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HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF-PRACTICE?

 

HOW TO DEVELOP A SELF - PRACTICE ? 

Many of my students find self practice rather daunting. People have the illusion that you have to move in a certain way to do yoga. The fundamental importance of our yoga practice is to develop greater awareness of the body and to centre the mind. One of the beauties of being new to yoga and self-practice is that automatically you are more aware of your body as the practice is unfamiliar. In self-practice we have the opportunity to listen to the body more closely and move as the body desires as well as working deeper into areas that need it. Often in class our mind can take over our practice and force our body to do things it may not want to do that day. Being surrounded by other students our egos can take over, so rather than moving intelligently with awareness, we may move with more determination. This will not be the case in every class you take but at some point our ego does creep in. 

With self-practice we have the opportunity to listen more closely to our body and work on areas that need strengthen or opening e.g hamstrings, hips, core, breath, backbends, balancing, heart openers etc. We have the chance to listen to the body and target certain areas more mindfully at a pace you wish. You can explore and work deep into your edge, expanding your boundaries and awareness. 

Yoga is an exploration of the body and when practising we gain a better understanding of our body and mind through increased awareness. 

 

SELF-PRACTICE 

Where to start?

  • Purchase a decent mat Yoga Matters sell good, reasonable and non stick mats. 
  • Invest in blocks, straps and eye pillow (not essential at the beginning but great to have to support and advance your practice).
  • Set a side a time that works for you - morning is the best time to do yoga; try and set aside 20 minutes. If morning does not work then allocate another convenient slot. 
  • If 1 hour feels like a lot then start with 15 minutes and build up to 1 hour.

 

General plan

STEP 1: Plan a warm up e.g. Child pose (Balasana), cat cow, downwards dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), rag doll, Mountain Pose (Tadasana). Make sure you take 5 minutes in Childs or Corpse pose at the beginning of the practice to centre the mind and tune into how the body is feeling that day. 

STEP 2: Standing poses. Either do 1 pose on each side or start to link 2 or 3 poses e.g. Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana II), Triangle (Utthita Trikonasana), Extended Side Angle (Utthita Parsvakonasana), Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III). Take Child's pose as often as you like. 

STEP 3: Do the same with seated poses e.g. Pigeon (Eka Pada), Head to Knee Forward Bend (Janu Sirsasana), Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)

STEP 4: Backbends and Inversions. Depending on your practice your backbends and inversions could be restorative or dynamic. To invert you can take legs up the wall or place hips on a bolster and feet to the ceiling. For a backbend Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana) is great option. 

STEP 5: Give yourself time for Savasana (5 minutes or more)

Have some go to poses that you’d like to practice and work on these regularly. You can use your self-practice to learn any poses that you might want a bit more time on e.g. headstand (Sirsasana) 

Expanding your practice?

  • After attending a class write down 2 or 3 poses and add them to your self practice. This will help build your flow and motivate you. 
  • Ask your teachers questions and seek advice. 
  • Follow a couple of online classes to give you inspiration - Yogaglo.com is a great platform.
  • The key to self practice is motivation. Set realistic goals and don’t beat yourself up if one week you slip. There is always the next week.

Sanskrit names of poses mentioned above

Childs Pose - Balasana

Downwards Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana 

Mountain Pose - Tadasana

Warrior II - Virabhadrasana II

Warrior III - Virabhadrasana III 

Triangle - Utthita Trikonasana

Extended Side Angle - Utthita Parsvakonasana

Pigeon - Eka Pada

Head to Knee Forward Bend - Janu Sirsasana 

Bridge - Setu Bandha Sarvangasana 

Headstand - Sirsasana 

Corpse Pose - Savasana 

 

THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA

 

|| THE 8 LIMBS OF YOGA ||

Even though I did history at university and love reading historical books, I find the philosophy and history of yoga complex and can be hard to get your head around. I have very simply broken down key points to help understand the philosophy and how you can integrate it into your practice. 

Firstly let’s very briefly deal with who Patanjali is and what the Yoga Sutras are.

Very little is known about Patanjali but it is known that he compiled the Yoga Sutras, an important set of aphorisms (sutras) on yoga practice. Modern scholars believe that Patanjali wrote the sutras in the second or third century CE but it is also argued that it was written during the second century BC.  

