Creating a Personal Yoga Practice
Embarking on a Personal Yoga Practice
Creating a personal yoga practice is a wonderful gift for yourself. Whether you are new to yoga, or have been practicing for years with a teacher, there is something very special about having your own practice with just yourself. Overtime, you will witness for yourself, your own personal evolution on the yoga mat. The practice does not have to be long or complicated. Even a one minute breathing exercise can have a beautiful ripple effect throughout your day. With patient, consistent, practice, you will see yourself grow.
Space and Place
Consider creating your own space exclusively for your yoga practice. This can be as simple as a small corner of your bedroom, or as elaborate as an entire room dedicated to yoga. Remove as many distractions as possible. This could mean turning off the television, placing pets behind a closed door, or draping a sheet over a desk covered in bills. The act of routinely lighting a candle or burning incense can also help your body relax and know that this is your time. You may wish to have a few special objects to inspire your space, such as a photograph of a dear one, uplifting artwork, or a few crystals.
Once you start regularly using the same space, your mind will begin to associate the space with yoga. You may notice that just sitting in the space helps you to drop into that meditative state that yoga naturally evokes. After you establish this space for yourself, you may wish to intentionally experiment practicing yoga in different environments. Can you drop out of your head and into your body in the the middle of the living room as family life swirls around you? What would it be like to practice outside? In a busy public place? Observe what works for you, what challenges you, and what may not be serving you.
Ground and Center
Begin your practice by first grounding yourself into the present moment and centering your mind. Oftentimes when we first come onto the mat, our minds are still elsewhere. Perhaps you are thinking about what you need to do later in the day, or maybe your mind is replaying a recent conversation. One of the wonderful things about yoga, is that it can be used as a tool to take you from the imagination of the mind into the reality of now. In yoga, the breath is used to anchor you into the present moment. You cannot breathe in either the past or future. Try taking a few cleansing breaths by simply inhaling slowly and deeply through the nose and exhaling out of the mouth, clearing the mind. You may wish to have the palms facing down on top of the knees, or beside the body. Palms facing down is associated with grounding and releasing. Palms facing upwards is associated with opening and receiving. Observe the breath. Follow the inhale. Notice the slight pause at the top of the breath before it turns into the exhale. Notice the slight pause at the bottom of the breath before it once again turns into the inhale. By placing your conscious awareness on your breathing, it can become more even and easy on its own.
Set an Intention
With a calm and centered mind, set an intention for your practice. Setting an intention can help to give the practice a purpose. This intention can be anything at all. Perhaps there is something that you want to get rid of. This could be an unpleasant emotion, thought, or physical discomfort in the body. Pick up what you want to get rid of on your inhale and release it with your exhale. Alternatively, you may wish to create something for yourself to bring in, such as a feeling of love, space, or opening in the body. You can pick up this idea with your inhales and let it expand with your exhale. Your intention could also be a dedication, to a person, place, or thing, that is important to you. Another intention could be to come back to the sound of your breath as often as you remember to. Whatever you choose, allow this intention to be your guiding force throughout the practice.
Choose a Simple Sequence of Poses
Including a few yoga postures in your practice can be a lovely way for opening up the body. If you don't have a lot of time, consider practicing only one or two poses mindfully instead of trying to rush through many poses. You can use your intention to mindfully consider what poses may be most beneficial for you. For example, if you are someone who has a hard time speaking up, any pose that opens or stimulates the throat area may be good to practice. Perhaps your are feeling a bit sluggish, and some active and dynamic movements will help to create fresh energy in the body. Beginners to yoga or anyone who is not familiar with the yoga poses can benefit from going to a few classes with a kind and trusted teacher. You may even wish to ask the teacher for some help in choosing what poses would be best for you to continue to practice at home. There are also many great sources on the internet and in text that provide step by step instructions. Be mindful of how certain postures feel in the body and if any pain or discomfort arise, carefully come out of the pose.
There may be days when including physical poses in your practice simply isn't practical, perhaps due to illness, injury or time. It is important to note here that yoga is much more than the poses. Yoga is about awareness and the kindness we show to ourselves and others. If a physical practice is not possible, breathing practices and mediation are also yoga. You can even imagine yourself in your mind's eye doing the physical practice and you will still receive benefits because the brain does not know any better! Try this for yourself and see what happens.
After any poses, come to laying down on the back, or in any comfortable position and rest for a few moments in savasana. Savasana, which can be translated as corpse pose, is just as important as the active part of the practice. It is during this time that all the benefits of the practice are absorbed and integrated into the body. You may wish to mentally scan the body during this time and consciously relax each body part from the toes to the top of the head. If any thoughts arise, acknowledge the thought, and then gently return the awareness to the breath.
Closing the Practice
After you have come out of your final resting pose, take a moment here to come back to your original intention that you set at the beginning of the practice. Thank yourself for taking the time out of your day to be with yourself, nurture yourself, and practice yoga. Many of us live our lives for other people. It is important to acknowledge that practicing yoga is a beautiful act of self love. Take another mindful breath and slowly blink the eyes open. Notice how you feel. Know that you can always come back to this feeling at any time throughout your day.