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home yoga

home yoga space
home yoga, practice space, preparation, Uncategorized

How To Set Up Your Home Yoga Space

April 28, 2016

Barbara Burgess shares how to set up your home yoga space in two quick and easy steps...

We all want to practice yoga at home. Not only is there always a parking space available, but the price is unbeatable!

To set up your home practice space, you do not have to clean your entire house top to bottom. You do, however, need to follow two simple steps to ensure that the demands of being at home do not infiltrate your practice space.

Quick 15

After you have chosen the location of your yoga practice in your home, set a timer for 15 minutes. In that 15 minutes, you must scramble to remove anything that may distract you from your yoga practice and pull you back into household chores.

For example, if you have a laundry basket full of clothing that needs to be folded, you should move that out of the room completely if possible. No one wants to do a Downward Dog and see a pile of unfolded laundry behind them!

If there any dishes left in plain view that are not being used, take those out of the room as well. Look for anything around the area where you will place your mat, and give it a new temporary home.

You do not have to completely clean your house before you begin practicing. You simply have to remove any clutter from your line of sight. Those items will be there to be put away after your practice.

Close the door

The next step is crucial. You must close the door.

By closing the door, you are signalling to your family, your pets, your friends, and most importantly, yourself that you are about to get down to yoga business. Your home yoga practice depends on you being as committed to it as you want it to be committed to you.

 

If you do not have a door to close, do not despair. Closing the door is more of a ritual and symbol then it is an actual necessity. If closing the door is not available to you, consider lighting a candle, lighting incense, or turning on a nightlight. All of these gestures are symbolic of something about to begin. That something in this case is your home yoga practice.

 

Do your practice

All that is left for you after you've completed the steps is to do your practice.

Select your favorite mats, bring your favorite block, and enjoyed the yoga studio that always has a space for you: your home!

 

 

yoga-at-home
beginners, beginning yoga, home yoga, preparation

Yoga At Home: 12 Essential Tips Before You Start

November 4, 2015

Twelve essential tips for learning yoga at home

 

Learning yoga at any time can feel daunting, and especially if you are learning at home. These 12 tips will help you to prepare so that you can feel confident to start practicing yoga at home.

 

Bonus: download a handy free 12-point checklist to easily track your progress.

 

1. Breathe Easy and Naturally

"One often sees students holding their breath while performing a difficult pose. This is counter-productive and fundamentally wrong because it blocks the lovely movement, while the expansion of the lungs in connection with the spine is in action." - Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening The Spine

Get your breathing right and everything else will fall into place. As pioneering yogini Vanda Scaravelli points out in her book "Awakening The Spine", yoga students often hold their breath yet the vital 'prana' (the life force energy that supports, energizes, and heals your body) is carried on the breath. For your yoga to be effective you need your breath!

So how should you breathe? In an article for "Women's Health" magazine, Andrew Taber gives this simple yet wise advice for all beginners (not just women):

"A quick lesson on breathing: Inhale and exhale through your nose during the entire workout, keeping a smooth, controlled rhythm. Your breaths should last slightly longer than each component of a yoga pose."

Tip: breathe as easily and naturally as possible. Don't worry if you can't do long breaths at first. Inhale and exhale as you need to, and your breath will naturally deepen as your practice grows.

 

2. Prepare Thoroughly

To ensure your practice goes smoothly and safely, prepare by informing yourself about what is involved, what challenges you can expect, and how you may overcome them.

This clear and simple article on WikiHow covers the basic steps of how to "Do Yoga At Home" very thoroughly. Don't be deceived by it's simplicity, it is written by numerous well-qualified contributors and is actually an excellent foundation for anyone considering practicing yoga at home. Keep it handy as you start practicing!

They suggest you prepare by:

  • visiting a class
  • watching beginner videos
  • doing online research
  • being aware of challenges
  • setting goals for your practice
  • gathering the equipment you'll need
  • planning how often you want to practice
  • making time for yourself
  • choosing a comfortable space to practice, and
  • 'sequencing' - choosing and putting together your planned sequence of poses

 

You can read more in these two earlier blog posts about physical preparation and mental preparation.

Tip: Be organized as you gather your information. You'll realize there is a lot 'out there' so have some way to either make notes or bookmark your favorites, because you'll want to refer to them often, especially at the beginning. In particular you'll want to watch favorite YouTube videos over and over until you know the pose well, so make sure you save them somewhere!

 

3. Sequencing (choosing your sequence of poses)

I didn't know anything about sequencing when I first started and chances are as a beginner you probably won't either. This is where it really helps to follow a prescribed sequence in a beginner video.

