The Evolution of a Practice

SimplifyWhen I used to write about yoga for a local magazine, the numbers of Americans practicing yoga was about 20 million. Today, about 6 years later, that number has nearly doubled, edging up towards to 40 million. Globally, the estimate is about 300 million and the number of over 50s practicing yoga has tripled over the last four years.

People often wonder what this thing called yoga actually is. Difficult to answer in just a sentence but to me YOGA is the exploration, awareness, and response that informs how I (might best) relate to the world inside myself and to the larger world around me.

A large part of this doesn’t involve the physical yoga postures or asana practice, but that’s usually where people begin. It is a good way into the wider exploration. Most, practice on a mat and typically in a group class. Certainly, it’s where I began.

Not knowing anything about yoga when starting out, I first practiced Ashtanga yoga and then when I began teaching it was a somewhat modified Vinyasa practice. Both involve strong, physical, almost gymnastic-like movements linked with the breath. Ashtanga, in particular, is meant to be practiced for 1.5hrs each day, 6 days of the week.

My practice today no longer resembles this in the least. Today, my physical yoga practice is interweaved throughout the day, with broader concepts in the background.

  • Most often it does not take place on my mat.
  • Most often it is less than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Most often it’s a response to whatever I feel might best serve me, at any given time.
  • No special place, clothing, or time.

Which I think might be a helpful way to practice for many who don’t have the time, money, or perhaps ability to get to a studio or gym.

What does this practice look like?

Join me over the next few months and we’ll look at little snippets of yoga, movement, breath practices that can be done in a couple of minutes or combined to make your own personal practice. On your own time, in your own space, that fits into whatever your life demands of you.

Most important to me is to teach people what they can do for themselves. Provide agency. The ability for you to have the tools and the freedom to make choices that enhance your wellbeing and your life.

  • In October we’ll focus on the feet.
  • November will be all about the shoulder joint.
  • In December, we’ll get into the hip joint.

I’ve chosen these particular areas to focus on as they tend to be where problems, pains, issues show up for most people I talk and work with.

You can find me talking about this on Facebook, and Instagram, if you want to follow along.

 

Just, … breathe

People often sit at their desk, laptop, TV, or plugged into a smartphone with their earphones in. Listening to music, podcasts, videos on YouTube, working, or whatever.

As an experiment, the next time you put your earphones on, don’t ‘listen’ to anything except your breath.

It may not be as noticeable if you’re on the bus, driving, in an airport or a similar noisy environment. But, still, I think you’ll find it to be … telling.

How are you breathing?

Are you breathing fluidly?

Is there equanimity on the inhale and exhale. Or is one shorter or longer than the other?

A pause in between may be good. But do you find that you’ve actually stopped breathing? As in not breathing altogether of course, but that your breathing is not fluid. Easy. Continuous. That there is a long pause, perhaps, between the two. That you fail to begin the inhale, until long after the exhale.

  • Why might that be?
  • How do your neck muscles feel, while you’re noticing ‘this’ breath?
  • How does your torso or trunk feel?
  • How does your abdomen/belly feel?
  • Do you notice or feel anything at all?
  • Do you sense anything?
  • What might this noticing, this awareness tell you?

In the meantime, try this.

Inhale, and exhale, along with the shape below.  Expansion, contraction.

breath

I’m curious to hear of your experience.

I can say for sure, I noticed a few things about my own breathing patterns.

When there is quiet, what do I hear?

(Though we’re in the midst of a cold winter, I find I can ‘listen’ more clearly to my breath when swimming or floating in water, similar to listening with earphones in as above. Or if I submerge myself in bathwater. So choose what’s best for you, whatever might be your season.)

Please feel free to comment, in the space below.

 

What can you do today?

Most of the time I’m not sure where I’m at with my practice.

(I tend to substitute ‘my practice’ at any given time with ‘my life’, to get to the bigger picture).

  • Am I doing enough?
  • What should I be working on?
  • Is there enough time in the day?
  • What comes first?
  • What’s most important?

I used to get, oh, so bogged down in the details. I would be stuck because there were so many areas I needed to work on, I didn’t know where to start.

What I’ve learned over the past 3-4 years in looking at the research, the evidence about movement, manual therapy, yoga, etc. it’s become clear to me it’s not so much what I choose to do

… but that I choose to DO something.

Today I will go for a skate. Hopefully, I will remember to do a few useful stretches / movements before I begin. I know that doing these will be of benefit to me. Particularly in the cold weather and, well, because I’m getting older.

Canal

When I feel the muscles in my back, shoulders, and face tighten from the cold I will try to remember to release some of the tension there. Soften.

I will try to remember that LESS is MORE.

