Yoga at Home: 10 steps to finding your way in the increasingly virtual world of Yoga

2020 has offered quite a few challenges for us – not the least of which has been finding a way to keep going on our own, without our to-do list, without social pressure, and without our yoga studios. If you, like many, have started or are considering starting a virtual home practice, here are some things to help you find your way.

1. Find a space.Whether you have a small apartment or a large home, finding the right place to practice is often difficult.   A perfectly peaceful extra room may be filled with boxes and old furniture or have weak WiFi.  The WiFi hotspot of the home may be filled with kids and animals.  Where do you turn?  Outside is nice until the landscaping crew arrives.  The TV room may require a great deal of negotiations with others in your household.  Keep an open mind – the perfect place may not be the one that looks most like your studio experience.  Here are some considerations when choosing:

  • Smaller than you think:  you really only need a space big enough for a yoga mat with about 3 feet to spare all around on the ground and space enough to raise both arms overhead when standing.
  • Good air quality and control: the best space is one that is not too hot or too cold and with good ventilation.
  • Electricity:  virtual and online streaming can be very draining to a device’s battery, do not let a low battery break your momentum.
  • WiFi:  Good WiFi connection is a definite bonus in a virtual world.  If you have a perfect location but no connection, consider downloading classes for stress-free playback or purchasing a local hub or WiFi extender for the area you choose.
  • Privacy:  How much do you need?  This may be different for everyone but as a general rule, you should be in a place where you feel comfortable chanting “Om” (even if that’s not your thing).
  • Temporary is fine: So, you have to move a table or put a dog in a crate.  Roll out your stuff and give it a go!
  • Distractions: see #4.  Please do not disqualify a space because you may be interrupted.

2.  Think about what you need (and what you want).  There really is no one thing that you need to practice yoga other than your body, but there are many things that are nice to have.  Here is a list in order of relevance / importance:

  • A sticky mat:  while you can practice on the carpet or hardwood floor (as I did for 15 years), a sticky mat assists with alignment, hygeine, and strength-building.  The basic size is 72″x24″x1/4″.  I would not recommend anything thinner (1/8″) but you may consider a longer one if you are very tall (84″).  A sticky mat is not the same as a foam exercise mat.  If you bought a foam exercise mat by mistake, try putting it under your sticky mat for padding.
  • A phone / laptop / computer / smart TV:  While it is nice to screen share to a TV, it is not necessary for a successful virtual practice.  Use what you have and what you know and will not need any technical support for.  If you cannot live without music for your session, you may want to have one device for class streaming and another for music.
  • Props:  So many people put off starting a practice because they do not have props.  A chair or couch or even large can of soup can provide the support shown with a block; beach towels, blankets or pillows can be used to create supportive bolsters and an actual belt can be used in place of a yoga belt.  If you don’t have props, start anyway, learn what you would like to have and reward yourself as you grow into your practice.  If you want a complete kit now, check it out here.  A bolster, while not necessary is nice if you are going to practice regular restorative yoga.
  • Ear buds / wireless headphones: While wearing earbuds can take a little time to adjust to, the benefit is in blocking out distractions and in learning to listen to cues and not stare at the screen risking neck strain and competitive comparison to the pose as shown.

3.  Check in with reality.  While it might be nice to have a 60 minute yoga practice 5-7x / week, you might start with the amount of time you know you can find almost everyday and commit.  You can always choose a longer practice on days when you have more time or energy.

4.  Check in with yourself.  The right yoga practice for you right now may not be the one you used to do, or the one you saw advertised.  Yoga practice changes, sometimes day to day, sometimes in periods of recovery or emotional stress, and, always, in different times of life.  Know your limitations and your strengths (your injuries, your energy, your past yoga experience).  Take heed when you feel pain, pinching, or radiating or when you feel you are being pushed too hard.  Know whether you need a live class for accountability or if you can use pre-recorded playbacks.  Strive to find a practice that challenges you but meets you where you are.  When you are finished with your practice you should feel replenished, not depleted or injured.

