You don’t have to be a longtime yogi to know that a regular yoga practice helps build mental strength in addition to physical strength and flexibility. It all starts with a calm state of mind.
As with any other mental or physical activity, it can be far too easy to turn a yoga session into a stressful, distracted, anxiety-filled workout. For example, maybe you feel guilted into practicing when you don’t really want to, or you mostly just want the physical benefits of exercise, or you want to “get it over with” so you can get on with your day — and so you end up focusing on the discomfort of it all, the random thoughts that pop up in your head, and all the stuff you need to do when you’re finally done.
You can push yourself physically through your practice, but if your mind continues to resist, eventually it will win you over. Here are five tips to integrate into your practice to ensure a calmer mind and eventually greater mental strength.
Unlike other forms of physical activity like running, aerobics, high-intensity interval training, and team sports that force you to move at a fast pace, yoga is all about slowing it way down. It can still be intense, but a slower pace makes it easier to coordinate the breath with the movement as you practice mindfulness. Whether you’re flowing through a vinyasa or transitioning from high lunge to warrior III, take it slow to ensure that your mind can take in all of what’s going on.
Focus on self-awareness.
Instead of thinking about what you’re having for lunch, what time it is, when the last time it was that you cleaned your yoga matt, or anything else that doesn’t involve your five senses, aim to bring yourself back to your body by using your breath to detach from those distracting thoughts. Your intention should be to focus on the here and now, and you can do that by noticing and fully accepting everything you’re feeling in the current moment.
Sink into stillness.
Stillness is uncomfortable for the mind, which is why it’s such a powerful practice for building mental strength. It’s much easier to fill your head with thoughts and distractions as you jump, run, or dance around as fast and as intensely as possible during other popular forms of exercise, but to hold almost any yoga pose for an extended period of time forces the mind to become totally aware and accepting of every sensation. It’s through this acceptance that you build your mental strength.
Face your fears.
Whether it’s learning to do headstand or figuring out how to completely surrender in savasana, facing those poses that scare you will train your mind to take on challenges rather than avoid them. In yoga, we often fear physical pain, negative emotions, harsh truths about ourselves, toppling over, and of course failing. But facing these fears head on with a calm mind gives us proof that they’re not so scary after all.
Last but not least, mental strength comes from welcoming and embracing failure no matter how long you’ve been practicing. It involves being okay with having a bad day here or a so-so practice there. By clearing your mind of expectations and desires of reaching future goals, you get to focus on just the experience itself—the beautiful learning process that brings growth no matter how much you fail. As long as you’re mentally strong enough to accept failure and view it as learning rather than defeat, you will always keep growing and improving.