The Yoga Sutras offers practical methods to practitioners to bring peace and contentment into modern life. It systematically explains what yoga is, the obstacles on the path of yoga, and the method for achieving enlightenment (Samadhi). In chapter 2 & 3 of The Yoga Sutras Patanjali writes about the 8 limbs of yoga (also known as Ashtanga Yoga) - a guideline on how to live your life with more meaning and purpose.

The 8 limbs of yoga highlight the philosophical and practical elements to help you find a more balanced and enriched lifestyle, one that will eventual lead you to Samadhi/ enlightenment. Below is a brief description of The 8 Limbs of Yoga and practical tips that you may want to try in your everyday practice.

 

1) Yamas: Ethical Consideration

Yama has to do with ethics and how we approach our lives off the mat. The 5 yamas are non-violence (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), non-stealing (Asteya), moderation (Brahmacharya) and non-possessiveness (Aparigrapha). We can interpret and relate the yamas as we wish to our everyday life. As an example, many yogis are vegetarian due to the first Yama, as they do not condone the killing of animals, but this does not relate to all yogis.

Practical tip: choose 1 yama each week and put it into action and discover what it means to you.

 

2) Niyamas: Self-observation

Niyama has to do with self-discipline and observation. There are 5 niyamas including cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Santosa), fiery cleansing (Tapas), self-study (Svadhyaya) and devotion to the universe (Isvara Pranidhana). Like the yamas you can interpret the niyamas in a way that resonate with you. The niyama is a lot more personal and they refer to the attitude we adopt towards our self and the lifestyle we lead.

Practical tip: like yamas, choose 1 each week and discover what it means to you.

 

3) Asana is our physical practice. In the West this is the limb we resonate the most with. It’s important to note that Patanjali however, when discussing asana was referring to a posture that we could find stillness and comfort in e.g. seated, lying down or standing.

Practical tip: start practicing yoga 3 times a week, whether it’s for 10 minutes or an 1 hour. Start moving the body and see how it invigorates you and energises you.

 

4) Pranayama is considered the bridge between the body and the mind. When we’re stressed and anxious the breath can become short making us more agitated. When our breath is long and smooth it is calming on the mind. The breath is a good reflection on how we’re feeling in that moment. 

Practical tip: when the mind is in a state of flux take a few minutes to find a comfortable seated position. Inhale for a count of 5 through the nose and exhale for a count of 5 out of the nose, repeat this but see if you can gradually lengthen the exhale up to 8 counts (if this is comfortable for you). You can place one hand on the belly to follow the flow of the breath in and out of the belly. Belly rises on the inhale and deflates on the exhale.

 

5) Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the 5 senses (touch, taste, see, hear and smell). When we withdraw from the sense we detach ourselves from the outer world and we’re able to therefore draw sense and awareness internally. We remove ourselves from dual thinking likes/dislikes, pleasure/pain etc.

Practical tip: This is best experienced in your yoga practice. When practiced diligently our gaze is fixed and we’re concentrating on the breath and so external influences fall away.

 

6) Dharana is concentration. It’s the contemplation of a single object in the mind. In a yoga class it’s often the breath we focus on – this is our object. Dharana helps us stay focused and when the mind gets distracted we draw the focus back to our object/breath.

Practical tip: choose a positive word / affirmation and repeat it for a few minutes. If the mind wonders then gently draw the focus back to the mantra.

 

7) Dhyana is meditation. There are two understandings. 1) When concentration is no longer disturbed we’ve reached meditation. 2) The mind is at rest and is not fluctuating with thought.

Practical: Try and sit for 10 minutes a day for 1 week in meditation. The app headspace offers a 10 day free trial.

 

8) Samadhi is the state of enlightenment, when the sense of being falls away. We’re free from the ego-conditioned mind and we’ve reached a supreme state of consciousness. For a Westerner it’s quite an abstract concept. Think of it as liberation from social constraints, judgments and the ego, which is developed and influenced by our surroundings.

Practical tip: not so easy to give an exercise for this one but keep practicing all of the above and in Savasana we may experience moments of bliss.

 

 

 

 

WHY IS SAVASANA SO IMPORTANT?

 

WHY IS SAVASANA (CORPSE POSE) SO IMPORTANT? 

