Ashtanga Yoga Liverpool – January Challenge – Daily Yoga Practice

People often ask me how often they should practice.  This is a very personal question.  Ashtanga yoga is traditionally practiced six days a week, I realise that for many of you it would be challenging to find the time.  The truth of it is the more often you practice, the more benefits you get.  One of my students Claire, wrote a wonderful blog post about how Some Yoga is Better Than No Yoga.  I couldn’t agree more.  People often struggle to practice regularly because they don’t know how to keep their practice short.  I am able to prioritise a couple of hours daily for my practice, I consider it essential as a teacher to maintain a strong practice of my own.  For me it’s an non negotiable part of my day, that helps to shape all other experiences.  Whilst it’s great to have time for a full practice, if you can find just 15 minutes to practice, I am sure you too will feel the benefit.

So here is my challenge to you:

For the next four weeks, to practice yoga for at least 15 minutes, I will describe the practice, later in this post as well as giving some top tips to help you stay on track.  If you make it to class, then there is no need to do your self practice as well, you’ll have done at least an hour already.  You can start your four weeks any time in the next week and start your four weeks from that day.  If you’d be willing to blog about the experience that would be great, I am sure others would love to hear about it.

So here is your practice, 5 sun salutation A’s and 3 sun salutation B’s, the last three positions of the closing sequence and 5 minutes of relaxation.  If your unsure what I mean by any of this and I am your teacher, ask me in class and I will show you, otherwise ask your teacher.  You can of course do a longer practice than that if you have time and you want to, and why not?  The more you do the more you benefit.  The idea is to find something you can fit into your life every day, 5-6 days per week, I think everyone can find 15 minutes.

Are you ready to give it a go and see how a daily practice can benefit you?

Here are my tips:

  1. Schedule your practice in your diary if you keep one, at the very least decide when your going to do it the day before.
  2. Aim for consistency, find a time that works for your schedule and stick to it, this will help it become a habit.
  3. Be flexible, if you can’t stick to your designated plan, create a plan B.
  4. Good times to practice are first thing in the morning, in your lunch hour or first thing after work.
  5. Keep motivated by going to a yoga class, reading a book, watch a video, talking to a friend who does yoga.
  6. Get support for your home practice by talking to your teacher, if that’s me, I am always happy to help.
  7. Keep safe, be gentle with your body and don’t push it too hard, learn to respect it.
  8. If something hurts talk to your teacher,  so that they can make some adjustments to what your doing.
  9. If you miss a day, don’t give up.  Learn from it, is there anything you could have done differently if you were challenged like this again?
  10. This is your time, enjoy it 🙂

Self practice is great once you get motivated, once you have your own mat it’s free and you can fit it around your own life.  However we all need to visit a teacher when we can, myself included.  I go to classes with my teacher in London as often as I can because it helps keep my home practice motivated, there is always more to learn and there is no substitute for the teacher student relationship and all it cultivates.

So who is going to do January’s yoga challenge?  What helps you to practice regularly?

From Backbends to the Kitchen Sink – Goals and the Present Moment

Happy New Year!  Christmas and New Year is usually a time of reflection for me, I think this is because I usually have some time off work, away from my usual routine.  This gives me a bit of perspective on the way things are going and seems like a good time for me to set some goals for my future.   I think goals are important because if we don’t decide on our own direction, we put ourselves at the mercy of other people’s whims.  I  wonder how goals fit in with a commitment to being here and now, which I also have. I think that whilst we can have a version of a future which we will do anything we can to get to, all we ever really have is here and now.  It’s important to not only enjoy the journey but realise that we build the future in the here and now, in many baby steps and as we do this we interact with a world which is beyond our control and ever changing.  So we may need to adapt our plan but it is still worth planning, in fact if you didn’t plan at all you wouldn’t even get out of bed.

 

One of my main goals this year is to be tidier.  In yoga philosophy cleanliness is one the Niyamas (ethical guidlines concerning ourselves).   In truth this has been a goal of mine in the past and I have learnt a lot in my previous attempts which will surely help me to make the necessary changes.  I also have a wealth of experience of which to draw on.  I know that I have made other changes in the past and I know that this is something which is mostly within my own control.  It is easy for me to write blog posts about maintaining a daily yoga practice because I have been practicing yoga for years and I love it, tidying and me have had a different relationship in the past and it is possible for me to draw on what I learn from yoga and apply it to my life, sometimes in surprising ways.