5.  Plan:  If you have gotten this far, you have been doing this already.  One of the luxuries of virtual yoga is the ability to practice when you want, to be flexible with last minute changes, and to “try out” different teachers or small portions of a practice.  However, do not use these as excuses not to plan your practice in advance. Choose your place and time, think about your intention, gather your equipment and choose your class / teacher and whether you will attend a live feed or watch a pre-recorded session well ahead of time.  Don’t get lost online with all the class choices sampling and switching and never actually sitting down to a “practice”.  Don’t forget prepare your family / roommate.  Learn to ask for privacy and space and not just expect it and you will save yourself a great deal of stress.

6.  Trust Yourself:  You don’t have your favorite teacher in the room with you to give you that adjustment or modification.  Trust yourself.  If something doesn’t feel right to you, it may not be right for you.  If you feel like doing something slightly different – try it out!  One day a week, turn off the device or close the book, set up your mat and play with what you have learned.  Explore new expressions of each pose.

7.  Don’t forget that Yoga is more than just the physical poses.  Physical postures in yoga are designed not only to open the body but to energize the body and center the mind.   If you are committing to a regular practice, adding in simple breath exercises and mindfulness will allow you to capitalize on this and create lasting and powerful changes in your overall mood and energy.  This can be as simple as committing to stay for Savasana or to practice 3-5 minutes of 3-part breath before starting a practice, cooking dinner or getting on that call for work.  But you may find that practicing alternate nostril breathing or kapalabhati followed by a few moments of silence serves you better one day than a strong physical practice.

8.  Invest.  As you know, not all yoga practice is right for every body.  You are saving a lot of money by not going into the studio every week, so how can you redirect this cash?  Equipment is an obvious option.  You might also consider investing in a virtual private session to help create a program that works for your needs and goals.  Alternately, while there is plenty of free yoga to be found online right now, there are also reputable organizations (like Yoga International.com and Glo.com among others) that are offering discounted subscriptions (the monthly rate equivalent to one studio class) with access to high quality teachers and a variety of programs for a variety of needs.

9.  Stick with it.  They say it takes 40 days to make something a habit and many of us have a little extra time these days to make it work.  Set reasonable goals and rather than skipping a day because of low energy or time commitments, simply explore 1 posture on your own or sit and breath.  Make a commitment to sit in your practice in some way for at least 5 minutes everyday.  Discuss and share your intentions and progress with others and then congratulate yourself rather than feeling guilty for skipping it.  This is the way we bring our practice off of our mat and into our lives.

10.  Practice makes is perfect.  Many people believe that until they can perform a pose “correctly”, it does not benefit them.  Perfection has no place in yoga.   If it were possible to practice perfectly, we would experience little to no benefit.  Pattabhi Jois said “Practice and all is coming”.  This means, stick with it and you will begin to see results and maybe in places you hadn’t even known you were working on. Consistency makes the poses more accessible, and when they become easier, you can tap into the energetic and physiological benefits.

2019 is on the Horizon – Can you SEE it?

As each year closes, we face the urge to toss out undesired habits, start fresh and to move in new directions.  Maybe you look forward to this “turning point” or maybe you are a bit hesitant after many years of  watching January’s enthusiasm fizzle out as you fall back into the trenches of old habits by February.  In fact, research has shown that about fifty percent of us make resolutions, however fewer than 10% of these keep them for more a few months.   Whether you call it “resolution”, a  “goal” or the more yogic term of “intention”, the process of follow-through and sustained change is very difficult for all.  Scientific research suggests that one tool, Visualization, may provide the key to success.

Psychological research teaches us that in order for a resolution to be successful, it must be specific, measureable and attainable.  Add the elements of relevance and time and you have created a SMART goal.  But, as you may have experienced, even these well-crafted goals fail.  One of the reasons for this is that our goals are often related to changes in lifestyle and personality which are entrenched in what yoga calls “samskaras“.  In Indian and Yogic philosophy,  “samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has ever experienced”(yogapedia).   Do you ever have circular thoughts or an old story that is preventing you from realizing your dream?  This is samskara in action.  Meditation and other yogic tools work because they seek to dip beneath the conscious mind and get us in touch with our hidden expectations and unconscious ideas.