A good yoga sequence usually begins with warm ups: sun salutations for example, followed by a combination of forward bends, backbends, 'inversions' (some version of being upside down - like a head or shoulder stand, or downward facing dog), and twists (not necessarily in that order). Not to forget the all-important savasana (corpse pose).

Savasana is extremely important because yoga is actually not so much a system of stretching as it is a system of stretching, constricting and then relaxing. It is in the relaxation that your circulation returns to normal and your blood flows back into parts of your body that you'd long forgotten about. It is in Savasana that healing happens.

Tip: Don't skip Savasana.

 

4. Watch Beginner Videos

Never before has so much great information been so freely available. Thank you to the kind and generous yoga teachers who share their wisdom and knowledge with us through platforms such as YouTube. One thing I've noticed about advanced yoga practitioners though, is that they sometimes forget what it feels like to be an absolute beginner. Some 'beginners' videos are actually quite advanced and don't take into account people whose levels of fitness are very poor to begin with.

In contrast Adriene Mishler's "Yoga For Complete Beginners - 20 Minute Home Yoga Workout" has received over 4.5 million hits on YouTube, and it's no surprise why. It is a very gentle and relatively easy sequence and, with Adriene's clear and simple instruction, beginners at most fitness levels should be able to follow along with no problem. If you are of average fitness and have never tried yoga before, this could be a great starting point for you.

Watch Adriene's 20 minute Home Yoga Workout for beginners:

If you find that your movement is too limited for Adriene's video, or you can't get down to the floor for whatever reason, you might consider a gentle chair yoga.

Sherry Zak Morris leads a weekly chair yoga class for seniors, which is also suitable for people who have arthritis, obesity or other limiting medical conditions. Her YouTube video "Actively Aging with Energizing Chair Yoga" is 33 minutes long and should suit most fitness levels.

Watch a full Chair Yoga workout with Sherry Zak Morris:

A word of caution about YouTube videos for learning: anyone can post a YouTube video. So it pays to do a little background checking before following a routine to make sure you are practicing a genuine form of yoga, and practicing in the correct way so you don't injure yourself.

You can also check that the teacher is a qualified yoga teacher (for example, for each of the above videos you can go to the teachers website, see what other classes they offer and which yoga studios they are affiliated with).

In addition to YouTube you can find various online video tutorials from qualified teachers. Here are some examples:

Yoga tutorials at DoYogaWithMe.com

Yoga classes at Udemy.com

Yoga classes at GaiamTV

Tip: Watch the videos on your TV, or have your tablet, smartphone or computer within reach so you can pause often, especially at first!  You may want to pause, rewind and repeat over and over so you can really get clear on the instruction.

 

5. Include Poses That Cultivate Strength and Flexibility

In the beginning your biggest challenges will be a lack of strength to be able to hold poses for any amount of time, and a lack of flexibility to bend and/or stretch into a pose. All of this comes with time and patience, but you can speed things up a little by focusing specifically on poses that will build your strength and flexibility in the beginning.

The editors at FITNESS magazine propose the following twelve poses for building strength and flexibility:

  • mountain pose
  • downward facing dog
  • warrior II
  • tree pose
  • bridge pose
  • triangle pose
  • seated twist
  • cobra
  • pigeon pose
  • crow pose
  • child's pose

Read the full article and see pictures at http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/workout/yoga/poses/beginner-yoga-poses/?page=1

Most yoga routines that have been designed for beginners by a qualified teacher will include some of these poses.

 

6. Create Space

Choose a clean, clear, quiet, comfortable space for your yoga practice where you have room to stretch in all directions (when both standing and lying down), and where there are few (or preferably no) distractions.

If possible use the same space every day, whether you have a designated yoga room in your home, or just a room that you can use on a regular basis.  The reason for this is because the space you practice in begins to be 'conditioned' by your intentions, and you'll find it easier with time to settle into your quiet space inside, and your yoga practice.

If you do have room to create your own designated yoga space there is lots of help online to get you started. Here are just a couple of great articles to give you some ideas:

A Room of One's OM: Creating Space For Your Practice by Sherise Dorf at Yoga Journal

Creating a Low-Budget Home Yoga Studio  by Steve Graham at Care2.com

In addition to your physical space, you'll want to create space in your day if your yoga practice is going to actually happen. It's different for everyone but sometimes early morning can be a good time to give you an infusion of joy and energy to propel you through your day. Others prefer an early evening workout (before dinner) to refresh and rejuvenate you, after a busy work day. Once again keeping to the same time every day can support you in settling into the practice. Your mind will soon learn that this is 'quiet time' and you'll find it easier to remain quiet inside than at other times of the day.

