Tag Archives: yoga practice

Observation: Practice Lesson #4

As this is the last post in the Practice series I’ve been thinking an awful lot about what makes people stick to a routine. I’ve already talked about how I don’t think that discipline builds a practice or keeps it going, I’ve talked about lighting a spark to keep the fire alive in your practice and I’ve helped brainstorm ideas for the actually composition of a practice. Now what is going to keep you showing up every morning, every Thursday at 6:30 or Sundays at 3, whatever your chosen time slot.

This is what led me to the fundamental question: what do you gain from a practice?

I tried to think of the people in my life who have practices that don’t involve yoga, because I know all the benefits of doing yoga on a regular basis. I wanted to see the benefits of their non-exercise based practices. Two immediately came to mind. First would be my parents’ practice of drinking coffee together every morning in their living room. They don’t down their coffee over breakfast, they instead take about half an hour (sometimes more) and just drink their coffee and chat. They use it as a time to catch up, make plans for the day and to de-stress if the day is going to be hectic. I know it lowers both of their stress levels and I know it is the secret to their marriage. The other practice would be that of my father-in-law’s writing on Saturday mornings. In the midst of raising four boys and maintaining a very full career, he devoted each Saturday morning throughout his life to writing. It helped him keep the mindset of a writer, allowed for alone time in a busy household and energized him for the week.

These are two successful, long-term practices that are very simple, but additions to a busy lifestyle. So why when things get crazy did they keep them? Why is it worth showing up on your mat again and again?

Observation. Think of all the people in our lives we pay to observe us: doctors, therapists, supervisors, massage therapists, acupuncturists, etc. We want someone else to see the patterns, to notice the thing we’ve missed. And don’t get me wrong—that is a necessary skill set. Every time my acupuncturist treats me she sheds new light on this body of mine that I try to figure out 24 hours a day. We need that outside advice, but we also need to make sure that when we see these caregivers we know what is normal.

Even if normal isn’t healthy, it is worth knowing about. A practice lets you compare every single day to every other day that you do the same thing. Yoga students can attest to that first down dog in a practice when you first check in with the body. Think of the first down dog after vacation or after you’ve been for a long hike. The body is entirely different than the last time. We need to be able to compare.

You owe it to yourself to know what the body is capable of, what it is learning to do and when it has achieved something it didn’t expect. This isn’t just about injury and illness, though aren’t those two reasons enough? This is also about improving and the ability to be proud of yourself. With equal positive awareness it is also about aging and noticing what may be harder than it used to be.

The better we are able to say, hmmm, this is new, when something catches us off guard—the better equipped we are to walk into a doctor’s office and say this is new and I’m worried. Knowledge is power, but it requires regular observation.

When you show up to your next practice, be mindful. Do your day’s work. See what there is to see. Make a list of all the things you want to observe from this perspective. My parents are not just drinking coffee; they are monitoring their marriage, making sure it is healthy every morning. My father-in-law isn’t just writing, he is taking time to be an artist and see how his artist-self is after a week.

What observations are out there for the viewing in your practice?

Composition: Practice Lesson #3

Now we get to the filler. You know what your practice is, you know how much time and energy you can devote to it, you know how to keep the passion alive, now we figure out the specifics.

Making an Outline

Every recipe has a list of ingredients and a set order of steps to best prepare a dish. Yoga doesn’t have to be any different.

  1. Centering
  2. Warm-ups
  3. Standing Postures
  4. Core work and/or backbending
  5. Twists
  6. Inversions and/or cooling postures
  7. Sivasana

That being said if you have five minutes to be on the mat you don’t need to do shoulderstand or sivasana. But you do need to break down all the goals you have for your practice and think about which aspects are most important to you. For instance, my back is my trouble area so my practice usually consists of breath work, core work, hamstring and quad stretches, back bends and twists. For quite a while now I’ve been skimping on standing postures because it isn’t in my practice. You have to know what you are capable of and get the results from the practice that you need.

Ideas

Some of you already have tons of materials. You know you love pigeon pose and hate wide forward folds but know you need to do them. You know how many sun salutations is a work out and how much is being lazy. Others of you don’t know postures or sequencing because you are new to yoga altogether or you’ve become so well trained at listening that you don’t really know how to do the postures alone. So here is a list of resources.

Pose Ideas

Dos and Don’ts

If you are getting bored with the same old

If you need a pranayama app

My list of great yoga books

Start thinking about the elements you want to be part of your practice and literally start practicing. See how long it takes to do a short centering, followed by 3 sun salutations, a couple hip openers and a 10 minute sivasana. Then switch it up the next day. Start practicing your practice to make it work for you.

Things to consider

  1. Your favorite pose: why do you love it?
  2. Your nemesis pose: why do you hate it?
  3. What physical ailments or health issues should be addressed with your practice? (ie low back pain, knee issues, depression, headaches, anxiety, etc.)
  4. Should your personal practice be supplemented by group classes once a week for inspiration and to check on proper alignment? Or is your practice going to three classes a week?
  5. Where in your home are you going to practice? Do you need anything in order to practice?

