“If we allow for it, our yoga time can be a sacred time. A true moment of pause. A time for you.”
Sometimes when I get on my yoga mat and take that first big breath in, it feels like the first really positive thing I’ve done for myself all day long.
I often hear yoga students saying something similar. Remarking that their yoga practice is the only time in their busy days that is just for them. You might be able to relate.
Yet, there are also days when I move through my entire yoga practice with a task mindset: focused on “checking the box” of having practiced that day, or more interested in the physical benefit than the mental or spiritual one. On those days, I finish my yoga practice and I question how present I was.
If all the time for yourself you have in a day exists on your yoga mat, then one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is the intentionality to really enjoy that time on your mat. To soak in every breath, every movement, every moment. This can happen in small ways: through an intention to be present, or you can choose to cultivate a larger ritual around your yoga practice – setting a dedicated time, choosing or creating a setting that’s meaningful to you, or by closing or opening the practice with some symbolic word, movement or breath.
If you’re a yoga teacher, then a great offering you can give to students throughout their practice is the invitation to treat their time on the yoga mat as a sacred time. A special moment in the day just for them. Throughout class you can remind them to cultivate that mindset and allow it to bring greater meaning to their experience.
If you’re a teacher and you’re interested in trying out this theme, here are a few ways to incorporate it into class.
Before class starts: Set the scene
You can start creating the energy of “yoga as a sacred time” before students even begin to move. As you open class, invite students to take a few extra moments to really get comfortable and set the scene for their experience. Ask them to consciously make any adjustments they might need to to their clothing or surrounding area; to choose to put away any distractions that might have around them (if they’re at home, they might silence their cellphones). You can also invite students to pick a few cozy props that they can use later on in practice – blankets, pillows, and bolsters. If you’re teaching in the studio, you might dim the lights and light candles or incense, and if you’re teaching virtually you can invite students to do the same in their homes. As students get settled, you might say a word or two about the added layer of power we bring to our practice when we also bring mindful attention to our surroundings – the beginning of creating a sacred moment.
During your opening / centering:
As you begin class, you can choose to let students settle into an opening posture that is restorative. A few ideas: child’s pose (balasana), reclined butterfly (supta baddha konasana), corpse (savasana), easy seat (sukhasana). Invite students to use their blankets and pillows to get comfortable in the shape. From here, invite students to really drop into their breath. You might even ask them to notice the space around them – the noises, the smells, the sensation of the air on their skin. Invite them to embrace whatever is around them as a fundamental part of their experience – not detracting, but allowing whatever is to be.
From here, you can introduce the theme of yoga as a sacred space. You might say something like:
“In this life we so often get swept up in the business of it all. Moving from one thing to the next and not finding much time for ourselves. For many, the yoga practice is the small slice of the day that has been carved out for self-care. A time of quiet, of reflection, of restoration. If we allow for it, our yoga time can be a sacred time. A true moment of pause. If this is true for you, then in this practice I invite you to truly be present for the experience of the yoga practice. To attempt to stay present, here on your mats. To free yourself from thoughts of what else there is to do, and know that for the next hour all you have to do is be here. If you can, open your mindset so that this yoga mat becomes a space for true transformation and sacred self-care. As we move, relish in the feelings of the practice, knowing that you have stepped into whatever this practice is meant to be for you this evening, and choose to be with it.”
During class, especially when you arrive in moments of intensity – whether you are holding a difficult posture, moving quickly to build heat, or really settling into an intense stretch – bring your students back to the theme. Remind them that even in the moments when our yoga practice gets difficult, it is still a joy and a blessing to be on our mats. You might say something like:
“Even when the postures and the poses in this practice become intense, bring your mind back to the mindset of yoga as sacred. This, too, is teaching you something. Remember that these challenging poses are just practice for other challenges in life. Our ability to stay present in these sensations of intensity better prepares us for the intensity in the rest of our lives – moving through those moments with ease and equilibrium. Stick with the intensity, come back to the breath and relish again in the experience of sensation, finding joy for being on your mat.”
During the close:
Close out your practice in a way that really allows students to rest and reset. Since you have invited students to use pillows and props, you might choose to end class with a restorative pose in which students can really get cozy. Some suggestions are: supported bridge pose, supported fish pose, or savasana with knees bent and hands on the heart and stomach. Here again remind students of this sacred time. You may even note that the time is coming to an end, but instead of feeling wistful that the time is almost over, you might choose to ask students to feel grateful for the time that they did have, knowing that they have done all they needed to do. You might say something like:
“As practice comes to a close, take a moment to truly thank yourself for showing up on your mat. Acknowledge all the work you did. Scan through your body and mind and notice if anything has shifted. Notice if anything feels more open. We have created a beautiful space together. You can begin, now, to soften your breath and allow your thoughts to become silent. If you notice thoughts of sadness coming up for the practice being over, remember that you’ve already had the benefit of being on your mat today and that you will carry that benefit forward into whatever comes next. Remember that your mat is always here for you, ready to welcome you again into this sacred space.”
Some practice yoga for the physical benefit. Others work on the breath. Some don’t know what to expect and might be afraid to try. But most people walk away from yoga feeling better than they did before – mentally, physically, and spiritually.
That is something sacred.