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.
Rebecca Hersh, a wonderful yoga teacher at Laughing Lotus SF, had a terrific theme for a class this week. I love it when classes have a theme that runs through both the asana part of the class and the philosophy part. It shows a lot of preparation and thought, and few teachers do it well.
Forgive the paraphrasing in what is to follow. If anyone who was there – including Rebecca – would like to correct anything below, I’d be honored.
Rebecca started Tuesday’s class explaining that when a muscle is a lttle tight, it sends you little messages all the time saying “I’m tight, I’m tight.” But it’s not so bad so you walk around throughout your day with the muscle complaining “I’m tight, I’m tight” and you not really paying attention to it. And then one day, something unexpected happens: you are playing with your neice and she wants you to run after her and suddenly this tight muscle siezes up and causes far more tightness or cramping or even a tear.
The same thing can happen with your mind. There’s something nagging you in the back of your mind all the time and you don’t take the time to look at it and listen to it and address the issue. And then one day, something unexpected happens: you lose your job, or a family member has cancer, or you get a chance at a great new house. And if that nagging problem was at all related to your unexpected event then your ability to respond is unecessarily limited.
So her point was that yoga works at addressing this issue both for the body and the mind. You stretch that hamstring so it doesn’t cramp up when you chase your niece. But more importantly, yoga citta vritti nirhoda: yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. By stopping the fluctuations we can calmly and with ego set aside, deal with what we need to deal with. And that includes unresolved nagging issues as well as new unexpected events.
Or at least it was something like that 🙂
Made me think auto maintencance (or maybe motocycle maintenance).
Krishnamacharya was one amazing dude. He was a yogi and professor of vedanta who taught the two most influential yoga teachers in the west, Patthabi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.
I’ve seen a couple of documentaries on him and have one book about him. I encourage you to look him up, at least on YouTube.
One documentary includes interviews wiht his son and daughter. The daughter explained how in his later life, Krishnamacharya developed what he called the “life-saving sequence” to be performed daily. It is very short and when I saw it I thought I could easily add it to my routine as a nighttime sequence. Here is my transcription – if anybody reads this and has a correction to this please let me know:
- Matsyasana for 3 long breaths
- Cobra for 3 long breaths. Concentrate on the middle of the eyebrows starting with eyes closed then opening.
- Shoulder stand for 6 breaths. Concentrate on the throat.
- Great seal – maha mudra – each side, for 3 long breaths? (I do this one with Kumbhaka (Breath Retention) after each breath)
- Then sit concentrating on the heart. I fold my palms and breathe for a few minutes.
Now you are ready for bed — and apparently, your life has been saved!