Monday, April 6, 2009

Yoga Conference III — Daily Practise

The Importance of Daily Practise

It isn't disputed that a regular daily physical discipline can build and maintain strength and flexibility; spike endorphins to improve your mood; increase mental agility and focus.

Daily practise is also important because:

  • Recent studies show that yoga and meditation also improve brain plasticity, something essential to mental functioning, especially as we age. Studies of Tibetan monks have discovered that their brains actually produce theta waves when they meditate, which is a whole different level of brain activity. The theory is you need about 5000 lifetime hours to reach that level (Martin).

  • The fact is that even 15 minutes of meditation a day is shown to reduce the chemical cortisol in the body, which can be extremely toxic over time. (Sovik).

  • A regular practise will yield immediate short-term benefits but has the potential to being life-changing as well. The goal doesn't necessarily need to be to wrap your feet over and behind your head. A Level One practise of basic postures, done consistently, has the same health benefits as a more rigorous routine (Rizopoulis).

  • Just don't approach the same poses in the same way day after day; bring a state of mindfulness to every pose. Even if you are doing the same sequence, approach it in a fresh way. Be playful and lighthearted, have fun. Explore different connections. Try using the sacrum as a central point of focus. Shake things up. Iyengar says he is still learning something new every day (Yee).
In a sense, practise is whatever you do, day after day. Looking at it that way, my daily practise includes 2 hours of commuting and working an 8 hour day, coming home and making dinner, etc. etc. I've noticed though that when my daily practise includes yoga and meditation, my body and mind both feel more focused. I can go for many months at a time where I wake up and "do yoga" and then switch over to whacking the sleep alarm instead. Rather than losing the habit entirely, I resolve to include yoga and meditation as part of a daily practise, even if that means it is sometimes abbreviated to only 5-10 minutes instead of 45-60 minutes.

Technical tips to keep in mind
- Don't worry so much about the eyes of the elbows when in plank or downward dog. Notice instead that the creases of your wrists are in line with the front of the mat and that you keep shoulders out. Let the eyes of the elbow fall into a natural alignment.
- In arm balances, keep the external rotation of the arms at all times or risk shoulder damage.
- In the Sun Salutations, do chaturanga instead of knees/chest/chin because chaturanga is kinder to the shoulders. Don't dip below the point of the elbows. It requires and builds more strength to do chaturanga this way. When coming out of chaturanga you know if you are doing it correctly if pelvis, then belly, then lower ribs touch the ground.
- You can improve alignment in chaturanga by making a belt into a hammock, placed between your arms at the point of the elbows. At the same time you are doing this press your feet into a wall behind you. Imprint the feeling of these actions into the pose when you do it 'prop-free.'
- Go more deeply into forward bends by firming your quads at the front of your thighs and letting go of your hamstrings in the back of your thighs.
- Here is Natasha behind the scenes at a Yoga Journal shoot demonstrating the correct position for chaturanga. Apparently there was quite a debate about proper alignment between the different advocates for the different styles of yoga.
- Yee recommends to feel the cow/cat undulation all the way through Sun Salutations, and try doing the entire sequence from the sacrum, not from the head and neck.
- Try kicking up from Dog Pose into Hand Stand. Just for fun.

Practical approach to meditation
Remember to keep knees lower than hips. I was sitting in virasana, which is fine, but Sovik recommended I switch my wooden block for a pillow that might be kinder on my sit bones. Arms placed in a comfortable position, near the centre of the body rather than picturesquely rested on the knee will likewise be easier to maintain over a long period of time. Neck in line with shoulders, chin very slightly down.
A great beginner mantra is So-Hum. 'So' on the inhalation and 'Hum' on the exhalation. There is much to contemplate in these two syllables, with the basic meaning of "I am. That."
Try to assume a mental attitude that does not grasp too tightly or too loosely. Don't be too attached to the outcome.

Inhale. Pause. Exhale. Pause.
mentioned the pause just after the exhalation has extraordinary potential to bring a feeling of peace and ease.... and it is open to you thousands of times every day...

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