Inside Yoga 276 (22/7/2019)
As we approach the summer break when my weekly classes come to an end many of you will be thinking, I must practice at home a bit more, or even start practising at home. Developing a home practice is easier than you would think though it does require perseverance! Here are some tips on how to approach a home practice – remember my lessons are always there (after my break)!
First of all, we make the decision that we want to practice yoga on a regular basis. Setting the intention is an important part in our self-discipline. We can decide whether it is going to be a daily practice and every other day, or weekly. Personally, I recommend deciding on a daily practice – I do realise that a daily practice is much more challenging, but it is possible if you adopt this view: a daily practice includes those days when a yoga practice was not possible! When I wake up I decide how much yoga practice I am able to fit in today, which means if I cannot practice today, I know why I cannot practice – it is still part of the daily practice. The important factor is that I did not forget to practice. What we want to avoid is forgetting! For example, suddenly a thought pops into our head “I haven’t practiced yoga for ages, where has the time gone?”. Mind you, I should add, if you decide every day for weeks and weeks that you will not practice today, something is not working! A daily yoga practice is very much about our intentions as well as our actions.
The second question is: how much practice shall do and when? This is where we need to be realistic: why not start with the intention to devote 15 minutes to a practice – in other words start with an achievable goal, and not to be too ambitious at first. It is generally recommended to practice yoga first thing in the morning, that is, after waking up and using the toilet, go straight to your yoga mat. This is the best time to practice, before the rest of the day gets ahead of itself and we find ourselves in bed in night wondering why we just couldn’t find the time to do some yoga. And the second best time, is late afternoon/early evening, at the end of the day but not end of the evening when we might be too tired.
Fitting in some yoga when we wake up also works well, as it helps us get ready for the day, by exercising physically to wake up our body and also, some breathing exercises and meditation to wake up and “brighten” our mind. Dog owners will notice that their dogs always stretch on waking up, they do not look at their paw (an imaginary watch) and think I haven’t got time to stretch my body to wake up! Why humans have developed the bad habit of being in such a rush not to wake up properly is baffling!
I generally advise people to start with a short time frame as a goal and this is then achievable. It is possible to do some stretching, a few deep breathing exercises to wake up and a few minutes of quiet sitting, and still fit it all into a 15-minute window. And if we haven’t got 15 minutes, then just a few minutes will be better that none – a few stretches, a couple of downward-faced dog and upward-faced dog will do the trick – think about it, as mentioned above, this is why the exercise has this name! The original yogis watched dogs stetch! And if you have more than 15 minutes then that is great, be it half hour, one hour or more.
When we were young we trained – or rather our parents trained us – to brush our teeth every day and in fact, twice a day for most of us. We sometimes do a more brushing while other times it’s a quick brush, but we still do it, without question. And we know it does our teeth good; see yoga like that: it is something we just do, and fit into our day without question, because we know it does us good. If you never brush your teeth, then perhaps start yoga and teeth brushing now!
Third, what sort of practice? This is the part that many people find challenging, because they have attended the classes, and followed the instructions, but now, suddenly confronted by their own mat, and then silence, suddenly yogic-amnesia steps in. Fear not, all you need to do is start at the beginning. A standing stretch or a cross-legged stretch will start it all off, followed by downward faced/upward faced dog will help you get started, and then by the time you get going it is amazing how we begin to feel our way back into the practice and know what to do next. Often it is our body which tells us what is next.
And if you are not sure what is next, follow this template: start with standing postures, perhaps after the above sequence, and a sun salutation if you know one. Standing postures can include triangle, warrior I and II, wide-angle forward bend, and tree posture.
Follow this with seated forward bends, seated hip openers, seated twists; and then core strength such as the boat and locust; and then we have back bends, and for those who are comfortable, inversions such as shoulder stand.
In brief: standing; seated forward beds, hip openers, twists, back bends and inversions: these key types of postures are the basic template, whether we practice for 15 minutes or 3 hours. And at the end, leave enough time to sit in meditation for a few minutes and if you practice pranayama, include some, and also a short rest if needed. Remember to finish your practice, however long or short, with a moment or two of stillness and silence.
I hope this helps to foster confidence to practice and to maintain a home practice. And I am always here to help: this is my role as a teacher, my group classes are there to help you learn the postures and the practice. And if you want more help, I am available to teach you on a privately (or more than one person) in your home and develop a home practice and a confidence to practice alone – or perhaps build up confidence in group classes.
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