5 Ways to Get More Out of Every Pose

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In a perfect world we'd all have two hours every morning to unroll our yoga mats and do our asana practice (followed by another half hour of seated meditation). In the real world, however, we have jobs, families, pets, school, and other obligations that make two hours a day seem like an impossible dream for many of us.

I don't know about you, but my life is pretty busy--and it's about to get a lot busier in the coming weeks. That means I have to make the most of every precious moment I have on my mat. Here are a few ways I try to get more out of every pose on those occasions when I only have a few minutes to squeeze in an asana practice.

1. Hold it. I'm a vinyasa kind of girl, so when my teachers tell me to hold a pose, I often think obscenities and glare at them when they turn their backs to me. I may not like it, but I know it's good for me. So when I only have a few minutes to squeeze in a quick practice, I hold standing poses. When you hold a pose for long enough for it to feel a bit uncomfortable, you're building muscle strength. But you're also building strength of mind by showing yourself that you're stronger than you think you are, which can be an invaluable gift! Resist the urge to pull at your top, brush the hair out of your face, or take sip of water--fidgeting takes your body and mind out of the pose.

2. Breathe into the area of sensation. Breathing is a huge part of every yoga asana. With every inhale imagine that you're creating spaciousness in your body, and go just a little deeper with every exhale.

3. Pay attention. When you let your mind wander during a yoga pose, you're putting yourself at risk for injuries. You also start to lose the quality of the pose and compromise its ability to work deeply in your body.

4. Relax. Scan your body. Are you holding tension anywhere in your body that's not necessary? Your jaw? Your eyes? Your tongue? Your shoulders? Try to relax anything that doesn't have to be tense in order to support you.

5. Change it up. If you practice how you've always practiced, you'll get the same results you've always gotten. That's not always a bad thing... But if you want to see real transformation happen, making little adjustments to the way you practice will make a huge difference. Little changes like lengthening your tailbone toward the floor, lifting your chest toward the sky, or firming your leg muscles and lifting your kneecaps can work a whole new set of muscles and help you get closer to a more challenging variation. Ask for your teachers help if you're not sure what little adjustment you should work on.

Erica Rodefer is a writer and yoga enthusiast in Charleston, SC. Visit her blog, Spoiledyogi.com, follow her on Twitter, or like her on Facebook.