With practice you'll discover which time works best for you, but it is important that you clear the space in your schedule and make time for you, if a regular yoga practice is going to get off your 'wish list' and become a living reality.

 

7. Choose Your Equipment

If the room you practice in has a thick carpet, that may be all you need, but bear in mind that over time (with sweating) your carpet can begin to smell (yuk)! So although you don't always need one to begin with, you might decide to invest in a quality yoga mat. A good yoga mat should ideally be non-slip, and if you have any problems with your knees you might find an extra thick mat to be a blessed relief (just sharing a little personal experience here)!

Yoga Mat and Towel

For a long time I practiced on a thick rug that I just rolled out of the way during the day, which was fine for a while but when I started doing Bikram Yoga the profuse sweating prompted me to invest in a non-slip yoga mat by Fitness We Trust and a Susama yoga towel. I purchased the 6mm mat with thick 'memory' foam, which my knees love although making footprints in the mat has now become one of my favorite practice distractions!

Yoga Props

To support you in some poses you may want to use props like blocks, or a yoga belt. You need to be cautious in their use - props are meant as a gentle support and should never be used to 'force' your body into a position before it is ready. Your training video or teacher will tell you how best to use these. The only prop I use is a Dragonfly yoga belt to help flex my leg in preparation for standing bow pulling pose. There is a lot of support out there, and it is easier than ever to connect with people. If you are unsure how to use a particular prop don't hesitate to send an email to a yoga instructor, or connect through social media, and ask for clarification.

Tip: Wash your yoga mat in warm soapy water before use. Sometimes your non-slip mat will feel slippy when new. After a wash to remove any manufacturing and/or shipping residue it will feel truly non-slip.

 

8. Get Into a Routine.

Once something becomes part of your routine it becomes easy, like brushing your teeth. Whether you practice once a week, several times a week or every day, making your yoga practice part of your regular routine will make it much easier for you to keep going.

Tip: Don't think - just do it (hmm... where have I heard that before).

 

9. Practice Regularly

The benefits of yoga are cumulative which means you'll see the most progress and reap the greatest rewards if you practice consistently. Whether that be weekly or daily, it is consistency that builds momentum and gets results.

 

10. Prevent Injury by Listening to Your Body

Warm Up First

There are some practical things you can do to prevent injury, namely always practice in a warm room and (just like any exercise) always warm up first. This ensures your muscles are warm, relaxed, and more flexible.  Always practice on an empty stomach and never have a heavy meal just before your yoga practice (opinions vary between allowing 1-3 hours after eating before yoga).

Understand What You Are Doing... and Why

Make sure that you have studied and understood the requirements of each pose by attending a class, reading books and watching beginner videos. It is much easier to pay attention and monitor yourself if you know what you are supposed to be doing, and what the purpose of each pose is. After watching a pose tutorial video (and before you begin a routine), make sure you watch any supporting videos and read books that tell you exactly what each pose in your routine is supposed to achieve, and how you should be doing it, based on your level of fitness.

Be Aware

What sets yoga aside apart from exercise, is that real yoga is the art of listening to yourself. It is not about 'doing' poses, but more about listening to your body and mind. Aside from the practical considerations above, your best insurance against injury (and your only guarantee) is... you. Or to be more accurate, your awareness. If your mind wanders that is when you are most likely to injure yourself, by not paying attention. You must stay alert, aware and attentive to your body's needs at all times throughout your practice.

Don't Push Yourself

"Don't push it don't force it, let it happen naturally. It will surely happen if it is meant to be!" - Leon Haywood

You are the expert on you and your body. Never push yourself. No matter how experienced a yoga teacher is, no matter if they have a lifetime of experience, they do not know your body better than you. Someone who learned yoga at age 4 and has stayed above average fitness their whole life, is never going to know what it feels like to be a beginner aged 40 plus, with weak muscles weighing over 300 pounds. Never be pushed into going farther than you feel comfortable.

You are your own best judge. You, and only you, can call the shots as to how deep you can go into a pose, how long to hold a pose, and how long to rest in between poses. Why? Because only you know how you feel.

Be Discerning: Is This Normal Stretching or Injury Pain?

Cultivating greater degrees of sensitivity, awareness and discernment is something that happens over time in your yoga practice. You will get better at listening to your body the more you practice. This can be one of the greatest benefits of practicing yoga at home. Because you don't have the distractions of a yoga class, it is easier to pay attention to you and notice subtle variations in how you feel.