Meditation, especially practices such as Yoga Nidra, rely on the individuals ability to focus on and cultivate body sensations rather than thoughts.  One is asked to focus on how the body feels when our goals, or sankalpa, are fully manifested.   These techniques seek to convert the brain waves into a more relaxed and suggestible state similar to that of hypnosis.  Visualization techniques go a few steps further.  Several studies have shown that the brain does not differentiate between a real and an visualized memory.  We can, therefore, lesson the anxiety of a new challenge by creating a memory of that experience through visualization.  In addition, research  shows that visualizing a physical activity stimulates the brain in much the same way as actually performing the activity.  This may be especially true if the activity is an unfamiliar or if fear and anxiety are associated with it.

Proponents of Visualization put much faith in the concept of the philosophical Law of Attraction.  Many have questioned this principle which states that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, people can bring positive or negative experiences into their life (wikipedia).  However, knowledge of how the brain processes visual information may provide some scientific evidence to support how visualization helps one to attract what they want into their life.  Our brain relies on a network of neurons called the reticular activating system (RAS) to filter out what IS, and IS NOT important visually.  Since 90% of the information processed by the brain is visual, the RAS is critical.  Without it, we could  become desensitized and confused by the vast amount of information we receive every day.  Visualization techniques help “program” the RAS much the way Facebook feeds us information based on our search history and demonstrated interests.  Visualization is the lens through which we begin to see and describe our world.

With 2019 on the horizon, can you really SEE yourself acting in a way which cultivates the changes you wish to manifest in your life?  Close your eyes, relax and try to see and imagine how it looks and feels for you to live the life that you long for.  The more often you repeat this process, the stronger the path you are forging.  Good luck and I hope to see you on the mat in the coming year!

Need a little guidance?  Join us January 13th 2-5 for Creating a Vision for 2019:  Vision Board and Yoga Workshop with Melissa & Jules from Julesguide.

 

Solving the Unsolveable: 4 Steps in a Path to Healing & Preventing Chronic Pain

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you – all of the expectations, all of the beliefs – and becoming who you are.

– Rachel Naomi Remen

Over the last 30 years I have gradually gotten myself into the business of chronic pain.  I developed this niche not by claiming it but, rather, through following my interests and passion for all teachings and related to the mind-body connection.  I first studied Psychology, and then Yoga, followed by Ayurveda, Meditation, Mindfulness and Buddhism.  Every path led to the same place with different words. While I was developing my own model of approaching my patient’s complaints from what we used to refer to collectively as a “holistic” or “alternative” point of view, the scientific theory of pain was evolving as well.  Currently, there is substantial evidence to prove that pain is not simply a physical or neurological reaction to a stimulus, but a process  involving an individual’s culture, their environment, their past and present experience and their perception along with the original stimulus.

All pain, acute or chronic, is real but not all pain is true in a mathematical sense (a + b ≠ c).  In recognizing this, we can let go of the need to find a solution to the problem.  In fact, these efforts to determine the how and why and whose to blame often create a self-perpetuating pain cycle and impede the natural processes of healing.  Below I offer you 4 steps to help you move through acute pain directly (without initiating the cycle) or to free you from the grip of the chronic pain cycle.  I believe these steps to be effective in most to all cases however the amount of time to progress through the steps is highly variable.  In the case of acute pain, you may move through these steps in a matter of hours; in cases of chronic pain, it may take weeks, months or years.

