Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Reclaim Your Yoga

Nearly a year ago I wrote about developing a personal practice, while I had answered the who, the what, and the why to start practicing yoga on your own, I forgot to mention how.

Photo By: Lululemon Athletica

How do you start, and grow your personal yoga practice?

It can be intimidating stepping out from under your teachers wing, but it's also very rewarding, I'd even go as far as to say it is crucial to your growth as a yogi/yogini.  As I mentioned in the previous blog, I didn't begin my personal practice until I had started my 200 hour teacher training, and for two reasons:

1.  I didn't know that I was "allowed" to practice at home.  I, like many others, are under the impression that a yoga practice can only be successful with the direct guidance of a teacher.

2.  Sequencing....It's scary.  What goes where?  What is safe?  How do I know what to do?  All of these questions are very overwhelming, and they were for me too, but once you dive in you'll realize you know a lot more than you think.

You have permission, and you can successfully explore yoga on your turf, on your terms. 

But before I start suggesting resources and tips I'd like to define "personal practice" as I am using it in this article.  I will be using the word "practice" explicitly to describe the physical aspects of yoga.  Of course the mental, emotional, and spiritual disciplines are important to one's practice, but that is a topic for another day. 

Personal practice is exactly how it sounds, it is your unique and personal exploration of yoga outside of the studio's four walls.  It is a practice of intention, it is not "practicing" a new and exciting pose you learned yesterday, in fact, I would advise practicing an advanced asana without properly warming up, and cooling down the body.  That means intentionally setting aside the time to fully focus in on your breath and body. 

Start simple.

Set aside 15 minutes when you wake, go to bed, or any other time available the day before.  Be INTENTIONAL!

Are you noticing a trend?  It is important to act deliberately, while, a lot of us tend to live by the saying "go with the flow," scheduling your practice time will leave less room for excuses like "I just didn't have time" and will help you to eliminate distractions during your special time.

Make it easy, especially at first.  I have no doubt you can practice 60 minutes packed full of intense asana, but that's a big commitment, one that you probably won't stick to for very long.

Consistency is key.

Start with a small chunk of time, and some cat-cows or something equally simple.  Do it every day! Try to stick to same poses, same time length, and if possible the same time of day.  Doing yoga whenever the mood strikes you is fine, but it's not really a practice:

Practice(n): habitual or customary performance; operation.

Remember "practice" implies habit.  We are getting in the habit of yoga.  If you can do that every day for a month, add ten minutes to your practice time, and keep going at this rate.

So now that you know what you need to do to develop a practice here are some tips and resources to get you started.

  • NEVER ever ever skip savasana EVER!  It doesn't matter how short your practice is, savasana is a must.  My rule of thumb is at least one minute of savasana for every five minutes of practice.  So if your practicing for 15 minutes 3 of those minutes should be savasana.  If you practice for 60 minutes 13 of those minutes should be savasana...you get the picture.
  • Treat yourself to a private lesson.  Ask the instructor for notes on practicing safely at home.
  • Ask your instructor if you can video tape your private lessons. 
  • Read books, magazines, or watch videos online to get sequencing ideas.
  • Keep it simple.  
  • Listen to your body.  Being aware of discomfort and pain is especially important in your home practice, as you won't have a teacher forcing you to modify.  
  • Practice, practice, practice.  The more you do yoga at home or in class the more you will learn about yourself and the practice.  
I could go on, but I think it's time to set you free.  Remember have fun, and take time to savor your practice...you have the rest of your life to grow! 

Please share your tips, rules, and experiences from your personal practice.


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