With time you will develop the very important skill of discernment: knowing the difference between the normal degree of discomfort that can come with a 'good stretch', and knowing when to pull back because your body is hurting in a way that indicates an injury could be imminent. This is a skill that only comes with time, experience, and attentiveness. If in doubt always err on the side of caution.

 

Don't Rush

Take as long as you need going into a pose. Keep paying attention. Notice how you feel and slowly, slowly, come out of a pose. Don't 'collapse', 'fall', or jump out of a pose too quickly or you could easily pop a muscle or ligament. It is important to take your time and remain fully focused throughout each stage of a pose, and throughout your whole sequence.

Be At Peace

Real yoga works with your body - not against it. Your body is not your enemy. Yoga is a path of gentleness and beauty, not violence. Look to some of the older yogi's and yogini's as role models to aspire to. Look at their gentleness and beauty. That arises from within. It can't be imposed from the outside.

 

Watch this 2-minute video about Tao Porchon-Lynch who has been named Guinness World Records' oldest yoga teacher:

Patience

Progress comes with time, gentleness, and patience. As a beginner it can be tough watching more experienced yogis twist like a pretzel when you can hardly raise your arms in the air, but all results happen in good time. It is worth waiting for. Patience is your best friend in yoga.

Tip: check in on yourself regularly to make sure you are fully present and aware. If your mind is wandering bring your attention back to your breath.

 

11. Get a Yoga Buddy.

One of the upsides about practicing yoga at home is that you can be alone. You can enjoy solitude and your busy, everyday, monkey-mind can settle into silence  faster. One of the downsides about practicing at home is that you can miss out on making friends, and a sense of community and shared purpose.

In a physical yoga studio you would meet other people at your own level. Hang out. Share experiences and pass on tips.

At home this can be missing but there are ways that you can re-create this for yourself by:

  • joining an online community
  • going to a local class once or twice a month just to check in and stay in touch
  • partnering with a friend who also practices yoga at home so you can be yoga buddies and share experiences
  • join our online home yoga studio and connect with a community of people practicing yoga at home

Having this kind of support for yourself, where you can learn from others, share experiences and get tips can be a lifeline for your practice.

 

12. Love Yoga - Love Yourself

The bottom line is that if you really want to have a successful home yoga practice (and by 'successful' I mean that you continue to practice for the rest of your life, as a lifestyle) then it has to be an enjoyable experience! The more you make this enjoyable and beneficial the more you will want to continue.

At first you will be focused on thinking a lot as you learn poses, and check if you are doing them correctly. This means your mind will be busy. You will also definitely feel the workout in your body, if you haven't developed your core strength yet. So you may feel tired too.

Once through this initial stage, as you are more confident in the postures, your mind and body will begin to relax. This is when you can allow your awareness to focus on the energy flowing through your body. Most exercise uses up your energy. When done correctly, yoga actually gives you more energy. As your practice develops your energy channels open, and you can feel more energy flowing into your body as you practice.

The more you keep your attention on this energy, the more it flows and grows. You may often feel more energy at the end of a yoga session than you had at the beginning. You may even notice how much your body loves how this energy feels.

Practicing home yoga is an act of love. Pretty soon your body will look forward to it's daily dose of loving care and attention, from you. When you imbue your practice with the energy of love, you reduce the risk of injury, and increase the healing benefits of yoga.

That might seem a lot of information (and it is) but take it one step at a time and it will all come together.

Enjoy practicing yoga at home and above all, be kind to your body and mind!

 

the first week
beginning yoga, bikram yoga

Bikram Yoga at Home: The First Week

October 7, 2015

So now you're fully prepared, what to expect from your first week of practicing Bikram yoga at home?

 

So now you're fully prepared: you have everything in place to heat your room, you have learned the postures, and you have a great mental attitude as you approach your new yoga practice with energy and enthusiasm... it will all be plain sailing from now on, right?

Well I say that kinda tongue-in-cheek. Of course if you are fully prepared then you have given yourself a great foundation, but now it's really down to business. The real challenge begins with actually starting the practice.

I wrote the notes below during my first week of practice, and it is possibly one of the most challenging things I have ever done. As I write today I'm now in week five, and what I can say is that there are easier days, and challenging days. Sometimes the body feels very strong, and at other times weak. Sometimes the body feels very flexible and agile, and at other times very stiff and unresponsive. As I continue practicing through the weeks I am encouraged by remembering the words of Vanda Scaravelli:

"There is beauty in the acceptance of what is"

 

Day One.

One of the good things about bikram is the heat (really). I’d heard that if you can just get through the heat, do two or three postures and then sit it out, then you’re doing good. For reasons I won’t go into here (see my previous blog about heating the room and temperatures) - in this first session at home I was in the heat for 5 hours!!

