In yoga, you’ll often hear the advice to listen to your body. If you are just starting out, this may sound mysterious. How exactly do you do that? What if you don’t hear anything?

You will. Learning to listen to your body requires some practice, but we all have the ability to do it.

What listening to your body is not

First, it helps to eliminate the messages that come from your mind, not your body, which may be stopping you from truly listening. These are usually thoughts that start with ‘I should’, urge you to compare yourself to other people in the class or label you as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at something.

Your yoga teacher will suggest several different versions of the same pose and leave it up to you to choose the best one for you. We often associate ‘advanced’ with ‘better’, so it can be tempting to go for the advanced option, even if you’re not ready for it. Other times, you’d stay with the easiest option, because you’re busy thinking about something else or you feel embarrassed to try something you haven’t tried before. Either of these choices comes from the mind.

Pay attention to your breath and physical sensations

Instead of listening to your mind chatter, go inwards and become aware of your breath and sensations. Your breathing during a yoga session is deep and synchronised with your movements. It may become shallower during some of the twists, but you’ll still be able to maintain a steady rhythm. If you find that you’re holding your breath or your breathing has become rapid and out of control, it’s a sign to take a step back. Choose an easier version of the pose or take a rest in downward-facing dog or child’s pose until your breath is back to normal.

The sensations in your body will also tell you when you’ve gone too far. Some discomfort during your yoga practice is ok, as you’re exploring your edges, but as soon as you feel pain, it’s time to stop and adjust your pose. Staying with discomfort will make you stronger and more flexible; pain is a sign that there’s something wrong or an injury is about to happen.

Discomfort feels like pressure or burning and it comes slow. You’re able to maintain your breathing pattern and when you exhale into the tight area, the discomfort will often ease. Pain, on the other hand, can be sharp, dull, shooting or pulsating, and it’s so disturbing that you can’t continue mindfully with your practice.

Beyond the yoga mat

The practice of listening to your body isn’t limited to yoga. Your body has infinite wisdom, which you can access at any time. Just like in yoga, notice your breathing and the sensations in your body at times when you’re happy, bored, scared, excited or overwhelmed. After a while, you’ll be able to distinguish between the discomfort that always comes when you step outside your comfort zone and the pain from settling for something that goes against your nature. Let your body help you make choices that work for you.