This week I encourage you to start the physical part of your practice. If it is a mental or emotional practice make sure you define clear parts and goals and aspects of your practice to help you stay to task. Best of luck to you! Happy practicing.

Fire: Practice Lesson #2

In Chinese Medicine the element Fire is related to the Heart. If there is too much heat in the body it eventually spreads to the Heart and causes agitation, sleeplessness and mania. If there isn’t enough heat in the body everything slows down and the mind gets foggy from the build up fluids.

Fire is crucial. Think of it physically. Agni or digestive fire according to Ayuverdic medicine and yogic philosophy is the fire of life. It is the 3rd chakra and the seat of the will. How you manifest or take action in your life.

This is how fire seems relevant in the discussion of starting or improving a practice. Don’t start a practice without fire. It would be like starting a romance without a spark. Opposites attract because of a chemical combustion of two parts uniting. I’m married to a perfect extravert who loves the outdoors and speaks in a very loud voice.

Maybe just maybe, there needs to be a little seduction in the start of a practice. You may think I’ve just got sensuality on the brain, but stick with me.

Disclaimer: I’m going to use the metaphor of yoga practice because a lot of you are yogis, but you all are smart enough to take this into your own life if you are non-yogis.

We are busy people. You have all had the moment at the end of a busy week when even the prospect of hanging out with friends sounds daunting. Or even the time it takes to cook your favorite meal isn’t worth it so you end up eating cereal for dinner. We’ve all been there. But what is it about the things that do keep us coming back, the friends we actually get excited about seeing, the meal that is quick and easy to prepare in addition to tasty. What are the characteristics of the things in our life we never actually dread doing?

There is another reason I want to talk about fire. One of the amazing things about the way I’ve been practicing on the mat lately is thinking about building fire. This time of year before the heat figures itself out inside the house, I walk arou  nd with a lot of layers and a lot of grumpiness. When I show up, really show up with all my layers on the mat and tell myself that I can take as long as I want and move as slowly as I need to in order to build heat it sounds like a lot more fun than holding plank for a minute and then doing 20 pushups and then going to do the dishes. If I start slowly and let the passion for the yoga and the internal heat build together an hour has gone by without my noticing.

There is a difference, thank heavens, between seduction and coercion. You are not tricking your body into a routine. You are not manipulating yourself into spending time on your health. You are instead enticing your body with things that feel good and sharpen the mind.

The 3rd chakra is related to fire and it is related to the muscles. When the muscles work in a way that builds fire the mind immediately goes clear. If you don’t believe me get on the ground and do 10 pushups.

The body is easy to convince, it loves to move and stretch. But the mind either wants to be productive or it wants to take a break. It can easily make a list of more important things to do. What if you could figure out a way for the brain to feel powerful, clear and certain? Wouldn’t that be worth a practice?

Thinking points for the week: What are your main passions right now and how are they related to your practice? What aspects of sensuality or pleasure could you bring to your practice to make it enjoyable, delicious and worth returning to day after day? How much fire is there in your life? What parts of your life need more fire?

The Practice

One of the reasons I love my Friday morning class is that my students let me talk about “The Practice” off the mat. I dabble with little bits in my other classes, but I get the sense that the Friday regulars are hungry for it. Maybe it is just the Friday time slot because they come in wearied from the week, or maybe the students are just in the routine of thinking beyond asana, or posture.

Last night I read Heather Church’s recent post Eleven Steps to a Happy Life; My Joy Practice. I like that she takes her yoga and her practice to so many different places. She titles it her Joy Practice, but what she conveys is her full practice, the life practice. Which is very suggestive of how she wants to live her life—with a focus on joy. What I want to talk about today is the current practice, perhaps even a finite practice.

You may think that my practice right now is starting a wildly successful heart-centered acupuncture and yoga business. Let me assure you it is not. My practice right now is recovering from grad school. Starting a business that feeds me spiritually, physically, and intellectually is a key component to that practice, but only one part. Recovery in the short term and sustained health is a necessary practice if I want to help people heal for a living.

For the month of October I’ve decided to really contemplate the word “practice” and make a list of what I want my health practice to include and what I want my health to look like. In doing this I’ve decided to invite you along and offer four weeks worth of practice-oriented guidance and conversation.

To begin this process I want to start by discussing the idea of this moment’s practice. This moment in your life that is, not just in your day. What is your focal point? What is most important to you? Maybe it is the biggest struggle. Maybe it is your greatest joy. It may not even be that obvious to you until you stop and think about it.

Start with the number one thing. It may be one thing that is culminating in a month or three months like planning a wedding or having a baby. Or it might be something with no end in sight like raising a teenager or loving a partner. Whatever it is I invite you to name it this weekend. Own it. Maybe even write it down on a piece of paper and put it someplace special where you can see. Be proud of your current practice. Give it the weight it deserves.

Please comment on facebook or on my website and share your practice. If you are one of my students catch me after class and tell me your practice if you like. Tell other people in your life. It is your life’s work at the moment.