? Just notice your thoughts: "This sucks. I can't. What goes where!?" or "I didn't know I could do that! This feels...interesting. Oh, I feel really relaxed."

Feel what you feel: overwhelm, peace, panic, soreness, silliness.

You are art. Learn to observe. Think what you think. Feel what you feel. Get to know yourself. That's all it is.

We start from where we are.

What to Think and Feel in Yoga

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