Monday, March 21, 2011

The Beauty of a Home Practice

My stay in New York merely consisted of yoga, yoga and yes...some more yoga. The Teacher Training and my practice were my only focus and concerns, so for half a year I was fortunate, so very fortunate, to be able to fully emerge myself into my practice; 6 days a week, sometimes (more often than not) two classes a day, I got to study with great teachers, established a steady pranayama and meditation practice, ate wisely and almost didn't touch a drop of alcohol. And I spent many hours reading books about everything from anatomy, philosophy to the history of yoga.

One of the first things I did when I returned to Oslo a month ago, was to roll out my mat and do a very gentle practice (which felt soo nice after somewhat of a jet lag and tight shoulders after carrying all my suitcases.)
But I mostly did my practice that morning as a reminder to myself that I have my yoga with me at all times. Before moving to New York I had a very consistent home practice, and I needed to reassure myself of what I already knew; 'nothing more than rolling out my mat is required for your practice to happen'. The real juice and depth of this practice often lays in our own home practice. Why? Because if we first get past the obstacles of the lack of self discipline; practicing alone can really open us up to an intuitiveness of what the body needs and where it wants to move. Some days what you need is a vigorous and intense practice, whereas other days your body and mind need a slooow honey-like flow. Some days you feel like practicing in silence, and there are other days where Led Zeppelin is a great accompany for your Virabhadrasanas (Warrior Poses). One of the many positive side effects from my practice is that it's become easier to tap into the wisdom that resided within, the place inside of me which knows what I really need; whether it regards my body, relationships, food, lifestyle choices etc.

I think Erich Schiffmann describes the moment when yoga became 'his' so clearly in his book Yoga, The Spirit and Practice of Moving into Stillness;
 "...It took me a while before I was able to describe what had happened, but as I look back, I can see that this is when yoga finally became mine. I finally "got" how to to yoga. It finally became clear. It's internal. It's a way of listening inwardly and of being guided from within. Therefore, put simply, the basic technique is to go within and listen and then do as the within is prompting you to do. I had learned from Joel how to learn from my own practice and thereby be my own best teacher, rather than always going to someone else for information, inspiration or technique.  Yoga was no longer just a dicipline, no longer something I did "because it's good for me" or because it might help get my head together. It became an inspired, creative act- more meaningful and more fun!"

The first week after my return was a whirlwind of happiness, friends and family, late nights, good food, wine and the flue. I took some days off practicing and experienced some difficulties motivating myself once the flue was gone. I then remembered a great tip I got some years ago; Simply roll out your mat and see what happens. And just let it lay there for the days to come. And YES, such a great tip. Before long I was back into my dedicated practice again. There are mornings where it feels more like a hassle where all I see is the dust underneath the sofa, but usually after I've practiced for a while, my mind settles down, I find the moment of stillness where all there is, is my body and my breath, right here right now. And afterward, blissful, sharp and happy, I remember again why it is that I am so drawn to this lovely practice.

If you want to start a home practice but aren't completely sure about how to sequence, here are a few tips that might be helpful: ( I advise you to take an intro class or some hours with a qualified teacher if you are completely new to yoga. Alignments principals, breath awareness and general information about health concerns are best explained face to face, and not through the internet).

-Don't necessarily aim for a 90 minute practice. Anything goes, and you can reap great benefits from a 20 minute practice. Think of your home practice as a little extra bonus next to the classes you take. Finding the self discipline to do yoga alone can be challenging, and therefore aiming for shorter time in the beginning may seem more duable.

-Practice in a clean spot and remove any unnecessarily clutter on the floor.

-Have a blanket or two handy, and other props such as blocks and a belt if you need it. If you don't have yoga props at home; improvise:) Towels, belts etc will do the trick.

-Turn off your cell phone and make sure that you can remain undisturbed.

-This is an example of a 30-40 min well-rounded practice; I'm assuming that you already have some experience with yoga as I'm not explaining transitions or alignment points.

-Use some moments to arrive, sit in Sukhasana (legs crossed, spine upright, palms resting on thights) close your eyes and just start by noticing the present moment. Tap into your breath, make an intention for your practice, chant OM or simply sit with eyes closed for a couple of moments and just be.

- Come on to all 4, do some rounds of CAT/COW -> Adho Mucha Svanasana (AMS); Downward Facing Dog-> Plank->AMS->Plank->AMS-> walk hands to feet-> roll up vertebra by vertebra and step in front of your mat-> Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

-Some rounds of your prefered Sun Salutations (SS); for ex 3 SS A and 2 SS B. (If this is Greek to you check out Sun Salutations A and B (Surya Namaskara A, B) on You Tube.
Sun Salutations create heat and stamina, linking each movement with the breath.

-Tadasana with eyes closed, focus on the breath and see if you can tap into any potential shift of energy now.

-The follow up your practice with a Standing Sequence; For Example: Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2), Peaceful Warrior, Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon), Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle).
Link poses together, hold for shorter time (under 5 breaths) or longer (maybe 10 breaths), take vinyasas (Plank; Chaturunga, Upward Facing Dog, Downward Facing Dog) through the different poses or go straight back to Downward Facing Dog.
Make sure to do both sides; both left and right. And just see if you can listen to your body and what you need. Think free flowing and less rigidity. If you miss something, if you don't really get it; simply tap into your breath and think about linking your breath with movement, like a moving meditation. (Remember that you can always ask your teacher any questions you might have next time you're in class, I'm sure he or she will be glad to share some tips about starting a home practice; I know I would:)

- After your standing Sequence come to stand in front of your mat in Tadasana and move into a standing balance pose like Vrksasana (Tree Pose). Both sides.

- Then take a vinyasa or go straight back to AMS, Downward Facing Dog -> Jump through to sit (or just sit down) -> a Simple Backbend like Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose) 3 times, followed by Apanasana (Knees to chest); Supta Padangusthasana w/belt (Reclining Big Toe pose) and Thread the Needle.

(-If you have an Inversion practice, use your blanket(s) and come up to Halasana (Plow) followed by Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported Shoulderstand)-> Halasana.)

-Simple spinal twist followed by Savasana. (For as long as you like).
-End seated in Sukhasana as you started with your eyes closed. Return to your intention or chant OMs. Palms together in front of your chest, bow down the mind to the greater wisdom of the heart and thank yourself for having practiced yoga. Namaste <3

(I am going back to NYC in a week and I'll stay for the entire month of April. Will be back in Oslo teaching full time from May 9th.)