People use yoga as a tool for a lot of reasons. They want to increase flexibility, relax, get more fit, have fun, open up more spiritually…the list goes on. Whatever the motivation to starting a yoga practice, ultimately, we come face to face with ourselves. Our personalities shine, our self-talk becomes evident and our deeper subconscious motivations and hidden secrets begin to reveal themselves.

Yoga is a practice that embraces change and transformation. It is set up to purposefully and methodically stress the nervous system to create more space, strength, stamina, focus and inner awareness. However, it is also a practice that allows us to see how we relate to ourselves and to hear our deepest inner voice.

So many of the asana practices are designed to push us forward. They create an atmosphere of striving, wanting more, pushing ourselves beyond our limits. This isn’t wrong — yoga is meant to change you. But what is your relationship and your attitude toward your body and your actual now experience while you practice?

After over 20 years of practice and just as long of doing self-discovery work, it seems that the greatest area of growth and transformation has been to learn to accept and love all parts of myself. To be gentle and kind. To honor what my intuitive and beautiful body is asking me for each and every day.

Elite athletes train their bodies by stressing them. Training is difficult and it pushes them outside their comfort zones regularly in order to build their bodies up to be faster, more agile, have better endurance. But before they perform, they taper their activity. They slow down and take it easy. They rest. After that rest, they are able to give their best performances.

Yoga is not meant to build us up as elite athletes, though it can be used in a similar way. It’s meant to create a deeper connection to ourselves and our inner wisdom. It’s meant to tame the unfocused mind and to integrate us more into our bodies. When we reach beyond our comfort zones, the quality in which we approach our techniques becomes as or more important than simply pushing ourselves. If your goal is to have a body that can perform all of the asanas, then train like an athlete. If your motivation is to calm your mind, then find an edge that keeps you alert, but is able to stay calm.

Pay attention to what your feelings and thoughts are when you practice. Do you push yourself and beat up on yourself and think you need to do more? Are you having fun, staying expansive and relaxed? If you practice suffering, you get better at it. If you practice joy and pleasure, you get better at that. If your practice becomes a steady goal of overriding what your body needs and wants, you get better at ignoring your body. And if you make your goal about listening and following what your body is asking, loving where it is at, then that gets stronger. What are your motivations? And what are your tendencies?

If you find yourself generally skipping the hard stuff, then maybe your resistance needs to get challenged a little bit if and when you are ready to expand beyond that obstacle. But if you tend to push yourself, then when your body says it’s tired, maybe it’s time to start listening to that voice more.

Asana means seat. It represents the balance between steadiness and ease. A true asana practice is one where you ride that place of steadiness and ease, a place that feels good and open and alive. When you start feeling dull, add a little more spice. But in my experience and observation, most of us are stressing our systems to the point of tightening up energetically. Try easing up a little and see how much better you feel. Practice feeling good when you move and stretch. Feel how wonderful it is for your breath to be able to be large and expansive and how much your body opens up when you pay attention to what it wants and needs.

Play with these ideas during your practice and use your own judgment to determine what your body likes and doesn’t like, and what actually works for you. That wisdom is the gold we get when we slow down enough to listen and meet ourselves exactly as we are.