Make it beautiful. One of my teachers has these three words tattooed on his forearm. Before leading the class through a series of Aum chants, he’d suggest we “make it beautiful.”
Just that small suggestion always changed the way sound echoed through me and uplifted my experience. His tattoo is permanently etched in my mind, and those words now speak to me every time I step on the mat and before every class I teach.
What is beauty?
Let me just clear one thing up for those of you thinking "yoga is not about beautiful asanas.” When I talk about beauty, I’m not talking about aspiring towards a Yoga Journal cover-esque expression of a pose (you can if you like, but for today's purposes let's not for a moment).
I’m talking about making your yoga practice beautiful from an internal place and allowing your practice to come from that place inside where limitless, unconditional love resides. We’ve all got that place in there somewhere, even if it is hiding behind irrational thoughts, fears, and phobias. For me, learning how to practice from this place is essential.
Make it beautiful. There are times when simply repeating those words at the start of a practice can encourage a more internal and connected experience. There are, of course, also times that we may need a little more than just words. So here are a few ways I set the scene for a beautiful, connected experience of yoga. I hope they work for you too.
1. Create a space.
I like to create a clean and uncluttered space that supports an internal gaze. Sometimes I like to immerse myself in nature, but when I’m at home, I have a little zen corner with an Aum symbol, a Buddha statue, and a painting of the word "Namaste" written in Sanskrit (I know it's a yoga cliche but it works!). I also like candles, but you want to be careful while zenning out with open flames nearby, just saying.
2. Dedicate your practice to someone.
Namaste. I bow to the light in you, you bow to the light in me, and when we are both connected to that place of light, we are as one.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that we are all part of the same collective consciousness, so we can energetically connect no matter how near or far away from each other we are. In this way, dedicating your energy and love to someone else actually has the ability to reach that person.
As a bonus, it’s incredibly uplifting to the person practicing! You might dedicate your practice to someone you care for deeply or perhaps to someone in your life who needs a little extra love. You might even dedicate it to someone you’ve had some recent conflict with.
3. Switch off.
All forms of technology – phones, laptops, tablets, texts, and tweets – can wait for later. I don’t even answer the door when I’m practicing. It takes discipline, but for a set period of time, even if it’s just 10 minutes, switch off anything that can potentially distract you from the present moment. This allows you to truly enter your practice.
4. Close your eyes.
It might seem a little obvious, but with our eyes open, we easily become focused on just the physical expression of a pose. In my classes, I often get students to close their eyes as they hold poses. This helps them detach from the aesthetics of the pose and instead, feel what they’re experiencing.
You can do this at home simply by flowing through Cat and Cow in sync with your breath. When you focus your awareness completely on that breath-body connection which closing the eyes allows you to do, you have a better chance of experiencing a state of union (aka, yoga).
5. Focus on your heart space.
I like to think of the Hrdayakasha (heart space) as the place where that beautiful well of unconditional love resides. By simply holding your gaze at the space of the heart, you encourage energy to flow from there. This creates a softness that starts to infiltrate your life off the mat. Before you know it—BAM!—you’ll be living in a love bubble.
Since the very first moment yoga entered my life, it has been an incredibly uplifting, sacred, and beautiful practice. I’ve seen it transform countless lives as it has done my own. Yoga can help us realize our essential nature which is love.
I know, it’s not always fluffy white clouds and unicorns, and sometimes our practice can stir things up and rattle our cage.
But I find that in every practice, even those challenging times where ego takes over and creates a tiresome negative internal dialogue, we can actually quiet that dialogue by reaching for that beautiful inner place.
Image credit/Yogini: Anna Coventry