In a Bikram yoga center the whole sequence of postures takes about 90 minutes. To get through the routine following the book and the videos I'd found on YouTube took me two and a half hours! Hmm... something was off. I was okay with it, because I was learning, but something needed to change. I used iMovie to edit the videos so the timing on the videos would be different for day 2. I couldn’t hold my arms up for half moon pose as long as they did in the videos. One of the problems of learning at home is there's no-one to ask. Except for the books and videos, you're pretty much figuring it out on your own.

However, one of the benefits of doing yoga at home is that you don't have to keep up with everyone. I was able to take long rests between postures as I paused the video & sat down to catch my breath!

I was far too exhausted to do savasana (corpse/dead body pose) between every pose at the end but it felt good.  I was exhausted but glad I did it.

I noticed the room was 54% humidity and I don't have any way to control that. The room temperature reached a maximum of 97.8ºf. The heater had been on full for 5 hrs and I'm thinking maybe it doesn’t get any hotter than that.

 

Day Two.

I wake up and feel too exhausted to begin. Doing it anyway. The heater is in my bedroom. I put it on at 3:00am then went back to sleep. Woke feeling groggy and got up at 4:45 am so I went downstairs to cool off. I  came back in feeling more awake and began practice at 6:00am

Feeling very nauseous… I’m told that’s normal. Watching the mind try to control the experience… ‘take a break after each posture’. Still taking long breaks between postures… would be nice to do one long, flowing rhythm but the body isn’t ready for that. Can’t hold postures for anywhere near as long as the people in the videos... doing my own 'count to ten'!

It still took me two and a half hours to get through the routine.

 

Day Three.

Today decided to listen to Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class on audio…. no video… just to see if I can keep time within the 90 minutes… that means not so much rest between postures… oh well… here we go!

Taking a lot of concentration… but his sense of humor gets you through it. I’m a long way from Patanjali’s ‘mind settling into silence’… noticing many thoughts of ‘I can’t do this’ ... yet also a deeper, stronger resolve… I have a deeper knowing now that my current exhausted, unfit, unhealthy state is temporary, and that this body will respond with healing.

Still feeling nauseous. Still skipping the last few corpse poses. Managed to get through the timing (but had to sit down and miss a pose or two half way)!

Day Four.

Still with audio. It's better for timing - to get through the routine within 90 minutes. Can’t hold poses as long as the ‘official’ count (I also think I read somewhere that it is better as a beginner to get the posture as good as you can get it and hold for shorter time - increase the time with experience). Well that works for me, for now.

Still feeling nauseous. Can’t wait for the day when I notice some benefit to this. Later during the day I noticed I do have more energy (amazingly).

 

Day Five.

Stuck with 90 minute audio. Feeling irritable. Very tired. Can’t seem to get the rhythm for the pranayama (standing deep breathing) and I want to I'm sure the breathing is key and have read reports of other people, where everything fell into place for them once they got the breathing right.

Between my own mental chatter and the audio mp3, I'm a long, long, way from Patanjali's 'mind settling into silence'. ...and I'm getting irritable that my mind is so busy, but I suppose that's to be expected when doing something new.

 

Day Six.

Decided today to forego the videos and mp3 and see if I can do the whole routine in silence - just using the wall poster as a guide to  remind me of the sequence. I can still hear Bikram in my head which is a good thing I suppose at this stage - because I'm remembering tips for the postures.

I am more able to access the silence too and feel much better. One of the things I love most about yoga at home is the silence and solitude.

Still taking breaks between poses but feel much better about the day and  am happy that I was able to practice the whole sequence without the constant input from mp3 or video. I'm more able to find my own rhythm in the postures.

Day Seven.

Ta-da! Day seven and the end of the first week is in sight! Today my knees/legs feel noticeably stronger. In corpse pose (savasana) I felt the tops of my thighs touch the floor.  To me that means my legs are getting straighter, and my ‘anterior flexors’ (I think that’s what they’re called) must be stretching and relaxing!

 

Well that's the first week completed.  There's still a long way to go before I can even imagine doing the whole sequence 100% without stopping in between poses for a rest, but I feel invigorated, stronger, encouraged and I know it will only be a matter of time, persistence and patience.

Enjoy your week and whatever you do, keep being kind to your body and mind!

with best wishes,

Ruth

beginning yoga, bikram yoga, five tibetans, home yoga, lu jong, yantra yoga

Do We Ever Really Make A Choice?

September 26, 2015

A series of synchronistic events led me to make a choice to do Bikram Yoga...