 

I posted this picture of my practice on Christmas day.  I am doing a deep backbend whichHelen doing Kapotasana, yoga pose by Christmas tree is part of the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. It is called Kapotasana and although I may look comfortable enough in this pose, it has been a really difficult pose for me to do.  Obviously it requires a great deal of flexibility, this has taken many years of daily practice for me to open my back up. I also find it emotionally and mentally challenging, I think there is something about having my chest that open, it has been very healing and empowering for me.  Recently I noticed that I would start to dread this pose about 5 poses before I got to it.  With this sense of dread I also had a mental dialogue that went something like this “you will never be able to do it today, your body’s too tight/tired/strong. Why are you even trying, blah, blah, blah! ” Once I noticed my little story, I think noticing is often the first step in change,  I started to notice the feeling of dread for what it was, a feeling at the pit of my stomach that I have habitually created.  Sometimes I would even laugh at it.  Sometimes I could do the pose, sometimes I couldn’t, ultimately it doesn’t matter, it’s a yoga pose. Day by day, this sense of dread started to lose it’s power, as it was no longer being fed by my thoughts.

 

Part of my plan in order to be tidier is to wash up immediately after eating.  I was doing washing up with faded picture of kapotasanathis a few days ago and I felt this amazing sense of dread at the pit of my stomach.   When I noticed, I laughed and told my partner about it. Hello dread, I know you, I thought. No wonder I have struggled to make this change in the past, there is so much emotion attached to it, to deal with it requires dealing with not only a lifetime of habits but also all the emotional negative feelings associated with not doing this.  Thanks to yoga, I am able to notice them and let them go. They don’t really relate to here and now, where I am washing up – it’s not  dangerous, there is nothing to dread.  When you make goals for your future, look back at your past and see how you have changed other things, then notice the present moment again and take it one step at a time.

 

Do you have goals yet?  What can you do right now to make them more real? How has yoga helped you?

When you are Busy? How do you Make Time for yoga?

I have been fairly busy recently. I have sometimes had to work late and my routine has gone thrown out a little.  This doesn’t happen to me as much as a yoga teacher as it used to when I was a school teacher.  It got me thinking about you, my readers, whether your my students or not.  Do you sometimes find it hard to make room for yoga in your life?  As we enter into the Christmas season, things seem to be getting busier for everyone as we make room for Christmas parties and shopping. During this time we often have to drop something in order fit it all in.  In the midst of it all, do you find time for yourself?

 

I have had to be flexible recently about when I practice yoga.  I am really grateful that each day, whatever is happing, I stop and practice.  It is so easy to feel that there is no time to practice yoga when life gets chaotic, busy or when we are going through a difficult time. It sometimes seems there is no time to practice.  I am very grateful that I have practiced long enough to know that this is complete nonsense.  The busier you are the more you need yoga in your life.  I am also grateful to you my student as you inspire me to get on my mat, each and every day, you give me so much dedication and I owe you the same.

 

There is always more work to be done, other things I should be doing but I feel it so important to just stop and have some silent time.  Time away from work, email, Facebook, mobile phones, even socialising, time for you.  This can sometimes seem selfish but I know that I have so much more to give as a result of this daily commitment to spending this time with myself practicing yoga.

 

Obviously the more time you have for this the better, remember though that just a few moments will help.  Five minutes watching your breath at the bus stop, 15 minutes to do some sun salutations or  making time to get to a yoga class.  Yoga can benefit the mind in so many ways and when your very busy it may be hard to switch off even when your doing yoga.  One of the many things I love about Ashtanga Yoga is that it flows from one position to another with connecting vinyasas, breath movements.  This helps to keep my mind engaged with the present moment as it is so busy keeping up with what’s happening on the mat.  I also love the challenge of ashtanga yoga, to attempt something impossible everyday and know that if I fail it’s okay.

 

Do you find time for yourself over Christmas season?  Do you think it is important too?

The Beauty of Imperfection From the Yoga Mat to Life

For me my yoga practice is like a microcosm of my life in general and who I am in the Helen siting in a meditation pose, world is reflected in who I am on the mat. Sometimes images of yogis or meditators looking at peace, lead people to believe that they will be at peace as soon as they step onto a yoga mat. Whilst yoga will certainly help you to be calmer and more at one with yourself and others this may not always be what you find when you step on the mat.  I hear this particularly from people who meditate for the first time but I think it happens in yoga too.  I think sometimes people think everyone else just gets it and they are the only one who is distracted.

