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to practice or not to practice: ladies’ holiday

There are as many takes on yoga asana practice during menstruation as there are euphemisms for it. Ladies’ holiday, your moon (not to be confused with the moon), ladies’ days, your flow, the curse, crimson tide, the rag, that time of the month, and, refreshingly, your period, are a few you’ll hear in wider yoga discourse.

The official line in Ashtanga is not to practice at all during your “moon.” Iyengar discourages twists, inversions, deep backbends and binds, and suggests specific practices based on what you’ve got going on (e.g. heavy cramps, bloating, no period at all). You can find these in Geeta Iyengar’s Yoga, A Gem for Women. Many schools advise not to invert, while others say listen to your body and figure out what’s best for you. I’ve heard Cyndi Lee of Om Yoga advise that women should invert, because it’s only a patriarchal edict that tells women they can’t. Honestly, I see the logic in all of it.

Don’t practice at all? This is the Ashtanga way, as K. Pattabhi Jois told women not to practice during their periods, and for traditionalists, what Jois says, goes. Yes, it’s easy to forget that is Yoga is a tradition developed by and for men. In India, women write books with lengthy introductions to convince readers that yoga is something women can and should do (e.g. Yoga, A Gem for Women). It’s hard to imagine in the female-majority yoga rooms of the west, but yoga is not historically a women’s endeavor.

I didn’t even have to add “yoga” to the “tampax” image search.  Of course she’s wearing white pants. And yes, it really says, “Who would have thought a tampon could get me to that Zen place?” Nothing like a mixed metaphor for ragtime practice.

While not practicing might sound silly to you, understand that Ashtanga is an intense practice that demands mula bandha, which is quite difficult to do during menstruation. I find it’s quite hard to pull up and in when I’m a bit swollen and tender. Do I practice? Usually, yes, but it depends on how I feel. There are some days a year I wake up and say, “No way will that feel okay right now,” and I go back to bed. But often (like last week), I feel great when I’m able to move and stretch my body, which actually seems to tighten and lock up in the days before, but relaxes again when my period starts. I like to practice.

To invert of not to invert? This debate has been going on for quite some time, and it seems to have three camps. The first: Traditionalists who believe that inverting interferes with apana, the downward flow of energy in the body. It is advanced in a retro-ditz-delicate-flower piece by Kathryn Budig on elephant journal. “I officially mark myself as senseless during the preceding days as the first few of the actual holiday. When you can normally find me working flips in a handstand till I can’t see straight, this time of the month it’s more common to find me propped up on the couch, my handy Jane Austen novel du jour next to me, and an artillery of spoons ready to attack a fresh mint and chocolate chip gelato.” Senseless, eh? Hmmm. What exactly is a Jane Austen du jour? Doesn’t she only have 5 or so novels? And Ms Budig reads one every day? How many spoons does one need to “attack” fresh gelato? I prefer to let it warm and soften a bit, so that it glides from bowl to spoon to mouth. In fact, I like to lounge about reading and eating chocolate every day of the month. I certainly don’t limit it to that time.

Budig goes on to say that she believes not practicing on her period is a form of respect. For what? Her teacher? The moon? Patriarchy? Jane Austen? While she doesn’t like the suggestion that “blood will get stuck” if you invert (I’ve never heard it put quite that way before), she does argue that, “logistically speaking if something is trying to get out, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to turn it upside down. Or twist it. Or strain it. Or do anything more than supine postures, snuggling a bolster, light walks and all those bites of chocolate.” Well, logistically, if something is trying to “get out,” it makes a lot of sense to twist it, no? If you wanted fluid out of something soft, you’d twist, right?

This careless argument doesn’t do much to convince me to lie around during my period. And many are turned off by the red-tenting of women around the time of our periods. This second camp is well-covered in this Go With the Flow article on Jezebel. The medical risk of inverting involves retrograde menstruation, which some argue causes endometriosis. While most doctors say this myth has been debunked, Kathleen Lea Summers, MD, PhD, argues that as of 2011, “Retrograde menstruation remains the prevailing scientific hypothesis for what causes endometriosis. It’s complicated, and other factors play a part—things like genetics, epigenetics, immune function, environmental toxins, etc.”

“For sure women who have more frequent periods, those that bleed heavier, and those that have a blockage to normal flow through the vagina are the most likely to develop endometriosis. That indicates the amount of backward flow is important in development. While there are no studies looking specifically at whether or not women who practice inversions during their periods are more likely to develop endometriosis, prudence is wise. Anyone with a personal or family history of endometriosis should never do inversions while on their period. Other women need to be careful too, especially during the days of heaviest flow. If they choose to invert during menses, then time in the posture should be limited to 30 seconds.”