Before I get into how I prepared the physical environment (see my previous post Preparing for Bikram Yoga at Home), I wanted to share a bit about the decision process. When did I decide I wanted to do Bikram Yoga at home, when a week earlier I hardly knew anything about it? What convinced me? This led me to ponder how we make choices, and do we really ever really make a choice?

Bikram’s book had clear instruction. That was important especially with practicing yoga at home. I felt inspired that I could see a way forward for me, and I also now know from my own experience that my body has a powerful capacity to heal (so does yours even though it may not always feel that way).

Even so, it might appear as though I just got up one morning and impulsively decided to do Bikram Yoga. True, the actual decision was fast, once I’d arrived at the choice point, but that point came as a result of an unfolding process. For some years now I have been living synchronistically, paying very close attention to 'coincidences' and life’s flow: where am I being guided and led? And where is life blocking, saying ‘no, not that way’.

Following the Trail

Some years ago I read The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield, and was coming more and more into the awareness that we are indeed living in a conscious, alive, and aware holographic universe of which we are part. The Universe is constantly informing us, and we it. It is a two way communication. Various experiences had led me to this place (many of which I’ll share over time) but for the purpose of this post I just want to draw attention to the fact that nothing happens in isolation.

Like a flower opening, there is a constantly unfolding process, which we can become aware of if we pay attention to it. As a result of observing this process I can see the many synchronistic events that gradually led up to my ‘decision’ to do Bikram yoga.

It seems funny now, but on reflection (when I first started yoga) I didn’t really believe that I could make progress! I never thought in terms of my body and how it could (and would) change. Even though I’d read about how Vanda Scaravelli only began Yoga when she was 55 and at age 40 (the age I started) I had an idea that maybe I could be like her. Maybe I could be fitter and healthier when I’m 70 than when I was 36? I loved this idea, but that’s all it was. An idea.

Limiting Beliefs

Actually practicing yoga, and experiencing myself practicing yoga, was a different story. I soon came up against the stark reality of just how inflexible and limited my body was. The reason I mention that here, is because I didn’t at that time question the permanence of ‘my inflexible body’. Yoga to me, at that point, drew my attention to just how much I couldn’t do. It is only now, with hindsight and experience, that I can see just how easily we accept our own limitations without question.

Approaching yoga from that limited standpoint was tough. It became a chore, a range of movements that I went through in the name of 'keeping fit and healthy'. I believed that ‘arthritis’ was here to stay and didn’t expect any ‘progress’, nor did I see much (no surprise there then)! Even though I'd had minor surgery to remove a small piece of loose cartilage from a knee joint, this reinforced my limited belief that ‘my knee won’t bend’. When in fact, it was the very thing that had restored the potential for a full range of motion.

I’d had a ‘locking’ knee since a fracture when I was 14 years of age, so I had lived with (and reinforced) the idea that ‘my knee won’t bend’ for a very long time. At one point it was true that my knee really couldn’t bend, but now things were different. At first it still couldn’t bend simple because it was stiff after 26 years of limited motion, and the supporting ligaments had contracted and withered, but all of that could be worked on. Now the only limitation remaining, was my mind.

In the fifteen years between then and now, the thing that has changed the most has been my mind. A multitude of synchronistic events has led me from one trail to another, each of which has challenged another limiting belief and led me to a different experience of myself. (I might add here that I don't see this as hopping from one thing to the next but rather a progression to the next important step, like when we complete first grade we move to second grade).

"No, not that way"

I began with hatha yoga, which I practiced for 7 years. Then when I tried to sign up for Sivananda Yoga training in India I met with block event, after block event. I was jumping through hoops trying to get on that course and it wasn’t happening! I experienced lost application forms, difficulties trying to connect with someone, unanswered calls, I even got to India and at the visa office was told NOT to do any yoga training (since my visa wouldn’t allow it)! It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a ‘flow event’.

When I returned from India I was staying with a friend who told me he’d just done the teacher training for the Five Tibetan Yogas (Sometimes called the Five Tibetan Movements, Five Tibetan Rites or simply the Five Tibetans). That first morning, as he was leaving for work, he handed me the whole coursebook and said ‘take a look if you like’. While he was out his phone rang and I answered it. It was from a friend of his who’d also just completed the teacher training too. She was home most days so we agreed to do an exchange, I’d give her some life coaching and she’d teach me the Five Tibetans (there are more synchronicities - too many to go into here - that also connected with Tibet and the Tibetan system).

Choose The Path In Front of  You

So I stopped practicing hatha yoga and for a while focused only on the Five Tibetans. Now I know some people feel the five tibetans isn’t ‘real yoga’, but it was the first time I experienced a sense of progress. I’d found something I could do that was appropriate for my level, and I actually felt I was getting somewhere rather than just struggling to go through the motions.

