Five enhancements to your regular yoga routine that will keep your practice thriving on the days you don’t have time to hit the mat.
Do yoga daily? When it feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, that can be unrealistic. So how do you make yoga a daily practice? Work with what you’ve got. And when you don’t have a lot of time, there are lots of ways you can infuse the yoga benefits we love and crave into every day.
Most of these practices are from other branches of yoga, besides the physical asana, that I draw from not only to enhance what I do on the mat, but also to connect the dots when I can’t be consistent. I also love to use one asana, a “one pose wonder,” to target common everyday ailments when I’m not able to practice much. One of the reasons we love the physical practice is that we can feel the “instant gratification” and shifting of energy – prana – that results. Even one pose can shift prana. One strong breath, or visualizing your “happy place” can do the same. Read on for tips to help you make yoga doable, daily.
1) Targeted One-Pose Wonders
Outside of a vinyasa flow and on their own, these basic poses can help address everyday ailments that you don’t have time to “treat” with a longer practice.
Trouble Sleeping: Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-the-Wall)
A lot of insomnia is caused by not being able to transition properly into bedtime. The mind races with to-do lists, what happened that day, what needs to happen tomorrow. Legs-up-the-wall-pose is a wonderful way to signal both body and mind that it’s time to wind down, so that you can sleep.
How to: Stand with your side against a wall so that your shoulder is touching it. Sit down, maintaining that close connection to the wall. In one movement, swing your legs gently up the wall and lay your torso down on the floor. You’ll then need to shift your hips away from the wall a few inches; experiment with a position that feels right for you. If you have tight hamstrings or lower back issues, you can put a folded blanket underneath your hips for support. Once you get settled, make sure you have some distance between your feet and take your arms away from your body, palms up. Let your head rock gently from side to side; bring it back to center and close your eyes. Stay here anywhere from 5-15 minutes, focusing all attention on your breath.
Back Pain: Bhujangasana (Cobra Vinyasa)
For many, stress shows up in the low back, especially if you’ve been sedentary for a few days. Release your back by gently undulating your spine with cobra push-ups.
How to: Lay on your stomach, placing your hands palms down just under your shoulders. Don’t let your elbows drop away from your body, have them point straight back behind you.
Push gently on your hands to slowly lift your upper body and head; don’t move quickly, and don’t come up too high. Keep your elbows soft – if you end up with straight, bracing arms, you’ve come up too high. Use this lifting up movement to take an inhale. On your exhale, slowly and gently lower your upper body down, letting your forehead touch the floor.
Repeat this push-up ten times. Think about undulating your spine slowly and gently. You can also hold cobra for 5-10 breaths, repeat 2-3 sets, coming down in between sets.
Feeling Frazzled: Uttanasana (Forward Fold)
Forward bends soothe the nervous system. It’s easy to do this almost anywhere. For a restorative twist, you can balance your bum against a wall.
How to: Stand with your feet parallel and hip width apart. Fold forward slowly on an exhale, allowing your arms to release forward. If your hamstrings are tight or your low back is sensitive, bend your knees.
Be sure to let your head and neck completely relax, and keep your knees slightly bent if needed. Otherwise, work towards straight legs to open up the muscles in the backs of the legs.
Let all your stress pour out the top of your head. Hold for 15-20 deep breaths and roll up to standing slowly with an inhale.
Common Cold: Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog)
Downward dog encourages blood flow to the sinuses, and may even help drain them too (so have Kleenex handy). If you are extremely congested, take a few breaths in down dog and then come into child’s pose for a few breaths before resuming down dog. Keep alternating the poses. Be gentle with yourself.
How to: Come onto your hands and knees, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up and back as you push the floor away with your hands. Hold for 10 deep breaths and then drop to your knees, resting in child’s pose.
Headache: Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Child’s pose relaxes in the upper back and neck, where accumulated tension can cause headaches. It’s a very restful and restorative pose that helps cue a time out for mind and body.
How to: Come to hands and knees. Push your seat back to your heels; take a little space between your knees, so that they can support your shoulders. Your forehead should be on the floor, arms by your sides with the palms up. If your forehead doesn’t comfortably come to the floor, place a yoga block, small pillow or even a book underneath it. Stay. Rest. Breathe. For as long as you need. Rock gently from side to side to massage your forehead – this is great for headaches. When you’re finished, sit up slowly.
Upset Stomach/To Ease Digestion: Ardha Matsyendrasana (Simple Seated Twist)
If your stomach is bothering you, especially from stress, try a gentle twist to calm it down. Twisting activates your internal organs and aids digestion. (Note: don’t twist deeply immediately after a meal, or if you ate too much. Give it a little time and then twist very gently.)