I’ve only been skating once this year, so it probably doesn’t make sense for me to skate the WHOLE canal.

Listen to the whispers that tell me when I’m feeling fatigued.

It is enough.

Sit back down. Unlace my skates. Grab some hot chocolate and call it a day, … well done.

What will you do, today?

 

 

Yoga Tools – Awareness

imagesThe bumper sticker on our last Yoga Tool was to recognize that just as we take a drink when we are thirsty, eat when we are hungry, we need rest when we are weary. All of which requires first, awareness of a particular sensation in our body.

There are signs and signals speaking to us all the time, but are we really listening?

Are you like me in that you eat regularly on a schedule or do you listen to the signal telling you when you’re hungry? Do you sleep only at certain times of the day or are you paying attention to the signs that you need to rest? These are two indicators built into the survival mechanism of our body. Similarly, if you enter a room with a smell so strong it seems toxic you know to immediately step out again. If you are suddenly ill bringing up something you ate, again a signal. Your brain’s number one job is to keep you safe and protected.

Pain is no different. It is a signal from your brain, a call to action.

Below is a quick and easy Tool to begin learning to sense information your body or your brain, is providing. I often use it in the beginning of a yoga class, to bring some awareness to what we’re about to do.

one-to-fiveLie with your back on the floor. Bend your knees and place your feet hips-width apart. Let your knees gently fall towards each other, resting easy and comfortable.

Now, begin:

To sense what you feel in terms of your body’s contact with the floor. What parts of your body are in contact with the floor? Is the surface of the floor hard, soft? Are you comfortable? Do you feel the support of the ground below? Lean in. Feel grounded. Feel supported.

To feel your breath moving through your body. Where do you first notice your breath? In your chest, your lungs? Your nostrils? In your belly perhaps? Does the air feel smooth flowing in, and out? Does it feel forced, soft, cool, warm? Can you sense movement, in tune with your breath, elsewhere in your body?

To notice the tone of your muscles. Are your muscles at rest, tense, or sore? Where in particular do you notice any tension? Where might you find softness? Can you soften the areas around your eyes? Let your jaw, feel relaxed. Your tongue loose and soft in your mouth. Can you contract a muscle somewhere and then for contrast, let it go?

To pay attention to your heartbeat. Can you sense it? Can you feel it? Where do you feel it?

Going even deeper, can you feel or sense the blood flowing through your body? 

If you can’t feel a particular sensation, just notice that. Without judgement. Just let it be.

Body / Breath / Musculature / Heartbeat / Bloodflow

5 steps inside…

Take some time each day to first, pay attention. Build awareness.

Practice this once per day over the next week.

*Note: If you’re typically a doer, go-getter, Type-A, cannot sit still type of person, consider doing this AFTER a workout, brisk walk, end of your day, when you’re more likely to be at ease with the sense of quiet and stillness this exercise asks of you.

Yoga Tools – Rest Easy

Life is not easy. For any of us.  There is more than enough to do, day in and day out. Stressors at work, at home or elsewhere.

So cut yourself some slack. Give yourself permission to rest. 

restStart with just 5 minutes.  Do this at least once a day. Do it twice if you like. But do it consistently.

You might want to set a particular time for this. Perhaps at mid-day, or early evening. It’s not often you need to rest first thing in the day and this 5 minutes isn’t meant for sleeping, so not too close to bedtime either.

  1. Either lie down or sit in a comfortable position (*see below for IMG_9231.JPGspecifics). It’s preferable to lay on the floor but if you’re unable to do so, a bed or sofa is fine.
  2. Set a timer for 5 minutes.
  3. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
  4. Begin to breathe in and out through your nose (close your mouth).
  5. Be here for 5 minutes, just breathing naturally. Don’t try to change anything about your breath.
    • Notice where you feel your breath. It might be most noticeable in your nostrils, maybe in your chest or perhaps your abdomen.
    • Notice how your breath is moving. If there’s any particular quality to it such as smooth, interrupted, easy, strained.
    • Then just breathe. And just notice.
    • If your mind wanders, as it’s likely to do, just bring your attention back to your breath. Feel where it’s moving through your body, where you notice it. Try not to judge the wandering of your mind as anything either good or bad.
    • And just breathe. And just notice.
  6. When the timer goes off, slowly open your eyes. Roll over and stand up.

Notice what you feel. Mentally or physically make a note of what you experienced or noticed.

Keep practising for a week.

Check in with me next Tuesday and we’ll expand on this practise.

If… you can’t find 5 minutes in your day? You might want to look at that.

If you have any questions or comments, post them below.