Doing the Five Tibetans daily over time significantly improved my fitness levels. Around 2011 I came across the Lu Jong method taught by Tulku Lama Lobsang and learned that too.  It is somewhat gentler than the Five Tibetans and my daily practice became a 'warm up' with Lu Jong and then the Five Tibetans. On days when I didn’t have enough time, or couldn’t do them both for some reason, I would at least do the Lu Jong just to keep the energy channels open.

By doing something daily for several years, I lost any thought of 'arthritis'. I might be a bit stiff in the mornings (who isn't!), but I always felt great after doing some 'yoga' practice, whether it be Lu Jong or the Five Tibetans.

I became fascinated with the whole subject of the Tibetan yogas, especially after seeing the movie “The Yogis of Tibet”. I learned that what they are practising is Yantra Yoga. Yantra is the original Tibetan yoga of which the Five Tibetans and Lu Jong are adaptations. In September 2013 I signed up for a weekend of “Yantra Yoga for Beginners”, with John Renshaw in London, and it was the toughest thing I’ve ever done!

I bought the book "Yantra Yoga: The Tibetan Yoga of Movement" by Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and came home fully enthused, but my enthusiasm gradually waned and became disappointment (in myself) and disillusionment. I bought videos, and tried learning the postures, but didn’t feel as though I had enough structure to translate what I’d learned from the weekend, into a daily practice for myself. It’s like I had all the ingredients but needed the recipe - a bridge. Also I don’t live anywhere near a Yantra class and there are very few around.

Having a systematic method is a very important piece for those of us practicing any kind of yoga at home. How do we get correct instruction and how can we then translate that into something workable, a recipe, a method? For a while I followed the method for Tibetan yoga given by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche in his book “Awakening The Sacred Body”. I also took an online course, with a series of instruction videos, but felt as though once again I was going through movements but not seeing any progress.

Perfect Timing

So I was really on a kind of plateau wondering what would be next, when my friend recommended reading Bikram’s Beginning Yoga Class (see my earlier blog). As soon as I saw the clear pictures and instruction, I knew I had a recipe. And by now (compared to 8 years ago when I was trying to get on the Sivananda course)  I was different. I was fitter (thank you Five Tibetans), my mental attitude had changed, and I now had experience of, and total belief in, my body’s own ability to heal and change. Her suggestion dropped in with perfect timing, just when I needed it, like a ripe seed falling on fertile ground!

So was it really ‘my’ choice at all, or just the next step in an ever-unfolding process of evolution? Is Bikram Yoga now ‘the end’? I doubt it. I am still very much interested in Yantra Yoga, I just needed a bridge that could get me from my present level of fitness and (in)flexibility to the more advanced levels of fitness and flexibility required for Yantra. Maybe life stepped in and drew my attention to Bikram Yoga as a perfect bridge (and a good recipe). Who knows? For now, this is where I’m at… and that is constantly changing.

On a deeper level we might wonder if we ever, really, really, make a choice. If we are able to take a step back and watch the process of our lives unfolding, we might see a series of synchronicities as life just unfolds itself through us… and if we catch the patterns, we might even be able to predict what our next ‘choice’ will be!

 

Below is an excellent video with the voice of Alan Watts, on choice...

home yoga
beginners, beginning yoga, bikram yoga, home yoga, preparation

Mental Preparation is Everything

September 21, 2015

Bikram Yoga at home took more mental preparation than I thought...

Bikram yoga at home took more planning and mental preparation than any other yoga I've done. An important part of any yoga practice is preparation, and that seems even more important when we intend to practice at home. Aside from the physical considerations like space it was the mental preparation that made the biggest difference.

In addition to these basic considerations,  doing Bikram Yoga at home takes a bit more mental preparation because of the intense heat and how it affects our body and mind.

How I came across Bikram Yoga

During the past two winters I had experienced some problems with sprained tendons, which set me back in my practice, and so I made a mental not to myself to make sure I was warmed up properly before doing any yoga. I'd heard of Bikram yoga but didn't know much about it, other than I had the idea you had to practically be a gymnast or athlete to begin with. (Unlike me: a very inflexible 55 year old, weighing in at about 260 pounds)!

Then a friend of mine was thinking about starting Bikram Yoga at a studio near her house and she asked me if I knew anything about it. "Isn't that the hot yoga?", I asked. She didn't know so we Googled it! And it is. (According to Bikram it's the original hot yoga). So I was a bit dubious. I didn't know much about it but it didn't seem right exercising in all that heat, right? But my friend went along to the Bikram studio in her home town and came home fully signed up, and with a book "Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class" by the founder of Bikram Yoga, Bikram Choudhury. "You should get this", she said, "you'd love it".

