Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bringing Yoga Home...5 Ways to Benefit from a Home Practice

You’ve heard it said a million is a daily practice. In your head you try to figure out whose classes you can attend and which times might fit your schedule.  Classes are not necessarily catering to the times which are available to you. Frustrated, you start to wonder how you get a daily practice in? You understand that the benefits of daily practice will be a good thing, but you are still left sorting out the logistics of it.  Finally, you come upon the simple answer! Add a home practice to complement the class practices you are able to make at your yoga studio or gym.
Enjoy these 5 benefits by establishing a home practice:
  1. Set your own times. Practice yoga while you are still in your pajamas if you feel like it!
  2. Stay centered. Practicing each day is much like taking a look in the mirror before you go out into the world. You get a chance to check in on how you feel and establish your self-confidence and self-worth.
  3. Retain strength and flexibility over time. Practicing once a week will not retain flexibility any more than dieting once a week will help you lose weight. Increasing the number of days you practice by adding a home practice can completely change your level of strength and flexibility and provide quicker physical progress as far as asanas (poses) are concerned.
  4. Move at your own pace. In a class you may feel rushed or even anxious to keep up with the teachers cues. In your own space you have the opportunity to really take your time with your breath and make sure you feel truly open in your pose before moving onto the next one.
  5. Bring the sacredness of your practice home. Change your perspective on what it means to have a yoga practice. Not just having to go to a specific place to allow your yoga to happen, but letting your practice exist wherever you happen to be. This can be quite a liberating experience.
The hard part is the many pitfalls we all have in our lives; children, pets, phone, computer, TV, lack of space, lack of motivation and other distractions such as chores. These pitfalls will help justify why you just cannot get a practice in at home if you let them. So how do you get around this? Start by closing your eyes and thinking about what the biggest pitfalls are for you when you are at home. Planning how to overcome those challenges will make you better able to maintain a home practice.
To help get you through this part here are some tips on overcoming those pitfalls:
  • Invest in a gate to keep out kids and pets.
  • Throw a tapestry over the computer and TV if they are in the same room as you will be practicing in. You will create a more welcoming space.
  • Turn the computer and the telephone off. If you must keep your computer on, check out some Youtube videos of yoga for inspiration or to follow along to.
  • Design your yogic space! This can be as simple or ornate as you like. Create a home altar that is mobile (candles, incense, statues, crystals, pictures of family or whatever you hold sacred and special to you). Dim the lights. Add a serenity fountain or some other connection to the elements. Play your favorite yoga music. Try to use a corner or space near a wall - you won’t need anything larger than the size of your yoga mat. If you do have a wall to use, a great motivator is to put up a picture of you in your favorite yoga pose or a picture of a pose you are trying to work towards. This will keep you inspired and you can change up the picture whenever you want. Keep a bottle of water and a towel handy so you don’t feel the need to leave your space once you have begun your practice.
Remember you can always start small. Maybe just bring 5 sets of sun salutations into your home practice at first and see if you can commit to that. As you build consistency, increase the duration of your home practice. And if you are having a rough day, take a seat on your mat or zafu (meditation cushion) and take 5 minutes to close your eyes and center your body, breath and mind. This is far better than skipping the practice altogether. Within a week you will feel like a new person and I promise you will begin to see changes in your practice and your perspective. I leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change”. 
~ Dr. Wayne W. Dyer.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Viva la Revolution!

Benefits of twisting postures that may make you want to revolt!

So I’m sure most of you have found yourselves holding your breath, gritting your teeth and mentally counting down the moments until you can release poses such as revolved triangle.  “Smurf” yoga (holding your breath in a pose until you turn blue) is certainly not the answer.  Revolved Triangle pose, in my experience, is on the top of the “we don’t love it” list.  Add to that pose revolved extended side angle or revolved lunge and suddenly frowns appear, faces sink and a time clock begins before losing students via the domino effect (exiting from the pose one by one before the 5 breaths are completed).    
So what is it about these twisting postures that make you want to revolt?  Is it the self-awareness that becomes more apparent as you are forced to face the extra loving in the midsection?  Is it the frustration with your body’s inflexibility within the spinal column?  Perhaps as you are wringing out your intestines and abdominal organs, you are also limiting the space the lungs have to take in their maximum breath?  Some practitioners may even find themselves caught on the borderline of anxiety or fear that they will not be able to take a deep enough breath to stay in the pose.
So with all of these stress-inducing thoughts towards twisted postures, why do them at all? There are a ton of physical benefits to twisting postures.  They sculpt the abdomen and obliques (love handles).  The compression and stimulation of the abdominal organs such as the liver, pancreas, kidneys, intestines, and bladder help with the removal of excretory waste as well as relief from gas pains.  Maybe pick a day and skip the coffee and do a twist instead!  Twists also assist with circulation. Limiting and then releasing the flow of blood through the body allows fresh movement of oxygen through the blood stream and assists with tissue healing.  
Sounds great, right?  Well that’s not all!  Twists also neutralize the spine after back bends and help keep your natural spinal rotation and soft tissues pliable.  You can be reassured that over time your body will remain healthy enough to twist this way and that without losing length or putting yourself at higher risk for random injuries.  If you happen to participate in sports like golf, soccer, martial arts, football, baseball, tennis and others that involve twisting for full range of motion, then a yoga practice that involves some of these revolting twisting postures is essential as a complimentary practice to your sport!
So moving away from the physiological effect of twisting postures we can explore this both mentally and with attention to breath!  Mentally, how we perceive our practice and poses can immediately create a conflict in the mind.  In yoga mental conflicts are not necessarily fights going on in your head.  It simply means that you have not found Santosha (contentment) with the pose.  Santosha meaning you neither revel in the posture nor feel any form of aversion to it either.  You simply do the posture and focus on remaining present and in the moment.  By releasing yourself of the conflict in the mind and finding contentment in twisting postures you will experience a more level and open flow in the mind during your physical practice.
Ujjayai (victorious) breath should be used to take the “Smurf” yoga out of your practice.  In twists, the compression of ribs and lungs can make it impossible to take full big breaths and can also make it a troubling experience to try to breathe using your mouth.  Instead focus on the Ujjayai breath skills where there is the slightest constriction at the back of the throat that allows for the elongation of the duration of each inhalation and exhalation.  Allow the breaths to last 5 counts in and 5 counts out.  This technique is much the same as fogging up a window with your mouth and creating that condensation effect but instead of using your mouth, you use your nose for both the inhalation and the exhalation.  Remember, if you are not breathing, you are not practicing.
So instead of revolting the next time you are faced with a twisting posture, take the opportunity to breathe, mentally explore the experience of being present in the pose, connect with Santosha and think about how yummy your belly, back, obliques and digestives system will feel.  Instead of thinking how much longer until I get out of this pose think “Viva la Revolution” and bring on the twists!


