Creating a Personal Practice
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A personal yoga practice.
People may ask you if you have a personal yoga practice. What does that mean? Does it mean that you practice asana sequences at home? Does it mean you go to the studio at least 3 times a week? Does it mean that you meditate? That you have an altar space in your home? Let’s take the phrase apart.
Personal: something that is deeply specific and unique to YOU. Something that resonates with you at your core. Something that might be hard to put into words if you were to describe it to someone else. Something that has a deep, emotional element.
Yoga: To yoke one’s self with the universe or divine. To quiet the mind and reach that place where you feel connected to that which is greater than yourself. To truly know your spirit, or higher Self, as separate from your mind, body and emotions.
Practice: The art of pursing something you love, refining your talents and abilities, knowing that there is always more you can learn or experience.
Experiencing the physical side of yoga – the beautiful flowing asana sequences, the alignment-based structural poses, the luxurious stretch of muscles – is wonderful and offers tremendous benefits. Often, as new yogis, we come to class and find just the experience of truly connecting with our body to be a new and rare gift. But over time, we sense that we are touching the surface of something more. We feel a new sense of peace and when we leave class, we are emotionally rejuvenated. Maybe it’s the ten minutes we spent in savasana? Maybe it’s that quiet sound of our breath in our ears? Maybe it’s the dharma talk the teacher gave that felt like it was directed specifically to us? We aren’t quite sure.
The magic of what we are experiencing is the careful unfolding of our layers to discover the beauty that resides in our core. By slowing the breath, we enter a different realm. As the breath slows, the vegus nerve signals the brain, informing it that we are safe and calm. The hormones excreted by our endocrine system change. Our brain activity moves from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic regions. The chatter in our mind begins to slow. We begin to open a door to some place beyond the body and brain. By marrying our breath with our movements, we join the work of the physical and energetic body, and something wondrous begins.
As our asana practice continues and we move through the slow, mindful practice, we deepen the relaxation of the body and brain. We lay down in savasana and, if we have been able to sufficiently rid our brain of to-do lists and worries, we are able to place a foot over the threshold to that glimpsed horizon. Often all we get is a glimpse of something more, a promise that there is something just out of our reach. Sometimes, that is enough. We roll up our mat after class feeling relaxed and restored, content with our brief exposure. But for many of us, that brief glimpse is not enough. We want to get more than just a foot through the door – we want to LIVE there!
Yoga Nidra is the best way I know to reach, and dwell in, that place. It enables you to go all the way through the door and experience both the universe of energy of which we are all a part, as well as that unique energy that is YOU. Call it your soul, your higher Self, your time-transcendent energy, but yoga nidra enables you to experience that base energy that makes you, well, you! It enables you to see yourself separate from your physical body, your mind and your emotions. It enables you to shed your layers and to simply reside in your Self.
Without yoga nidra, you will never truly have a personal yoga practice. You will have some of the pieces and you will still glean great benefit, but you will never experience the rare gift that yoga offers. It would be like taking piano lessons for years, practicing scales and cords and keys, but never putting them together to play and experience a symphony. As you begin adding yoga nidra into your practice on a regular basis, I am convinced you will have the same “ahhhh, THAT is what was missing!’ moment that I had when I discovered it. You will truly have a personal yoga practice: a deeply fulfilling connection to the universe and yourself that enables you to constantly learn and move forward in your life.
This month, endeavor to do the following:
Take 3-5 minutes each morning to sit and breathe before you start the day. Breathe mindfully. Listen to your breath. Notice which nostril is dominant. Notice which is longer and more natural – your inhales or your exhales. Notice the depth of the breath, front to back, side to side and top to bottom. Notice if the breath is smooth as it travels from nose to belly, belly to nose, or if it sticks in places. Your breath print is unique. Once you have taken time to notice the breath, consciously slow it down, creating equal length inhales and exhales. This will help you start the day by syncing your energetic and physical selves.
Listen to your short yoga nidra recording every other day
Listen to your long yoga nidra recording once a week
You will likely be doing other wonderful yoga related work – going to studio classes, doing the asana practice provided at home, reading the blog posts – but let the list above be your minimum baseline.
Two things to know before you begin
Bunblebee breath is a yogic breath that draws attention inward and creates vibrations in your skull. To perform this breathing technique, place your thumbs lightly over your ears and your remaining fingers on your forehead. Your tongue should rest on the roof of your mouth behind your teeth. Your teeth and lips will be slightly touching. Now hum. Give it a try!
Body tension and release
I will cue you to hold your breath as you tense parts of the body. If you have any medical issues that preclude the holding of your breath, just tense the muscles but breath normally.
Okay – you are ready! Set your mat and everything up before you begin to play this meditation. Its 25 minutes in length and plants the intention “I am the embodiment of peace”. Enjoy!
Relax and enjoy your weekly ‘Personal Yoga Practice’ 36 minute yoga nidra recording.
Reminder: Any poses or breath practices I cue in an asana practice are merely suggestions. Your body and your doctor know more than I do, so only do what makes sense, and is recommended for you.
Your first asana practice is juicy and grounding! It will help slow down your brain chatter and ready your physical body to relax, sleep, or settle in for one of your guided yoga nidra meditations. This practice is 25 minutes long — but stay in savasana for at least 5 – 10 minutes once its done, or listen to your guided yoga nidra meditation.
Props: Mat. Blanket, bolster and eye pillow optional.
Your second asana practice is a vin yin — some slow, deep yin poses to open up the joints with some movement for the muscles. This is a longer, slightly more heated practice. Remember to enjoy a 5 – 10 minute savasana when its done, or listen to your guided yoga nidra meditation.
Props: Mat, 2 blocks, blanket. Bolster and eye pillow optional.
One of my favorite energy tools is a variation of tadasana, or mountain pose. This is a great way to start your day, or a pose you can return to whenever you feel un-grounded or stressed.
Start by standing with your feet hip distance apart, your weight comfortably centered on all 4 corners of both feet. Feel yourself grounding down from your hips to your toes. Grow roots into the ground beneath you. Bring your palms together in anjali mudra and let your collarbones broaden as you let your heart lift. Feel the energy from your heart radiating through your chest and arms and the energy from the earth grounding you. Take a few breaths here.
Next, seal your little fingers and thumbs, letting you other fingers separate wide, coming into anahata mudra. Feel energy from the universe filling the bowl created by your hands and feel your heart energy radiating out. Feel yourself sending love and light into the world around you.
Sometimes, I feel more need for the grounding, nuturing love created by the anjali, or closed hand mudra, and sometimes I feel the need to shine bright, opening my hands in anahata mudra. You can linger a little longer in either mudra, depending on your need. Its always nice to ultimately feel the beautiful balance created by combining the two, reminding you that the earth is here, nuturing and grounding you, so that you can shine bright, love and be loved.