 

This is to me part of our current culture at this particular time in our history, we feel we have to be good at everything or at least I do 😉  That is until I notice and tell myself to get real!  Anyone who has practiced yoga for a few years will realise that there is always more to learn.  Some people don’t believe me when I tell them that I still have things to work on with my standing positions despite having practiced yoga for 15 years.  In reality however, I am always noticing more and aligning my body better in subtle yet important ways.  This asana refinement is never ending and yet that is not what yoga is about.  The refinement is a useful tool for realigning the body and perhaps more importantly the  mind. It helps us to tune into what we are doing rather than do it without thinking. It enables us to bring our awareness back into our body and in the context of this post it helps us to realise we are not perfect and more importantly, that this is absolutely fine.

 

Chasing perfection is like chasing your own tail. It will always be somewhere in the future, meanwhile the real juice of life is right here waiting to be noticed. Hopefully yoga will help us to experience it more.

 

Sometimes this is easier said than done.  Life can throw challenges at us that can make it hard to focus on this moment even with the help of the practice.  I think it is important to realise that we all have days when the mind is distracted.  My practice was certainly like that today.  I had a thought flapping around in my mind that would not go away until it was acknowledged.  Mid practice it was so acknowledged that it was having it’s own party.  It was at that point that placing that thought in the context of the entire world helped me regain some sense of proportion and then returning to my breath helped me gradually get back to the actuallity of my practice.

 

I mention this because I feel that some people give themselves a hard time if they get adjusted or if their mind is cloudy or if they can’t relax.  They often think that they are the only one that feels like this and because of that the belief we fail to share what we view as our imperfections which means we don’t get to realise we all go through fairly similar things.  This is all very understandable and as we take our approach to life onto our mats we may find that some aspects don’t serve us as well as we thought they did.  The beauty is that the yoga mat is such a safe place to work this stuff out and we get to revisit it every time we step onto our mat.  So next time you feel everything isn’t quite how you thought it should be try and experience it for what it actually is and give yourself a break for making time to be on you mat at all.

 

One final note many people have said that they would love to comment on this blog but that they feel that their comments are not insightful or interesting enough. This saddens me. If you have something to say, I would love for you to share it on the blog. For one thing you might help the other people who also want to write on the blog find their courage. You will also find as I have that many people are actually thinking similar things and would benefit greatly from hearing your thoughts. We don’t have to wait for the perfect moment, to write the most interesting thing ever, what you have to say write now is perfect in it’s own way.

 

Do you ever find practice challenging?

Have you found that yoga has helped change your attitudes towards life in general?

Building a Regular Ashtanga Yoga Practice

I thought I would share some of the things that have helped me develop my self practice over the years.  Claire wrote a wonderful post about how some yoga is better than no yoga.  I totally agree. Sometimes people feel like they have to do the whole practice and so they end up doing nothing.  A good starting point is to 5 Surya Namaskara A and 5 Sury Namaskara B after you have done that you may feel like doing more and if you have time then go for it, if not simply close the practice with the last 3 positions of closing.  This practice will take approximately 15 minutes and will be a very beneficial way to start your day.

How often you practice is entirely up to you.  You will get benefit from doing yoga just once a week.  In my experience the more often you practice the more you will benefit. I have a daily practice, 6 days a week  which has been very beneficial and has meant that the benefits of yoga come into my daily life and are in fact inseparable from it. The six day a week practice is what is recommended in Ashtanga and is practiced by thousands around the world. However, I realise it may not be possible or even wanted by everyone. Each individual needs to work out what works best for them and their life.

For me the practice of yoga has been incredibly transformative and sometimes my mind puts up its own resistance to that. It will try and find all sorts of excuses to not get on the mat. I’m tired, come on give yourself a break etc. Obviously there are  times that this voice needs listening too. You don’t want to drive your body into the ground, injure it, or make yourself ill. Guidelines for practicing when ill or injured are specific to the injury, illness and individual and should be discussed with your teacher and where appropriate your gp or physiotherapist, etc. Here I am talking about a general tiredness or mental resistance.

So sometimes your mind will say it’s tired but it’s just an excuse or it is partially true and needs listening to to some extent or your completely exhausted and need to rest. The imbetween version where I am tired but can practice happens fairly regularly, my job is physically demanding. I have found the best remedy is to consistently practice, whilst listening to my body. If you practice anything regularly then it is very important you learn to listen to your body and react accordingly, which is best done with the guidance of a teacher. It is important to tune into your body each day and react according to its needs, ignore the ego!

The length of your practice should be something you can easily maintain on a daily basis without it tiring you out in the rest of your life. If you practice consistently you will ache less as long as you practice at an appropriate level. The best way to work this out is to come to a Mysore style class, where the teacher determines the length of the practice for the student. This is gradually built up. The ego tends to want to do more, at least mine does from time to time! A teacher can be a useful external gauge.

