Why are you living? To be a better person! Otherwise u can just die! (Iyengar)

For those who would disparage faith.  And for those of us who have trouble with the final Niyama, asking us to surrender to god:From Tree of Yoga, page 38:

  

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Experiments with daily practice 

I started a daily yoga practice in 2006 and have practiced every morning since (with a few medically necessary exceptions).

I started my daily practice when I spent 2 weeks away from my wife and son for the first time since he was born in 2000.  I had moved back to California to start my first law firm job and the family would follow me two weeks later.  Finishing law school at almost 40 years old, with a profoundly disabled son and no saving, the pressure to succeed at my new job felt intense.  And I was worried about my wife and my fragile son thousands of miles away.

I had been doing yoga for a year and had already seen how it could help with stress and anxiety.  Yoga teachers, articles and books had praised the importance of daily practice.  So when faced with this new stress, I decided to start my own daily practice.  Since then my morning practice has become like an anchor for my self: it is the foundation for my mental and physical fitness and allows me to start each day with a little more clarity and focus.  Like all aspects of yoga, just having a morning practice of asana is not enough — but it sure helps with the rest of the day!

And it’s not as hard as it sounds.  Here are some key tips:

  • You don’t have to go to a yoga studio class every day — that’s too expensive, too time consuming and if you are not careful, can be too stressful on the body.
  • Set a minimum time though.  My minimum is 20 minutes of asana and 12 of pranayama.
  • Podcasts and online classes are great!  And there are a lot of 20 minute ones!  Yogadownload.com has a 20-minute podcast with — as of today — 100 different 20-minute yoga classes.  I also use Giamtv.com – but there are tons of them out there.  It helps keep it interesting to find new classes to try.
  • Don’t always practice at home though — working with a teacher is important. I try to go to at least 2 and often up to 4 classes at a yoga studio per week, but when I started 1 in-person class a week was enough.
  • For me, it’s important to get the yoga out of the way before anything else in the morning — at first, because I might not do the yoga if I ran out of time, and now because I am so used to yoga as my first step of the day that I do not function or communicate as well until after my practice.  But other people I talk to prefer a noon practice or one in the afternoon.  You need something that works with your body and your rhythm; but something that you can fit in at the same time every day.
  • One great thing about practicing daily is that you don’t have to push hard on every practice — feel ok about doing a slow restorative class occasionally, or even spending 5 minutes each practicing cobbler’s pose, shoulder stand, bridge pose and shivasana.
  • Come up with your own favorite routines and practice to your favorite music, but don’t let them become so routine that you lose your mindfulness– make sure to always keep your mind on the poses.

Taking hard poses with ease and easy poses with concentrated effort

Somewhere along our journey as yogis, all of us find a way to find he’s an difficult poses. To calm the mind and release the fear when holding a warrior three pose for a while, or in crow pose. 

But what I started to realize is the opposite is even more important.This morning, I did a slow hatha yin class. And I realize that doing these long easy poses, like a simple twist well seated or even a standing forward bend, is the perfect time to practice my uddiyana bandha – keeping the abdomen firm to support the pose – to concentrate on perfecting the alignment of my spine, my pelvis and my arms and legs, and to focus on my breath.

Maintaining focus and effort in easy poses is the other side of maintaining ease in hard poses – perhaps it’s keeping that balance where we find yoga.

Early Experiments with breath

I began my routine of practicing asana every morning, and it brought me a terrific confidence and equanimity.  But within a few months, that strong, stable feeling began to slip away — my practice had became more rote, but more importantly, the asana was not enough to compensate for the stress of my work or for other bad habits like sleeping too little, eating too much, and drinking too much alcohol.

For the first of many times I realized: asana is not enough.

So I bought some more books, including Iyengar’s Light on Life, and began working on practicing the yamas and niyamas.  But I also bought a fantastic book that really transformed my practice and my understanding of yoga: The Yoga of Breath by Richard Rosen.

yoga of breath

I encourage everyone everywhere to buy this book and read it many times 🙂

But when you start digging into it, go to the end of the book where there is a suggested schedule for working through the book to develop a pranayama practice.  The schedule gives you a daily practice and ends up taking almost a year to get through all of the lessons in the book.

So I followed the schedule and practiced each lesson in the book — working through it took nearly a full year.  When I finished, I practiced on my own for a few months, and then I started at the beginning of the book again and this time worked through the book in about 6 months.

Since the first day working with the book, I have had a daily practice of pranayama.  I practice pranayama after my asana practice every morning.  I generally set a timer for 12 or 15 minutes and work through a few different pranayama breaths in each session.

The results of this experiment were very favorable.  I can feel a very noticeable difference in my mood all day long after practicing pranayama: it promotes a calmness, confidence and equanimity.  It also gives you a practice you can turn to any time during the day when stress or anger or uncertainty appears: when pranayama is ingrained in your life it becomes easy to immediately turn inward and begin an ujayii breath or a hum-sah mantra and return to a place of equanimity.

I found some surprising results of pranayama practice too.  Since childhood I have been plagued with hiccups when eating very spicy food.  More seriously, I have a heart issue called paroxysmal atrial tachycardia (PAT), which causes my heart to race up to over 200 beats per minute for minutes or hours at a time.  The PAT episodes have occurred since I was 7 years old very occasionally — sometimes monthly, sometimes only a couple of times a year.

After practicing pranayama daily for a few months, I got hiccups and instead of trying other remedies, I closed my eyes and began deep ujayii breathing.  My hiccups went away.  Since that day I have consistently been able to rid myself of hiccups quickly and easily with pranayama.

More importantly, I have almost always been able to stop a PAT very quickly using a deep ujayii breath.  I recall clearly the first time it happened after I had been practicing pranayama daily for 9 months.  I was in a recording session with a band I played in during law school, and I felt the PAT begin.  I sat down on a chair, closed my eyes, and engaged my breath, and the PAT went away.  Since then, I have nearly always been able to stop a PAT this way.