Friday, March 2, 2012

Your Guide to Getting the Most Out of Your Practice

So you’ve tried a group class and left feeling like you were nearly in the same place as where you started. You’ve practiced at home but are not sure if you are doing the poses correctly. Maybe you are beginning to ask yourself if yoga is really right for you...

Yoga can be practiced in a variety of ways. But how do you know which way is best for you? Not only do you have multiple styles of yoga to choose from but you also have a variety of ways in which you can participate in your practice. You may find yourself walking into a class whose name you don’t understand and are unsure of the expectations. Mostly you just hear that yoga is good for your back, your tightness or any other thing that may currently be ailing you; and truthfully yoga is all that and more. For those of you more experienced practitioners, you may feel as though your practice has begun to plateau in a large class setting. You may find that you want more time from your teacher but are unable to attain that in the limited amount of time that the class runs.

Here is a guide that will break down the pros and cons and help you decide on where to take your practice to next!

Firstly, let it be known that back in the day when Krishnamacharya (thought of as the grandfather of yoga) was teaching yoga it was not done in large group classes but instead was offered one on one. This allowed the teacher to depart a mass of knowledge to their student much like a disciple. This dynamic has changed and I will refrain from offering an opinion on which methods I consider best, as I think that whether practicing solo, one one one, in small groups, or in large classes, benefits truly have to do with what your immediate goal may be as far as your particular practice is concerned.

Private Yoga Sessions
Using a qualified experienced and certified instructor can help you change your practice by leaps and bounds. (You can find one by checking out 100% of the time is spent on you and your needs. During private sessions your teacher can observe and immediately catch improper alignment or form. They can identify negative habits that may have crept into your practice and help to break you out of them. They can assist you in getting to the next level of poses you may be struggling with by offering helpful tips, demonstrating how to use props and physically assisting your body into postures. This is also a great idea if you have injuries or issues with your body where learning how to modify, or practice safely is your main goal. While these classes may be more expensive than the small group classes, you may find that you may only need a few sessions to bring your practice to where you would like it to be. Private sessions also offer a convenience factor, fitting the time around your schedule. Your teacher may even design small session class outlines for you to work on at home during the week until your next private session. This will allow you to build your strength and flexibility in the time between sessions.

The drawback is higher cost. These sessions will generally run anywhere from $125-$150 per hour session when the teacher comes to you. Once you start them, you may not want to stop!

Small Group Classes
Now these are a nice idea when you are looking to keep costs low but want to get out of the rut of being lost in a larger class. These classes generally have no greater than 12 students in them. This allows the teacher to offer personal attention to each individual in every class. Partner work is often a large part of the class experience. This allows as much hands on time and assisting as possible. The teacher can then divide their time among everyone. These classes are taught workshop style and because of this, the cost may be anywhere from $25-$40 per hour session. The important thing about exploring one of these small group classes is that there is an agenda that all of the class participants will be working on together, otherwise it will be impossible for one teacher to meet the needs of 12 different students bringing 12 different goals to the group.

Unfortunately, you may not receive as much individual attention as you are hoping for. You may also find that as you progress, your needs and aims may vary from the set agenda for the group.

Large Class of Yoga
It’s easier to blend in and go with the flow. If you are someone who learns visually then there are generally a lot of bodies to observe and follow even when the teacher is moving through the room and assisting other practitioners. If you feed off of the synchronization of many bodies moving and experiencing a physical connection together and releasing large group energy, then this is a great experience. Another plus is that even in a very large yoga class if your form is in a position where it poses a danger to you, your teacher should still be able to get to you to keep you practicing safely.

However, you can get lost in a large class and may not receive individual attention.  Therefore, it may take you longer before you realize any negative habits you may have picked up in your practice.

Home Practice
A home practice is an excellent way to cut your costs and maintain a daily practice. You can set your mat down in any room of the house. You can watch different yoga videos for variety and inspiration. A home practice is a great compliment to some form of private or group sessions! And hey, you can even practice in your pajamas!

The downside of this is that there is no one there to assist you. There is no teacher to make sure you are doing the movements correctly or safely. There is no one to help you understand the way the bandhas or breath work work can be used to deepen your practice. Progression to a more intermediate or advanced level is seriously limited.

Remember that your practice should be daily! It’s great to switch up your practice methods. Try new classes, explore private and small group sessions, think about what
you want to accomplish or what may be frustrating you in your practice and seek out a means to keep your practice inviting and progressive physically and mentally. You are in control of your deeper connection and have many choices at your disposal; mix it up and don’t be afraid to see where you can take your practice to.