12650534_10153250431136423_973248277_n-1

Every practice begins with the first breath – photo by Nata Moraru

How much you should practice at home should be gradually built up even if you are used to practicing for longer in classes a couple of times a week. This should be done at a rate that makes daily practice enjoyable, possible and safe. For individual guidance on how to do this, talk to your teacher.

Another thing that I love about daily practice of ashtanga is that I do the same sequence every day.  So there is no mental negotiation about what to practice or even what pose to stop at.  I just do it.  I also have something that I do consistently in my day with the ever changing fluctuations of my mind and I find that especially useful.  Although some people advocate practicing less when you have less energy etc. I personally have found consistency to be the best advocate for my daily practice, although exceptions obviously have to be made for illness etc. You can only take this approach however if you are consistent. If you take a break from regular practice you have to start with a shorter practice and gradually build up. I guess what I am essentially saying is that I find it easier to practice every day because that’s what I always do and there are no negotiations about what I do, I do my full practice.  If this is difficult for you because of your schedule or priorities then the some yoga is better than no yoga philosophy may work better.  Do something regularly and do more when you can.

Developing a personal practice is a journey and it is something I had to work at rather than something I always had. So how did I get here?  Some things that helped me build to a daily practice are:

  • Planning – Working out when I can fit my practice into my day in advance and sticking to it.
  • Listening to my body, when I wake up I scan my body to see how it feels. When I practice I am continaully doing the same thing.
  • Going to a yoga class. Going to class not only gives me some great feedback to keep me safer during my practice but also helps keep me inspired and motivated to practice. I also find I am more focused in class which I try and bring back to my self practice.
  • Practicing along with a dvd. Obviously you cant see a dvd whilst practicing but having someone talking me through it helps me if I am tired or demotivated.
  • Community -Talking to yoga friends, reading a book, a yoga blog, etc.  Reading about other peoples experiences helps keep me inspired and allows me to look and explore the practice in other ways.
  • Being consistent but flexible. When I have practiced has varied depending on my lifestyle. I currently practice in the mornings but if for some reason I couldn’t, I would just practice later in the day.

I am very grateful and fortunate to be able to practice yoga daily and for all the benefits it has given me. I am particularly grateful to my students who continue to inspire me to delve deeper.

Do you have a regular yoga practice?

What helps you maintain it?

What do you find challenging?

 

Some Yoga Is Better Than No Yoga – Guest Post From Claire Sanders

I first discovered ashtanga almost four years ago and was immediately drawn to the physical challenges it provided; I practised rigorously and with enthusiasm finding that, for awhile, physical improvements in the asanas were a regular occurrence.  As somebody who had never felt particularly physically capable this was a real ego boost, ego being the operative word.  But inevitably, after a time, my practice began to plateau and I was faced by my own limitations.

 

To me this is yoga; finding that gentle space between effort and struggle, the difference between loving corrections and violent scolds – connecting the breath and body with acceptance.  And yet in my experience it is far easier said than done; I still catch myself internally berating my efforts in my practice, a pattern repeated in daily life when left unchecked.  Yoga allows me to engage with and answer this voice, to silence it with a smile, and occasionally when my practice has been absent for awhile, a few tears.  Conversely when I do not practice regularly my body feels heavier, but the biggest change I feel is not in my back, hips or hamstrings but in my thoughts, actions and awareness of the wider world.

 

Despite this I often find that I have tricked myself out of the practice I deserve.  Ego’s don’t like to be quashed and mine frequently tells me “But you don’t have time…” followed by a long list of other important things I have to attend to that day.  This appeals to my rational side; my practice takes around 90 minutes after which I need to shower and get dressed which brings it to roughly two hours.

 

“Two whole hours?  Do I have a spare two hours today?  Not really, it can’t be helped, I will practice tomorrow.”

 

This is a familiar conversation in my mind.  To combat it I have begun answering it with “Some yoga is better than no yoga”.  In saying this I persuade myself to step onto my mat, knowing that any time spent there is time well spent, a shorter practice does not mean a less meaningful one. Perhaps I will not work on supta kurmasana that day but I will deepen my breathing, focus my mind, connect with my body and make peace with my ego.  This is why I really practice.  This is why it is important for me to make some time, any time to practice.  How do you experience making time to practice, are there internal/external obstacles to negotiate and what methods help you to overcome them?

By Claire Sanders