That said, there are doctors, including Mary P. Schatz, M.D., who state that inverting won’t cause endometriosis, but it can cause vascular congestion (heavy bleeding). I’ve talked with a number of teachers and students who have found this to be the case. We are of the third camp—try it out for yourself and see how you feel. I inverted when I started years ago, but on several occasions got really intense cramps afterward. I’d never heard anyone else complain of this until a commenter on the elephantjournal article said the same thing. I also tend to bleed more. Further, I just really don’t feel like spending ten minutes upside down when my belly is heavy. So, while once is a blue moon (sorry), I will feel up to inverting, I usually don’t.

Bodies are all extremely different, from person to person, but also from cycle to cycle. The only way to know what’s best for you is to pay attention. I find I’m often (but not always) extra stiff before my period starts. Some months I don’t even expect it (meaning no PMS) and other months, I do. Sometimes I feel tired and heavy, sometimes I’m energetic. I notice, and behave accordingly. The reason the Budig piece grates? It advances the notion that women are “senseless” and unable to work during their “moon.” In once sentence she tells her students, “Notice what is happening in your body and mind before you race past it to where you think you should be.” Then she races past everyone to tell us how we feel and where we should be—on the couch with bon bons. “Same goes for ladies’ holiday. Don’t ignore it by trying to keep life the way it is everyday.  Stop, acknowledge, observe, respect and rest. Honestly ladies, we’ve earned it. Period.”

We’ve earned it? What does that even mean?

Outsmart Mother Nature, Ladies 🙄

An old friend, Lena Kim, MD and Assistant Professor of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at UCSF, advised: “There is no evidence that yoga and/or inverted positions are harmful during menstruation. If anything, exercise in general decreases menstrual cramps.” If you have personal concerns about irregularities, definitely seek out the advice of your doctor.

Do consider how you feel when you practice and invert every day of the month, and make your decisions from there. Yes, oddly, there is a huge social and political lens that will color how we look at this, instead of just feeling our bodies. It’s kind of weird, really. Having experienced everything from light, unnoticeable periods to some extremely intense cycles, my only advice is to pay attention to your body and do what feels right. You’ll know what that is in the moment.

Soon I’ll give some ideas as to what asana and pranayama help me at the more difficult times. They aren’t what I expected, but the doctor was right!

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blog favorites practice at home yoga practice

yoga for insomnia

 

Over a year ago I designed a class for insomnia, because a number of students asked what could help them sleep. I did a bit of research, but for the most part I offered what had helped me the most. Sometimes a pose just shifts me out of monkey mind toward slumber. There are all sorts of recommendations in the interwebs, including some sequences with poses (especially backbends) I would never do at night, much less before sleep. But we’re all different. Below is a series of what has worked for me.

These poses are all take or leave. You don’t have to do them all, in fact, you could just choose one or two and hold them for a few minutes. If you know you hold in a certain area, choose a pose that will help you release there. If you aren’t sure, ask. Choose poses you enjoy so that you aren’t fighting with yourself before bed.

If insomnia is a problem for you, your habits around bedtime are important. First, you should have a bedtime. Seriously. If you drop in bed when you can’t hold your head up in front of the computer anymore, but your mind is still reeling, you won’t sleep. You need to set a reasonable time to retire and commit to it. I try to be ready for bed an hour before that time, and get in bed with a book. You don’t have that time? Log out of facebook. You have time. Electronic devices, news, stimulating TV and movies, even stimulating music can keep us from settling down. So, an hour or two before bed, unplug. Then try this series.

