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Listening to Yourself is a Skill: How to set up a yoga and/or meditation practice

This week I’ve had 2 conversations about how to start and maintain either a yoga or a meditation practice to help calm their minds.  First off, I’m great at maintaining a yoga practice and not so consistent at maintaining a meditative practice, but let me explain.

I maintain a daily Ashtanga practice (everyday except saturdays and moon days) and I start at 4:30am and end at 6:30am.   And I don’t miss.   Ever.  In the beginning, I practiced without sleep, stomach flu, a hemorrhoid (painful as hell), with bad knees, wrists, tired shoulders, pulled muscles, bad moods, hungry, focused, unfocused, jet lag, in cold rooms, crazy hot rooms, and a crazy all body rash (must have been fun for the instructors adjusting me).  I do think that my dedication can be a bit of a strength and fault since I do always show up, but on somedays that I might need to take off, I don’t show myself much love.   Softening my brain and rigidity is my area of self improvement whereas others it might be developing a stronger sense of discipline.  We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

Mediation on the other hand comes and goes. Ashtanga in itself is a moving meditation and right now, that is what I use for my meditative side.  However, I did keep a practice for about a year and took a 3 month course that I found useful. Useful in that I found out that I really don’t like long sitting meditations.   I’m good up to about 25 minutes and past that, I just lose interest.  So a formal meditation session right now is just not in my thing.  But I did maintain one for a time  and for both the yoga and the meditation here is what I can offer:

1.  Have a space to do it in.   This creates a certain ceremonious aspect to it that helps turn a switch in your brain.   Rather than just doing it where you do less brain focused activities (i.e. TV room or bedroom), this way when you enter to your space, your brain becomes trained into like a meditative/yogic Pavlov’s dog.   My yoga room has a heater that I turn on at 4am when I get up, and when I return at 430, it’s quiet hum, the heat and the lamp light, switch my sleepy brain into instant awake.

2.  Make time for it.  It doesn’t have to be the same time, but schedule it into your day.  Obviously if you do it in the morning, then it is off your list and you can enjoy the effects all day.  If you do it at night, then do it so you finish at least 3 hours before bedtime    If not, your system might be too charged up to sleep.  The morning offers you a little more stiffness which in the beginning can be discouraging, but that will soon fade and it provides a natural buffer to injury.  If you’ve practiced both in the morning and at night, you’ll agree at just how much more flexible you are at night.  And this increase in flexibility can make you more vulnerable and you might have more moments that you think “wow, I’m really deep into this pose” only to wake up with a few tender spots or weaknesses (aka injury).  As well, if you practice at night on Monday, don’t practice in the morning on Tuesday since there is no time to recuperate.   So if you are practicing 3-4 times a week, you can juggle times. But if you want the 6 day a week, then you’ll have to pick on a weekly basis.  If you decide to practice in the morning, the getting up early is the easy part.  The challenge is managing your life about 12 hours before to ensure that you get to bed early.    That is the real trick (see next post).

3.  Look at quality.   I used to get frustrated in meditation when I heard of some of the meditation teachers sitting for hours and hours and I had trouble with 5 minutes.  I’d force myself to sit much longer than was actually productive just so I could tell myself, I sat for 45 minutes when in reality, the last 30 minutes were simply clock watching and day dreaming.   I like a quote from a yoga book that said a little daily honest intention takes you a long way over the course of a year.  It’s true.   Things change over long tracks of time and not over days or weeks.

As far as yoga goes, I have to admit, I rarely shorten my practice unless I’m traveling and I just don’t have the time.   I have to work on this.   Somedays I’m just out of energy but I still push through the entire series and I shouldn’t.   Or I hold the closing pose (lifting up seated lotus) as long as I can every day, but there are days when I should shorten it.  I know.   I’m trying to be more conscious of this and really look at each pose as an island and keep my focus there and not worried about just getting the whole practice in.   Slowly, slowly.

And to be honest, that really is the key to staring and keeping up the practice: space, time and quality.

Yoga and mediation are about getting to know yourself and that is a skill.

A skill takes discipline.   And by allowing each day to be different in your practice, you allow yourself the discipline to show up.   To try.

Remember what Pattabhi Jois (the father of Ashtanga yoga) is most famous for saying , ” Practice, practice, practice, practice”. That in itself takes you along way.  At least past the point of where it is an effort to show up.  After that, you’ll find it hard to pull yourself away.

A long post I know, but the subject needs nothing less if you want to do it right.  I hope something speaks to you in the logistics of setting up your practice.  Next post will be on developing support structures that ensure the longevity of your practice and the least amount of daily friction.

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