Establishing Your Home Practice
Attending Yoga classes is a wonderful thing. Yoga teachers are trained to provide you with a supportive and safe place to explore a wide variety of yogic postures, practices, and exercises. But we also want to encourage you to develop your own home practice. It doesn’t have to be much. Just a few minutes every day. The following is a suggested morning routine… something to get you started. Try it for a week or so and let me know how it goes.
Take a comfortable seated position in a location where you will not be disturbed. It can be outdoors, on your bed, on a yoga mat, or in a chair. Now is a good time to remember Ahimsa. Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, it means “non-harming”. In every practice, remember to be gentle with yourself, in mind, body, and spirit.
Begin by noticing your natural breathing. Notice the inhalation. Notice the exhalation. Sit with this for a few moments. Then, keeping the breath smooth, gently inhale through the nostrils for a count of 4, pause, then slowly exhale through the nostrils for a count of 6, pause, and repeat. Try 10 rounds of breathing this way. At the end of this practice, keeping the eyes closed, allow your breath to find it’s natural rhythm again. There are many types of pranayama exercises, this is a good one to begin with.
Dharana & Dhyana (Concentration & Meditation)
Set a timer for a desired length of time. It can be 5 minutes or longer. Then, placing your hands on your knees, or in your lap, close your eyes softly and choose something to focus your mind on, perhaps a word, an image, or your breath. Sitting tall but relaxed, with your eyes closed, shoulders relaxed, keep your mind focused on whatever you chose. Try to keep the focus gentle…. relaxed. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your object of focus again and again. As you become more persistent in your daily practice, eventually your concentration will deepen into meditation.
Begin with gentle movements such as shoulder rolls, neck stretches, cat/cow, and sufi circles. Then add the following poses:
Balasana (Childs Pose)
To do this, sit back upon your heels and bring your forehead to the floor with your arms resting by your side. You can have your knees wide apart and big toes touching if you prefer. Linger here for a few breaths.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Coming onto your hands and knees, with your fingers spread (hands below shoulders and knees below hips), press your hands and feet onto the floor and raise your hips up to form an inverted “v”. Keep your spine neutral (neither rounded nor arched) and allow the knees to be softly bent for the first time. Take a few moments to pedal the heels then return to child’s pose. Come up into down dog once or twice more, lingering in the pose for a few breaths. You can invite the legs to straighten by engaging the thigh muscles, drawing the kneecaps up, pressing the feet down, as you reach the tailbone up. To come out of the pose, exhale as you come down onto your hands and knees, sit back on your heels, and lower your forehead to the floor.
Alanasana (High Lunge/Crescent)
From downdog, step the right foot to the inside of your right hand keeping the feet in line with your hips. Press down through the feet, bring your front knee over your ankle, engage the muscles of the back leg, and keep the back heel raised. The back knee is lifted off of the floor. Inhale to bring your torso upright and exhale your hands to your hips. Bend the back knee to bring your pelvic basket into a neutral position (not rounded nor flexed) then invite the back leg to straighten by engaging the thigh muscles, drawing the kneecap up, and pressing through the back toes. Hug your navel center in. Release your arms to your sides then inhale as you extend your arms out in front of you, and raise them overhead. Exhale your shoulders down, and inhale as your reach the crown of your head up. Linger for a few slow deep breaths. To come out of the pose, exhale as you lower your arms, inhale as you bring your hands to the floor by your front foot, and exhale as you step your front foot back, returning to downward facing dog. Make sure to do the other side.
Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2)
Standing sideways on your mat, heel/toe your feet about 4′ apart, keeping your feet parallel with the edges of your mat. Then pick up your right heel and rotate your right foot out 90 degrees. Bend the right knee so that it stacks directly over the ankle (hint, if you look down, you should see your big toe sticking out. You should not be able to see the whole side of your foot). Pressing the feet downward, drawing the pelvic floor muscles inward and up, drawing the navel center in, and reaching the crown of your head upwards, inhale your arms out to either side, tuck your chin slightly, and turn to look to the right as you exhale. Linger for a few slow breaths. Imagine you are are standing with your backside against a wall, keeping your shoulders stacked over your hips and your arms reaching out over your legs. To come out of the pose, exhale to lower your arms, inhale straighten your right leg and rotate your right foot forward then continue on the other side.
To finish your morning practice, take a few moments in a relaxed position of your choosing: balasana, savasana or tadasana.