  • Start with a few optional sun salutation As. Don’t jump though. Step forward and back. Do no more than three.
  • Lie on your belly for salabhasana (locust pose), but in this variation, don’t lift your chest. Only your legs. Lower and repeat once, holding until you feel a bit tired.
  • Relax for 10 to 30 breaths, feeling your front body move against the floor as you breathe.
  • Press back to balasana (child’s pose). Stay here as long as you like.
  • Roll up and take a few long forward bends. Forward bends calm the mind and start moving your awareness inward. If you feel fidgety or anxious, just keep drawing your awareness back to your breath, and deepen it. Don’t engage the muscles as much as you would in an active class. Try to relax and let go. The longer you stay in the pose, the quieter you will become.
        1. Paschimottanasana (seated forward bend) with a few pillows or blankets on your lap or under your knees to make it restorative
        2. Janu sirsasana (head-to-knee(ish) forward bend), also with lots of pillows, and/or
        3. Tarasana (diamond pose)
  • If, and only if, you have a strong sirsasana (headstand) practice, do it. If you aren’t totally there, skip it for now.
  • Sarvangasana (shoulderstand): As Geeta Iyengar notes in Yoga: A Gem for Women, “Sarvangasana and its variations are useful for developing a healthy mind. The nervous system is calmed and one is freed from hypertension, irritability, nervous breakdown, and insomnia. They are a boon for combating the stresses and strains of our daily life. They give vitality and self-confidence.” So this is your moment. Hold for 25 breaths to 5 minutes. Then lower the legs for halasana.
  • Halasana (plow). This pose is a miracle for insomnia. It’s one of the two poses that just shift something for me and in comes the Sandman. If your feet do not reach the floor, rest them on a bed or chair. Do not let your legs dangle. It is not restful. And you deserve better.
  • Roll out of plow as gracefully as possible and if you are not ready for sleep, try a restorative pose or two. Supta Baddha Konasana (supine bound angle pose) is nice and can be done in bed. Use blankets or pillows under your knees.
  • Supta Virasana (supine hero pose) is the other miracle pose for me (keep in mind, I might hold differently than you, but for me, it works). I think it’s the quad stretch, but this pose helps me sleep. Be VERY VERY careful with your knees. Use a bolster or pillows under your back and a block under your butt. DO NOT do the pose if you feel any knee strain. Just don’t. Hold 25 breaths to 5 minutes. Then take a slow, quiet down dog to iron you out.
  • Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine spinal twist) — our classic closing twist, any leg variation you like.
  • Savasana (corpse pose) is our final pose. Take your index and middle fingers together, and hold your ring and pinky fingers down with your thumb for some chandra bhedana pranayam (moon piercing breath).  In class we do a similar breath through each nostril with a different hand position. Here, use each hand (index and middle fingers) to close off the respective nostril. To help sleep, you will inhale left, exhale right, over and over. Don’t switch the inhalations. Instead, keep repeating inhalation through the left nostril and exhalation through the right for 3 to 5 minutes. Then relax your arms, palms up. If you aren’t in bed, get there and relax flat in corpse.

This should help you sleep. If you have questions, want a video, or more pics, drop me a line or comment. If you have sleep problems and want me to design a sequence just for you, drop me a line. I use a sliding scale, and you can always bring an insomniac friend and split the cost.

Sweet dreams,
Anastasia

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art & yoga blog yoga practice

yoga vacation

I’m just back from a yoga holiday. On a whim I went on an ashtanga retreat in Edinburgh, Scotland with Angela Jamison. I’d never met her, but we’d corresponded and followed each other’s blogs for a few years, so it was good fun to finally meet. It was during the fringe fest, the world’s largest arts festival in the heart of Edinburgh. Karen Breneman, the lovely owner, took me in and made me feel more than at home during my stay. I also visited friends and family in England, so it was an amazing trip.

I like to travel with some sort of focus like this, as it adds to my trip. I’ve never been good at backpacking or hotels or hostels or wandering at random. Another museum is only interesting to me if there’s a larger context, and some interaction with locals to add perspective.

There are all sorts of ways to go about this, and it depends on your style of travel. As a once-tour guide, I’m fairly adept at organizing things myself, and both my ashtanga holidays were scheduled at whim (the first was in Sri Lanka a few years ago). Ashtanga is particularly good for this, as it’s practiced around the world. This retreat wasn’t an all day affair but morning mysore practice with maybe a short afternoon workshop, so the rest of the day was open to do as I pleased, like check out shows at the fringe, and the endlessly amazing city itself.

It helps to know the teacher when you go on retreat, as  not to be stuck with a bum deal on your holiday. But you can try your chances, too. Either go with your own, as many teachers lead retreats in lovely locales, or try out a teacher or style of yoga you’ve been curious about, on a retreat or simply visiting an interesting city with a good studio. You don’t have to do a full-fledged retreat to have an excellent yoga holiday.

There are also plenty of yoga centers and ashrams that offer a full yoga experience, or yoga package tours, often run by studios. Again, it helps to know the teacher or studio to know the vibe and style the trip will have. A quick google search will give you ideas about ashrams that offer workshops and retreats in pretty places. Many of these can be pricey, but I’m sure there are some affordable options out there. I prefer to organize things myself, which is less expensive, but can be quite a lot of work. If you want a planned, package group type thing, check out Kripalu or Esalen, or browse the ads of a yoga magazine.