It started with a book...

Well of course I was curious now, so I ordered a copy. At this point I wasn't intending to do Bikram Yoga as such, I just wanted to know more about it for my own mental preparation to see if there were elements to incorporate into my regular daily practice, but of course my friend was right. I do love it. 15 years ago I started with Richard Hittleman's classic "Yoga For Health" and then read Vanda Scaravelli's "Awakening the Spine" (I also have books on Tibetan Yoga but that's for a later post).

bikram yoga at home

Both are great books, but what I love about Bikram's book is the clarity of explanation and the pictures, especially the contrast between the 'ideal' pose and the 'real' pose. (Mostly I'm aspiring to progress from where I'm at to the 'real'... the 'ideal' is still a long shot for me)!

After reading the book I was inspired... and hooked. Not just because of the book, but something important in me had shifted.

As I read Bikram's book, I noticed something fundamentally different in me that when I was reading Hittleman's book all those years ago. Back then I was reading while thinking 'well I'll just have to do it to the degree I can'. I had accepted my physical limitations without question.

Now as I read I could actually see myself reaching those more challenging poses. I have enough experience to know, that my body can change, it just takes time, patience, and know-how. Already from Bikram's book I could see the 'goal' of the 'ideal pose', but I also had a map of how I could actually get there, and I am more mentally prepared in knowing that it will work if I just give it time.

Learning the right way

Bikram's emphasis for everyone is on learning the correct way. From my own experience I know that if you're doing a pose wrong you can be doing it wrong for years, if not for life! And if that is the case, not only will you not make progress, but also you will not gain the health benefits of yoga.

At this point I should mention that it would be ideal to go to a Bikram yoga class and learn with a qualified teacher in person. I'm not against teachers and have had some wonderful yoga teachers in the past. It's just that in my case there is no Bikram Center within traveling distance of where I'm living, and I already do yoga at home anyway. So for me this is a progression of my existing home yoga practice, but if you have the opportunity to get to a class I suggest you do so that you get started in the right way from the get go.

It is probably more important for people who are learning Bikram yoga at home to check, and keep checking, that you are learning and practising the right way. This means understanding what the pose is supposed to be about, and what you can do in the meantime to support your body in getting there.

Thankfully we have something now that we didn't have 15 years ago, and it's name is YouTube! Thank goodness for the kind and generous people who take the time and trouble to make videos and put them on YouTube.

In Bikram's yoga there is a carefully chosen sequence of 26 poses. It is important to know how to do each one correctly, and to do them in the correct sequence.  I did a search and came across a YouTube playlist giving more help and explanation about the 26 pose sequence (thank you to the people who made the videos, and to the person who put this collection together).

Although you do have to be careful. Get informed (read the book - Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class - at least twice) and make sure you are always doing each pose correctly. In the above collection the instruction for the 'awkward pose' is a good tutorial, but it is incomplete as far as Bikram's version is concerned. To do Bikram yoga at home in the right way make sure you have read the book and have all the complete steps correct within each pose.

After reading the book (at least twice) and watching all the above videos (at least twice) I felt I had enough understanding to begin Bikram yoga at home. But how was I going to remember the sequence? Fortunately the kind people at YogaVida (Tucson) have made a document available online, showing The Twenty-Six Postures of Bikram Method Yoga which you can download here (thank you YogaVida).

It is a good idea to print this out and stick it on the wall so you can see it from where you are doing your yoga practice. Of course it's only as big as you can print it (most printers are US letter or A4 size) but it does the job - one glance and you can see what's next in the sequence.

Enter Bikram himself...

Almost ready to begin Bikram yoga at home, just a couple of more things... what about timing? How long to stay in each pose? And do you break in-between or keep going from one to the next? Enter Bikram himself... well not in person, but you can get him teaching the full sequence on mp3 audio (you'll need vol.1 and vol.2 for the full sequence). It is invaluable to hear Bikram himself, not only for the timing, but for the tips he gives you to ensure you are learning each posture in the right way.

So far I had prepared myself by

  • being mentally prepared
  • reading Bikram's Beginning Yoga Class book
  • watching videos
  • putting up a wall chart and
  • getting the audio mp3 of a full class

 

So with my mental preparation all set I was almost ready.... but not quite. Remember Bikram Yoga is hot yoga? The next step in preparing for Bikram yoga at home is to find out what is needed and figure out how to prepare the physical environment - and I'll cover that in the next post. Stay tuned!

 

 

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