* Positioning if seated

  • Sit forward on a chair so your back is not touching the back upright portion of the chair.
  • See if you can feel your ‘sitting’ bones (ischial tuberosities) and let your weight be supported there.
  • Have your feet planted on the floor, hip-width apart.
  • Hands comfortably on your lap.

* Positioning if lying down

  • Lie on the ground, perhaps on a carpet or mat if available. If you have back pain, you may want to use a rolled up towel, yoga mat, etc. to slip under your bent knees for support.
  • Hands can be by your side or placed on your belly.
  • Notice the parts of your body supported by the hard surface of the floor (heels, hips, shoulder area, head).

Do you feel stuck?

babies
It used to be so easy

Look at a baby or a young child for a few moments and you’ll notice they make all kinds of movements, in all kinds of ways.  I watched a video yesterday and thought back to the crazy, wild, wonderful things we did as kids with no thought or consideration about how to move our bodies.

Look at old or aging people and what do you notice? I suspect it would be unsteadiness, stiffness, feet shuffling, bending or moving with great care.  For me, the word rigidity comes to mind.

Rigidity – Not able to be bent easily, not easily changed, not willing to change opinions or behavior.

What happened between then and now, new and old?  What does the future look like in terms of your body’s ability to get around in the world?

Today I noticed a question on a Facebook site, “If there was one thing you could change about yoga what would it be?”  

One of the responses was “Having people talk about flexibility the moment I mention I teach yoga.”

Flexible – able to change or be changed easily according to the situation; able to bend or be bent easily without breaking.

You could also add – the ability to be easily modified, willingness to change or compromise.

People always link yoga with flexibility which can be true. I want you to think of flexibility, however, in a slightly different context than the ‘bendy’ flexible yogi.

You don’t need to have a ‘bendy’ body to do yoga or live your life. However, you DO want to be able to manage the task at hand, whatever that might be for you personally.

You want to have options, multiple ways of navigating rather than narrow lines, restrictions, or rigidity.

How can you do this?  How do you go from feeling stuck and/or experiencing chronic pain to feeling flexible in this context?

That you have options in your body, in your life?

Follow along… and we’ll find a way to bridge the gap.

(To receive future blog posts, please scroll to the top of the page and on the right-hand side click the FOLLOW button)

 

5 Posts to Read First

new_start_here

Thanks for dropping by!

If you’re someone who’s looking to create better health and wellbeing for yourself or others, you’re in the right place. I provide information, resources and tools that are simple and doable by anyone, anywhere and at any stage in life.

Why yoga?

Yoga is unique as it helps to focus your attention. You learn to notice, sense and see what might benefit you in terms moving towards long-term health and healing.

Start by reading these posts first:

1. Do you feel stuck?

bigstock-Businessman-Over-Stretched-66353926-760x505

Look at a baby or a young child for a few moments and you’ll notice they make all kinds of movements, in all kinds of ways.  I watched a video yesterday and thought back to the crazy, wild, wonderful things we did as kids with no thought or consideration about how to move our bodies.

Look at old or aging people and what do you notice? …

(click here to continue reading)

2. First, Pay Attention

Pay Attention

Why is it you sometimes need to visit a doctor, chiro, physical therapist, massage therapist, etc. time and time again for the same problem? They adjust you, work with you in a manner that seems to provide relief but within a few weeks or months, you’re back in their office again. I have been to them all and credit is due in helping with immediate pain or to fix something.

Sometimes it works long term.

Sometimes, only temporarily.

I want to speak to the temporary fix……

(click here to continue reading).

3. It turns out – we are adaptable

brain

The most fascinating thing I’ve learned about the human body is we are adaptable. I think my brother, the evolutionary biologist, would be happy to hear me say that.

Tissue can change.

Our brain can change.

(click here to continue reading).

4. Change the brain, the nervous system, the body

One of the most important changes in the last 14 years or so is the emerging field of neuroplasticity.

neuroplasticity-and-technology-4-728

Years ago, when our kids were little, I recall speaking with my cousin who has a degree in psychology. We spoke about the development of children and she told me how important it was to interact with them, stimulate them, provide them with challenges. The reason being, that “scientists once thought that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life. ….

(click here to continue reading).

5. What I Know For Sure

What I also continue to learn is we really can’t be absolutely sure, about any of this. But, stay with me …

uncertainty-is-an-uncomfortable-position-but-certainty-is-an-absurd-one-quote-1

As soon as I discover something to share or write about on a blog post, it may soon be out of date. Though research leads us in the most reliable way we know at any one time, it’s only as good as the next study that proves it is slightly different than we first thought (see neuroplasticity).

There is constant change in what we thought we knew, what we’re now learning and what’s yet to come.

(click here to continue reading).