And of course, there’s always Mysore.

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how I found ashtanga

I don’t talk about my own practice much here, but it’s time. Largely because when my students leave Columbia, they always ask.

My own yoga has always shaped my teaching, and it’s taken its share of twists and turns over the years. Until 2010, I’d been doing a hatha-vinyasa practice for the previous few years and I had issues with inflammation and injury. If I took classes, often the teachers didn’t warm us up enough for all the stretching that came after. Lunges hurt the ball of my foot (sesamoiditis) and my hips ached from weird sequences (starting class with pigeon is not “shaking things up.” For most bodies, it’s unwise). Classes that did have warm-ups didn’t have cool downs. Teachers had annoying ticks. Or unfortunate taste in music. My last studio, where I did my advanced teacher training, had some good teachers, but their schedule didn’t match mine and it was hideously out of my way. An hour commute, if our friends at the MTA were in a good mood. Before this, Genny Kapuler and her soho studio were my favorite, but I’m too tightly-wound to be 100% Iyengar. I need to sweat to calm down.

I ached for a studio and a teacher that fit.

I didn’t expect to find it at the YogaWorks corporation on the UWS. But, what can I say? There was a Groupon. I took a bunch of classes for a week or two last May because it was reasonably convenient to my life, and gravitated to Evan Perry’s ashtanga classes. There is warm up. There is breath. There is wisdom in the time-tested sequencing. There is little chatter. There is no music. There are intelligent adjustments. And there are faces that became quickly familiar. It was because of these classes I started a membership at yogaworks.

My first aśtanga experience (properly it is aśtanga, but is also written ashtanga and astanga) was around 2003 at a small shala with Angela and Sharada LaSpisa. They were great but it was too hard. I could barely do Surya As, and before long, I switched to Iyengar. Years later, in January 2008, I took a class with Evan when I did a trial with yogaworks. It was hard. I liked it. But my trial ran out and I was still in grad school. Then I did my advanced teacher training at ISHTA. During that period I did an ashtanga retreat in Sri Lanka for vacay, not chosen for the yoga but because my Aussie boyfriend did not find the surf in the Caribbean pleasing. So, I went back to South Asia. It was beautiful and fun. And ashtangis are funny.

So it wasn’t a total surprise when I started getting up at the crack of dawn for Mysore practice (this site explains how Mysore differs from teacher-led classes) last summer. By fall, I had moved downtown and things had settled a bit. I made it a point to practice astanga six days a week, as prescribed. If I couldn’t get to the studio, I did it at home, or even in the gym at work. I quickly learned that it could not be a choice, going. The only way to defeat the “I could stay in bed” dialogue is to not entertain it, not even on the rainiest or snowiest of days.

Mornings of greatest resistance were countered by thoughts of the others sweating it out. The warmth of the room. The adjustments. The room full of yogis having practiced for years alongside those who started last week. The camaraderie forged by breathing together in our otherwise silent daybreak ritual. The chats afterward in the locker room and by the water cooler. It is not just the bending and jumping and twisting we rely on to start our day. For that we can practice at home, and even steal some more time in bed.

So, how do you find a good yoga studio? It’s not easy. One size does not fit all, and I’ll share more thoughts in a following post.

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aśtanga
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blog favorites the yoga consumer yoga habits yoga practice

what to wear for yoga

Preferably something opaque. Where to get it?

pants
These are probably see through

I just happened upon this “audio yoga mat.” I admit it could be useful if you travel a lot and can carry it around. But, I mean, really.

You do not need fancy anythings to do yoga. You need you. A mat can help, yes, and so will comfortable clothes. Tanks are better than T’s because T’s will fall over your head in inversions. Tucking in the T is not sexy (unless it is in at the moment. Hopefully that trend will pass swiftly), and will still bag around your head.

I admit a strong aversion to spending $120 for yoga pants. I also admit that since old navy changed their yoga pant style (oh, maybe four years ago now) and added the very unfortunate diamond crotch, I’m stuck with a very old and faded yoga pant wardrobe. I do not have the patience to try all the fancy pants for a replacement. I tried an athleta (since bought out by the Gap) pant and a gaiam pant (both about $70), and I hate them both. I want my old navy standard back. I’ve switched to their capris, but the diamond thing is still an issue. Who decided that was a good idea? It started in the pricey pant industry and trickled down. Unacceptable. I once saw a woman who actually had a diamond patch crotch in a different color than the rest of the pants. I thought that her pants had ripped, revealing bright unders. Good grief. We might as well be in 19th century tennis dresses.