How to: From a seated position with legs extended, cross your right leg over your left knee. You can keep the bottom leg straight, or bring the left foot outside the right hip. Turn to your right and hug your right knee in with your left arm. Have your belly button kiss your inner right thigh. To twist deeper, take your left elbow outside the right knee. As you inhale, straighten your spine and extend the crown on your head up; as you exhale, keep twisting. Hold for 5-10 breaths, and repeat on the other side.
2) Meditation Minutes
Many people are intimidated by meditation, or are more drawn to the physical asana practice. Let’s face it, we don’t value sitting still in our culture. But you don’t have to sit still for long periods of time in a perfect lotus pose in order to meditate. I teach a meditation practice that emphasizes the cumulative benefits of being able to change how you react to a stressful situation; instead of the “fight-or-flight” response, you can trigger a deepening of your breath, and a stepping back from the situation in order to gain perspective. Do that by closing your eyes, bringing your awareness to your breath, and focusing on nothing else but how you breathe for a few minutes. Or even just one.
There are many elaborate mantras for meditation, but I believe that one of the most effective is also the simplest: two words, inhale and exhale. As you breathe in, think inhale. As you breathe out, think exhale. Close your eyes and do that for one minute. These minutes will add up.
I’ve recently become intrigued by the meditative benefits of mala beads. You can repeat your breath mantra while rubbing the beads between your thumb and middle finger. This adds a small movement to the meditation that helps direct ungrounded energy. Some cultures use the term “worry beads.” You can wear them around your neck or wrist to have them with you anytime you need them. I’m sold!
“Go to your Happy Place” has become a cliché for dealing with stress. But visualization is a practice that has also been around for centuries. Picturing a place or moment that brought you great joy can have a calming effect. Like meditation, it requires concentration to call up these images in your mind’s eye; close your eyes and establish a steady rhythm with your breath before you visualize. You can also look at a picture before closing your eyes, and hold the image in your mind’s eye as you breathe. Or try visualizing yourself doing yoga.
You can add this component to your breath work too. As you breathe in, visualize that you are taking in fresh air, fresh energy, new possibilities, happiness, anything positive. As you exhale, visualize stale air, negative energy, anything that it not serving you leaving your body.
If you are feeling very anxious, visualizing yourself in a calmer state can move you in that direction. There are medical studies that support how visualization can change the body’s physiology, more powerful persuasion on the mind-body connection.
4) Daily Sutra
You could spend a lifetime studying the Yoga Sutras, the ancient text authored by the sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are the guidebook of classical or Raja (royal) yoga. Written at least 1,700 years ago, the Sutras are made up of 195 aphorisms (Sutras), or words of wisdom. For most of us, small doses can give us philosophical insight into our asana practice, and practical advice that we can apply off the mat. Yes, some of them might leave you wondering, what exactly did that mean? But some of them might really resonate. The Sutras I am always going back to for daily inspiration are:
1.2 Yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ – Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind — which is one of the reasons we all adore it. This one doesn’t really require much elaboration, but check out some vintage Chi, Yoga Philosophy for Fall, if you’d like to read more on what I have to say about my favorite Sutra.
2.46 Sthira sukham asanam – The connection to the earth (yoga posture, or asana) should be steady and joyful; a balance between effort and ease that feels comfortable and challenging at the same time. While this Sutra is aimed at the physical practice of yoga, striking a balance between effort and ease seems like a good thing to aspire to on a daily basis as well. More vintage Chi on this Sutra here.
The Yoga Sutra translation that I like best is in the second half of the book Ashtanga Yoga – Practice & Philosophy by Gregor Maehle.
Another book that offers opportunities for daily yoga reflections is Meditations from the Mat – Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga. It combines inspiring quotes, yoga philosophy, and relating yoga to the challenges of modern life in 365 daily doses.
5) Kapalabhati Pranayama
This breath work is a kriya, or cleansing practice. As a highly practical yogini, I like to do the stuff that works. And this one really does. It feels cleansing and detoxifying, as well as energizing. It’s called “skull shining.” I like to shine my skull to wake up in the morning, or when I need an energy boost in the afternoon. It’s intensely wonderful. Don’t do it after you just ate.
Kapalabhati emphasizes the exhale; the inhale becomes automatic. The short, sharp exhalations work the core muscles (you might want to put your hand on your belly and feel it drawing in quickly and forcefully with each exhale). You use the same action you would to blow your nose. In fact, you probably want to have Kleenex handy.
- Take a few deep breaths in and out of your nose.
- Inhale to a comfortable level (not fully), and begin short, sharp exhalations through your nose. Start with 25 and work up to 50. Slow down the exhalations towards the end of the set.
- Take a few deep breaths, and repeat 2 more sets. You can experiment with speeding up or slowing down your rhythm, depending on how you feel (if you get lightheaded, slow down).
- Finish with deep breaths.
Photo Credit: Larry Stanley, Big-Sky-People.com
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