Lots of people find it difficult to lie still in Savasana or don’t like to do it as they think it’s a waste of time and they could be achieving something in that moment. In Western society we feel the need to always be doing something and we pretty much never give our body the opportunity to rest and restore. Some people freaking love Savasana and zone out completely (not every time though). For others they fidget; hate the silence; thoughts creep in their head; they want to get on with the day. Savasana is more than just lying on your back and relaxing. It’s a time for your body to integrate and absorb all the information it’s taken on during the practice. It’s time for restoration and nourishment! What could be more important? :)  

Simply by lying on your back and following the flow of the breath, allows us to recover from any physical stress brought on from previous yoga postures, and releases any lactic acid build up acquired during a practice. It gives the body a chance to rejuvenate. It’s inevitable the mind will wonder in Savasana. Each time the mind does wonder gently draw the focus back to the body and the breath; observing how the body feels and holding the body in your awareness. Maybe there’s a sense of lightness, heaviness, tingling sensation or floating.

 

Benefits

1.     DE-STRESSES - it’s good for anxiety and works as a de-stresser (if you’re feeling stressed I understand it’s hard to take a 2 minute ‘lie down’ but by slowing down the breath and bringing the focus to the body; it will automatically begin to calm your thoughts)

2.     BRINGS CLARITY – it will leave you feeling refreshed in the mind so you can think more clearly or even sleep better (if done before bed). A less cluttered mind will not only benefit yourself but those around you.

3.     REVIVES THE BODY – When your body is relaxed, after your yoga practise, your bodily functions and systems (like your immune and digestive system) become stimulated and revitalised. Your body needs that time to process and remember the information and intelligence.

4.     MEDITATION - Savasana kind of bridges the gap between asana and dharana (intense focus) then dhyana (state of meditation). It trains the mind to be more focused and present, to be aware of flowing thoughts and not to fixate on them. 

 

The beauty of Savasana is that you can take the pose whenever you want throughout the day. It doesn’t necessarily have to be after your asana practice.

 

URGH....FLEXIBILITY

|| URGH…. Flexibility ||

Some of us are gifted with being naturally flexible and have never known what it’s like for Downwards Dog (Ardho Mukha Svansana) to feel horrendous. I have great news… you do not need to be a noodle to do yoga. I was pretty stiff when I started yoga. Being sporty growing up and then sitting at a desk for several years my muscles adapted to my lifestyle. My hamstrings, shoulders, hips and upper back are my problem areas and when I started yoga pretty much every pose was hard. I remember feeling as though teachers would hold me in Downwards Dog and Warrior II FOREVER. My shoulders would burn and my ego would get the best of me. I did not want to give up. It seemed as though everyone else in the class was finding it a breeze, so I would try and muscle through it. I learnt pretty quickly that this was not sustainable and I had to modify for my body. Becoming aware of your body and learning to modify your practice to suit your needs is really important. It frustrates me when teachers make students feel as though they’re a beginner for using blocks and props because this isn’t necessarily the case... at all! We are all different shapes and sizes with different bone structures so to avoid injury you need to learn what modifications you should be taking for your body. 

 

The good news is the body adapts and changes so much faster then one might think. However, practice is key, even if it’s 2-3 times a week or 10 minutes a day but the body will start to unravel and open.

 

My shoulders really suffered when I first started yoga and I see this regularly when I teach. If you suffer from 'desk shoulders' here are some arm variations in some standing poses that you can play with. There are tonnes of modifications in yoga so don’t be shy to ask advice from your teachers or to question why they’ve recommended to use a prop. 

 

 

 
Warrior II  (Virabhadrasana II) : Place the hands on your hips and encourage the neck and shoulders muscles to relax. When the arms are extended tension can build  in the neck and shoulders

Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II) : Place the hands on your hips and encourage the neck and shoulders muscles to relax. When the arms are extended tension can build  in the neck and shoulders

Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) : interlace the fingers behind the back and draw the shoulders blades down your back away from the ears. Draw the hands towards the ground and away from the body. 

Warrior I  (Virabhadrasana I) : Cactus Arm Variation - Squeeze the shoulder blades down your back as you draw your elbows towards each other and broaden in the collarbones. 

Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I) : Cactus Arm Variation - Squeeze the shoulder blades down your back as you draw your elbows towards each other and broaden in the collarbones.