Nice tank tops are on offer at gaiam for both guys and gals. I prefer cotton, as sporty, absorbent fabrics quickly smell bad. Gaiam duds are usually organic and possibly fair-trade. And their models aren’t underage and looking to seduce you, throwing you into despair about the underfed, sexual slavery, and child pornography (to say nothing of body image as it relates to mental and sexual happiness) while you’re simply trying to do some pant shopping. (american apparel.)

As for mats, I have three (teaching purposes). Two I bought at TJ Maxx. The oldest is a thick lilac “Everlast for Women” (haha) mat about six years ago. The other Maxx mat was about $13, has a pretty design on it, and comes in lots of pretty colors. You see it around. I will most likely get another to replace the shedders. The third was a fancy, eco-friendly, apple green jute mat I bought from Amazon, which shed its juteness all over me since day one.The little round things are coming off, sticking to my clothes and shedding all over the floor. I’m attached to this mat, but it’s time to let it go. It is coarse, unpleasant, and expensive. (More about yoga mats and reviews here. I currently recommend manduka, expensive but guaranteed for life.)

VS
Darling, you’re losing your shorts

No doubt there are some gorgeous yoga clothes out there. But I find the fancier I get the more likely a breast will pop out in updog, or my unders will peak out in child’s pose, or the laundromat will destroy them after two washes. I do wear different clothes to teach and to practice, as astanga sweat and the requisite after-launder is hard on the togs. (Please, please, wash your yoga clothes. Regularly. They smell worse than you think.)

Einstein had five identical suits, so that he didn’t have to think about what he put on every day. At least, that’s what my father (who was often called his doppelganger) liked to say. And, of course, Thoreau said, “Distrust any enterprise that requires new clothes.”

Both had much to say about dressing:

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies…. It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.  ~Albert Einstein

It is an interesting question how far men would retain their relative rank if they were divested of their clothes.  ~Henry David Thoreau

If you’ve any good thoughts on what to wear and where to get it, by all means, share.

>>>

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art & yoga blog meditation yoga practice

stone age mind in a digital world

Full Catastrophe LivingAs with yoga, I wasn’t so sure I’d like Jon Kabat-Zinn. But when I did a retreat with him a few years ago, he was fantastic. Many yogis/Buddhists/etc feel he’s stripping the practice down too far (it’s secular). I don’t. Further, as a person, he exemplifies what he teaches, and that is far, far too rare. This podcast, Opening to Our Lives, is worth a listen.

A few highlights:

  • Kabat-Zinn talks about our stone age minds operating in a digital world. We’re not programmed to handle the sorts of stresses that we’re creating for ourselves and we are not considering the consequences. Nor have we fully explored what it means to be human, having very little understanding of how our minds work or who we are. He suggests that it is crucial to do so before we start inserting microchips into our skulls. I agree.
  • Humans have a natural tendency toward empathy. The economic theories that drive our culture, which support the ultra-wealthy and have proved once and again to have dismal consequences, would have us believe otherwise. We’ve been culturally brainwashed by them. But more and more scientific evidence backs both human and primate drives toward empathy. I am not denying tendencies toward violence, but that gets more than enough of our attention.
  • Stress dampens natural tendencies toward empathy. Again: stress dampens our natural tendencies toward empathy.
  • Kabat-Zinn explains that the word for mind and heart in Asian languages (at least, he’s been told) is the same. Mind and heart are the same word. And the mind, in Buddhist traditions, is taken to be a sense. Something by which we perceive the world. This is important to understand, because in the West, we tend to think of our minds as organs of knowledge and truth, rather than perceptions. And, again, the word for heart is the same as the word for mind.
  • Ergo, when you hear be mindful, or mindfulness practices, “if you are not hearing heartfulness, you are misunderstanding.” Mindfulness, heartfulness, is a way of being. (This is around 13:30 in the podcast.)

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on meditation

We’re still on break and you just want to relax a bit. But you can’t without your yoga? You don’t say. Watch this then. If you don’t wanna watch the long I’m-a-scientist-I’m-not-into-meditation-or-heaven-forbid-yoga intro, JKZ begins at 7 minutes.

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Though Kabat-Zinn is known for his work with meditation, his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program includes yoga and body awareness as well as meditation.

