Part one was really all about selecting your asanas and practices, perhaps jotting these down into a list…. perhaps it was a little bit scribbled so now…….
Write down your practice neatly and with large print. This way you can glance at it without stopping your practice to squint. This paper is just a guide and it won’t take long before you discard it, but in the beginning a road map can be a great way to keep you focused and to prevent you from forgetting essential elements.
Decide how long to hold each asana. If you don’t know, I recommend five full breaths. If you happen to feel really good in a particular asana, stay in it longer. If you meet challenge or resistance in an asana, commit to the five breaths as a way of cultivating discipline. Although it can be uncomfortable, postures that you are resisting probably have something important to teach you. I can’t tell you how many times I have dreaded a particular asana, only to eventually watch it transform into my favorite asana once I opened up and understood it.
Create a sacred place for your practice. It needn’t be elaborate. It can be in the corner of your bedroom, but make sure it is clean and you aren’t likely to be disturbed. You can decorate this small space with meaningful things that can transform this space and make it special for you. A candle, a bunch of flowers or a statue of significance is always special. Perhaps lighting this candle at the start of the practice to designate you have started your routine. If you like music ensure it is gentle and flowing and not a distraction to the sound of your breath.
Here is a pattern you can follow for your practice. Feel free to adjust it to your needs and allow it to evolve with you :
Begin with Intention
This can be as simple as committing your mind to fully concentrate on today’s practice or it may be more devotional with chanting and a Sanskrit prayer.
Connect with Breath
The word yoga means union. This union occurs on many levels of practice, from the sublime union of the Self and Divine Consciousness, to the basic union between body and mind. At a fundamental level asana practice is concerned with the union between breath and movement. Sometimes this principle gets lost in group practice, because the teacher must give so many instructions so beginners can practice safely and more advanced students can progress. The beauty of personal practice is that you can and should connect every single movement to a breath.
At the beginning of your practice, take a few moments to develop a strong, deep even breath. Strive to maintain this connection throughout the practice. If you ever realize you’ve lost your connection, stop and re- establish it before continuing.
Are often offered as a warm up and traditionally practiced early in the morning facing East. This may not be practical for you or if the weather is very cold in the mornings then your body may feel stiff and the Sun Salutations will be a little strong however, you can always move slowly between each posture and allow the body to feel a slow easing into the movements.
There are many, many variations of Sun Salutations. The important thing for you to remember is to connect each movement with a breath. In general, movements that bring your body upward should have an inhalation and movements that are downward require an exhalation.
Standing postures continue to build heat in your body and also increase your strength and balance. Maintain a strong connection with your breath, especially during the transitions. Approach all of these poses like a warrior: Feel strong and determined and focused but at the same time feel the lightness and ease in each posture so avoid being too ‘driven’.
The heat you have now built up through Sun Salutations and Standing postures helps your body enter the seated postures safely and with greater flexibility. Keep your breath strong, but make sure your belly tucks in during forward folds and twists. Always try to release in your exhalations. After three breaths, see if you can go deeper. Ask yourself, What can I let go of? Some muscles pull your body into a posture, but others need to relax and in order to allow the posture to deepen. Enjoy this exploration. It is one of the most rewarding aspects of practice.
These postures come at the end of practice, because they are very powerful. Inversions put your heart above your head reversing the flow of gravity. This changes your blood circulation, eases joint stress, brings fresh perspective and tones the endocrine system. If you are tired and prefer to take more passive inversions remember the supported shoulder stand with the block as support or the Legs up the wall pose…. additionally the Downward facing Dog pose is an ideal alternative ( but not a true inversion). Strive to hold these postures longer if you can, for ten breaths or longer
NOTE: My preferred option for personal practice is to start slowly on the floor in a supine position and begin to warm the body up with gentle movements that prepare the body for the stronger poses. Be guided by your personal preferences and not always the text book instruction …. Yoga is all about connecting to yourself and allowing your internal wisdom to show you the way.
Kneeling postures too can be included as a transition from supine (lying) to standing so there is an additional opportunity to work the body from a varied body position.
Deep Relaxation and Meditation.
Try not to simply roll up your mat when you’re done. Even if you are interrupted, close your practice with a moment of gratitude.
Ideally, you will close your practice with a beautiful Savasana. Lay down with your eyes closed, legs separated by a foot or two, palms open and facing upward. Scan your body from top to bottom or bottom to top, relaxing each individual body part. Let go of your breath and let it dissolve into its own natural rhythm. Some people experience a deep sinking feeling of relaxation, while others seem to float. Relish this time and allow yourself to observe the energy sensations in and around your body.
After a few moments of bliss, your awareness will return to your body. Take a few deep breaths. Wiggle your fingers and toes and flutter your eyelids open. Roll onto your side in a fetal position to take a few transitional breaths. Notice how we move from the position of a corpse to that of a fetus. In each practice, a part of us is reborn.
Sit in a comfortable seated position , with your hands in a meditative gesture. Return to your connected breath. Acknowledge your practice and how it has changed you. Make an intention to take something away from today’s practice and into your life. Some people like to chant a mantra or meditate at this time. If you have the desire and time, this is ideal because both body and mind have been calmed by yoga practice. You are open. You are receptive.
When you are ready to leave, place your palms together at your heart centre and bow in gratitude saying, “Namaste.”
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