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Get more out of your yoga practice by doing less—AKA the most Zen tip ever


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Photo: Elena Mudd

The #bossbabe habit of trying too hard, in yoga and in life, is hard to shake. Whether I’m trying to make things happen in my personal relationships or career—or I’m just searching for a comfy spot in pigeon pose that won’t leave my legs numb and tingly—when a friend (or a yoga instructor) tells me that I can do less and get more payoff, I’m all ears.

To kick off the Well+Good Retreat at the Cedar Lakes Estate this week, Beth Cooke, a New York City–based yoga instructor to the stars and retreat co-leader led a restorative flow, during which she said just that: “The idea of the whole practice is based on doing less—and it’s like life,” she tells me after a class set next to the glimmering lake at the property in upstate New York’s Hudson Valley. “If you try to hold onto water, you lose it, and that’s the same thing in a yoga practice, because you’re learning how to settle into everything without doing too much, without muscling too much. You learn to take that back into your life because you’ll get more out of your practice and certain situations if you do a little bit less.”

“If you try to hold onto water, you lose it, and that’s the same thing in a yoga practice, because you’re learning how to settle into everything without doing too much, without muscling too much.” —Beth Cooke, yoga instructor

Take the pigeon pose: While you might assume you need to get deep into the position in order to best reap its benefits, instead, try opting for a restorative pigeon, with blocks. This way you can create a scaffolding of sorts for the body that acts as a boundary to stop you from pushing beyond a healthy-for-you limit. “A lot of people think that they can lay their chest flat, and that’s the goal, and that’s it,” Cooke says of pigeon pose. “Actually, flexibility isn’t always what we’re going for; you also need strength.”

Anecdotally, I find that I’m able to sit with the restorative version of the pose longer, and while it feels familiar to standard pigeon and the end result is similar, the modification opens up more space and room to feel it. Science backs me up here, as well: One study notes that high mental effort combined with low intensity can actually increase muscle strength. Basically, do less and feel great about it.

“So much of what we do on the mat transfers to the way we handle things in life,” Cooke says. “You have the ability to decide how you’ll spend the five minutes in this position. You have the ability to stack the bones and let go, and that’s when the magic sets in and that’s when you find the sweet spot in your practice.” The bottom line? You have full yoga-expert-approved permission to take it easy.

Jessica Biel loves a yoga sesh to help manage her stress: This is the one that she practices. And, these are some really easygoing poses to get you started with your practice.

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