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is yoga Hindu?

Diana EckThere’s a debate on about yoga’s origins, and it’s gone viral “—or as viral as things can get in a narrow Web corridor frequented by yoga enthusiasts, Hindu Americans and religion scholars.” This is the buzz covered in the November 27, 2010 article, “Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul,” by Paul Vitello. What I found most fascinating about the article is that it interested enough readers to be near the top of the NYT top emailed list. I think it was #2 last night.

The gist is that Hindu-Americans want Hinduism to be credited with yoga. To be asked, “Oh! Do you do yoga?” instead of, “Oh, do you worship cows?” when a non-Hindu American learns of their religion. And because they want credit where they feel credit is due. Understandable. But the argument about yoga as religion is not new. It depends how you define Hinduism, which is a touchy subject. Do you ask scholars? Do you ask believers? Would you ask a Christian-American if you wanted to learn the facts about history? Would you ask a scholar, well, anything? (Relax, I’m teasing.) Do you ask Deepak Chopra? I, personally, would ask everyone and believe no one. I love that Hindu scholar, Diana Eck, is quoted in this article, but she doesn’t say what her opinion about the matter is. I’ve sneaked in her book as the image, because I’m probably not going to mention her again and that is a fantastic book. One of my undergrad religion professors gave it to me before I went off to India way back when (1998).

Yoga is one of the six astikas, or orthodox schools of Indian philosophy, though hatha yoga likely existed long before it was adopted as part of this tradition. Orthodoxy here means that they accept the authority of the sacred Vedas. Does that mean yoga is Hindu? Not necessarily. The yoga practiced in the West is arguably related to the Yoga astika only as a cognate. Again, It depends how you define Hinduism, and it depends who you ask. Because the answer isn’t that important to me, I’m not going to go further into this topic because I think the only answer is subjective. Those who say yoga is Hindu are coming from a very different place than those who say that it is not. As I find myself between those places, there is no convenient answer.

Paul Vitello

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blog favorites practice at home yoga habits yoga practice

the daily minimum, at home

Tuesday I shared a basic ten (ok, fifteen) minute class to practice at home. Today we have a slightly more vigorous ashtanga-based option. We’ll call it “the daily minimum +.”

If you are just beginning to practice at home, make sure to the same things you’d do in a class. Turn off your phone. Take a minute to ground into your body, using some pranayama or mantra. Commit to spending the next 10 minutes (or hour, or two) on your yoga. If you don’t think you have the discipline to do this, you can pay me a handsome fee to come teach you some.

This sequence takes about 25 minutes, unless you want to dally. If you have less time, simply do the sun salutations, shoulder- and/or headstand, and savanasana.

These lines at on a now defunct GoYoga page are good: “While it is important to be sensitive to the needs of the body and mind, it is also important to look critically at these needs. Frequently, these needs are actually subtle avoidance mechanisms. If you are sore, tired, or don’t feel like practicing. Acknowledge those feelings and sensations, drop the expectations about what practice should be like and practice anyway.”

Savasana the movie (above, viaYogaDawg) is short (1 minute) and pretty funny.

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asana blog favorites yoga habits yoga practice

ouch. my wrists/hands hurt in adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog)

down dog at wall
Image from Yoga for Healthy Aging

I’m reposting this as many of you have had questions about wrist and hand pain in down dog.

It’s a quick post to answer MM’s question about her hands—the base of her hands hurt in down dog. This is a great question, because it’s a common problem. Often the wrists hurt for people who are new or who don’t do yoga regularly (more than once or twice a week), and I think the base of the hands is a similar issue. Press into your fingers! This takes strength and getting used to. You need to press into the index and thumb fingers especially. People usually press into outside base of the hands, which keeps the weight in the outside of the forearms on up to the trapezius muscle just below the neck, where we tend to hold a lot of stress. This habit doesn’t help.

Pressing into the thumb and index fingers as well as the other three takes weight off of the wrists and outer hands and arms and spreads the weight into the upper back. As you become stronger, flexible, and more comfortable in this pose, your legs will begin to take more of the weight. In fact, Iyengar says about this asana in Light on Yoga, “It strengthens the ankles and makes the legs shapely.” Fantastic.

A modification done daily to strengthen for down dog: practice it with your hands on the wall. This can be done almost anywhere. Here are links to an article and a video that show exactly how it’s done. This is great for beginners and those with hand or wrist pain. Every day! Ask your teacher after class if you aren’t sure you are doing it right.