Path to a Personal Yoga Practice

I have a confession to make, despite 17 years of faithful yoga practice/study, and 4.5 years of teaching yoga, finding regular time for my personal practice was still a challenge.  I have tried practicing on my own with limited success, via class streaming on  YogaGlo and was quite judgemental with myself when I failed to meet the goals that I set for myself. 

I started participating in Instagram Yoga Challenges, and saw both regularity of practice and physical achievement in poses that I usually stay away from.  The chance to be listed as a winner seemed to ignite the fire to get up early enough to practice every day.  There was one problem with this.  The gains were physical, but the soul had left my practice.  I am reminded of a verse from the Bible that I had memorized as a child. 

 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?  - Mark 8:36 KJV

It didn't really matter if I could stand on my hands or do a big backbend if the spirit and the true feeling of what brought me to yoga was gone.  The pose is not the goal of yoga!  I was practicing daily, but for the wrong reasons.

Setting out to find the soul of my yoga practice involved establishing a regular routine, finding discipline, and being honest about my intentions.  I no longer have to look good for my morning practice.  I am enjoying the liberty of establishing a routine that works for me.  The first step was loss of the daily instagram post, which gave me the freedom to come to that mat just as I was in the moment (it also saves the time of getting changed).  I usually get out of bed, feed my pets, drink warm lime water, and practice in my pajamas.  This has given me the freedom to take more time for the practice itself and find balance every day.   

My second step was the loss of my yoga class streaming.  I'm not saying that this step is for everyone, but I needed to find balance by loss of external focus.  I spent less time choosing the day's practice, and more time in actual practice.  I am able to customize my practice based on my daily schedule.  I lost the external focus, and regained a little more soul in my yoga practice.  Putting the soul back in my yoga has influenced the way I feel off the mat, my interactions with my family & friends, and brought authentic inspiration to the way I teach.  Sound good?  Here are a few steps to get you started...

  1. Timing - set a regular time & routine every day.  Hold yourself accountable, but allow for variation depending on what else is going on in your life.  Your practice should be a haven, not an obligation.  A goal of early morning practice 5-7 days a week works for me.  
  2. Breath (pranayama) -  If you are practicing early in the morning, it is a good idea to do a type of breathwork that will give you energy.  I've been working with Kapalabhati or Skull Shining Breath.  Here are some instructions if you're new to the practice.     
  3. Meditation - This may feel more natural either here or after your asana (pose) practice.  Feel free to experiment to find out what works for you.  I prefer to do a round or two on my mala beads, then sit in stillness for the rest of my meditation, but there are several ways to learn how to meditate.  Subscribe to my blog, and you won't miss the guided meditation I've been working on!
  4. Yoga Poses (asana) - I find that an established routine with opportunity for variety works well for me. Established students or teachers can develop a practice of their own.  I suggest new students establish a practice with a local teacher (see my schedule for information on group or private instruction).  If you're interested in online offerings, comment on this blog and let me know what you're looking for.  I love to meet the needs of my online community!
  5. Savasana - include some time in rest before taking on the rest of your day!
  6. Reading/Study - You may choose to read a religious text, or study some yoga text.  The choice is yours.  Meditations from the Mat is a good choice, and an easy read.  It includes 365 brief one page reflections, that I have used as an intro to several of my yoga classes.  Some of my other favorites iinclude Light on Life,  Eastern Body Western Mind, Yoga Sutras and A Spiritual Rennegade's guide to the Good Life.   Check out the Facebook Yoga Book Club that a friend & I started if you want somewhere to discuss yoga texts & find inspiration.

Just yesterday, I had a discussion with a friend who is nearing the end of teacher training.  She had recently come to the conclusion that yoga was much more than where you put your hand, foot or tailbone - YES!!!  Your yoga practice can be about turning inward, how your practice makes you feel, finding balance. You can choose to take your practice into every part of your day.  You may or may not be able to hold fancy poses or teach large groups, but please find and keep the heart and soul of your practice.  The true power of our yoga practice lies within.

 

Namaste - Beth

Put a Strap on your Yoga Practice

Some students view the use of yoga props as a sign of weakness. Although often unappreciated, props such as straps and blocks can offer big rewards when used creatively in yoga practice. Here are a few ways to sneak props into your home practice. 


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1. Blocks in Wheel Pose -  Using blocks against a wall in wheel pose can help to open your chest and decrease the amount of pressure on the wrists.  Place the block on an angle, propped between the baseboard your yoga mat.  Keep your legs engaged, and try to make this feel like an even backbend (it is very tempting to make the movement all about the lower back). 


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2. Straps in Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose -  To practice rooting the thighs, place a strap around your upper thigh of the lifted leg and around the ball of your foot of the extended leg.  Instead of taking the foot as close as you can to your head, root your sitting bones down, keeping the natural arch in your lower back.  Next, press through the extended foot to root the thign of the lifted leg.  Only take the stretch as deep as you can without loosing the rooting of the thighs.


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3. Straps in Downward Facing Dog - Make a loop about shoulder width, place it behind your back, and tighten it around both shoulders.  The idea is to keep your shoulders and upper back from rounding.  At the same time, pull your lower front ribs in, and feel your back press gently into the lower strap on your back.  Keep the hips lifted high, and the legs engaged.  Allow your strong foundation to bring new length to your spine.


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Strap in Handstand - Place the strap as you did in downward facing dog.  Prepare to kick up to a handstand about 6-8 inches away from the wall.  You may not need it, but it is great to know that it's there.  Engage your core, look between your hands, and kick up, attempting to place your hips just above your shoulders.  Feel the stability & have fun!   


Props are great.  They can support and open your practice in a whole new way.  Hopefully you feel inspired to find a new love for props.  Try these ideas in your own practice, and tag @yoga.m8  on instagram if you use these or any other cool props.  I'd love to hear from you.

 

Namaste - Beth