  1.  Release Ownership:  stop referring to the discomfort you feel as “my pain” or, especially “my painful…injured…weak…bad…etc. body part”.  This is the most important first step to releasing the assigning of blame and responsibility for a solution.  In the truest sense, claiming pain as your own will ensure that the burden is yours to carry.  Attaching a negative adjective to body part will give your pain a home.  In truth, pain is dynamic and changing and healing is systemic.
  2. See it for what it is:  The word pain is so loaded.  What is “pain” and how is it perceived in the body?  “Pain” is the mental recognition of a negative sensation.  What would happen if you remove this word from your vocabulary?  Describe your sensation in every way you can, other than the word “pain”.  Give it a size, a shape, a pulse, a movement, a temperature, a weight, a texture, a taste, a smell, etc.  Next, describe another place of your choice in the body (maybe the opposite side, left/right, front/back).  Finally, check in with your the original place once again and note any changes in the sensation.  Even if the discomfort has intensified, you will recognize that your discomfort is not static or intractable.  This practice can take the form of a Body Scan or Body Sensing Meditation if you like.
  3. Accept It / Neutralize It.  This is usually the most difficult step and it may take time.  You don’t have to be happy about the presence of discomfort and irritability in your body, but you don’t have to run away from it either.  As you begin to describe the pain for what it is, you will begin to notice the hold it has on you and your life.    It may be the lack of control, the frustration of not knowing what is happening to your body, the inability to continue the activities which make you fuel your passion for life, the feeling of being “less than” or the guilt of not being able to fulfill your responsibilities.  On the other hand, you may recognize that you are somewhat attached to this presence.  It brings you love, nurturing and attention, it gets you out of doing things you don’t enjoy or that take up your time.  With persistent pain, there is often the relative comfort of living with pain compared to the fear of starting over without it.  When you begin to ask yourself, what can I accept and “what am I afraid to feel?”, you give yourself permission to feel the sensation or the emotion  (for more on this, see Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach).  In feeling the sensation or the emotion directly without negative connotations, resistance, or aversion, you free this connection in the cycle of pain.
  4. Take Positive Action with Compassion:  When you make it to this last step, you have so many options to move forward.  You are no longer trying to solve the problem, you are simply moving forward regardless of the condition in whatever way you feel safe and ready with a gentleness towards yourself and your body.  In the case of acute pain, you have the detachment to treat the condition directly and appropriately for what it is – you have described the sensations and you know which you will tolerate and which you will not.  In cases of persistent pain, the options include, but are not limited to: meditation, yoga, physical therapy, psychotherapy, nutritional support, medication.    Describe a “positive” version of yourself, one that you can remember with all your senses,  (“I am…”), and move slowly and steadily towards it with each breath and each decision.

Please feel free to comment on  your experience with pain or your path to recovery, to inquire for more resources or guidance, or to find out how to book a session with Melissa at Discover Yoga & Physical Therapy.

Moving Your Mind in 2017

perro-yoga

If we can make just 1% of the population meditative, the world will be a different place” ~Sadhguru

If you listed among your New Year’s resolutions the desire to learn how to meditate or to meditate more often, then you are certainly not alone.  With an ever-growing amount research and evidence stating that meditation is good for anything and everything from a healthy heart, to work productivity, to a better sex life, it is a wonder we don’t schedule the time to sit and breathe as readily as we plan to sit down to dinner.   Continue reading Moving Your Mind in 2017

A Full Moon Ritual: Making Room for the Freedom to Choose Something Different

980x

This Saturday a full moon will rise in a (very likely) clear North Carolina sky.  Lately, I have been working with how to “let go” of habits which no longer serve me and working with the intention “In this moment, I choose health”.  I have learned a lot about my so-called “triggers” and I can spot the moment of choice almost without fail.  Unfortunately, I have not yet found my way to consistently choosing something different.  Honestly, I usually choose the bad habit time and time again (In fact, as I write this blog I am finishing my glass of wine).  Many people believe that the arrival of the full moon brings a power and an opportunity to “let go” of anything which does not serve your intention.  So, I am choosing to invoke that power to explore and share with you what I have learned.

We can recognize a habit as bad and even forecast a situation that will almost always lead to exhibiting an unwanted behavior but still not feel free to choose something different.  This is what it means to be “hooked” and it happens to the best of us.  This week I learned that much of the problem lies in the dialogue we have with ourselves after the trigger.  You know the one – “I know….but, in this case…” or, “if it weren’t for this person (or this situation) I could definitely have made the right choice” or, worse yet, “I cannot believe I am going to do this again – what kind of awful person must I be…when will I ever learn?”  This dialogue, whether it is with yourself or with others, is the fuel for the fire of habit.  What would happen if we just decided to let go of the “I know but” and the self-loathing, to just stop and feel the desire creep up and accept that it is uncomfortable and difficult.  We could just quietly listen to the other person slander us or something we care about and not react but, instead, feel the tension build, notice the physical location and the intensity of this stress and then recognize that it is all temporary and irrelevant.  Pema Chodron says that when we do this we open ourselves to a “positive groundlessness” – a state of uncomfortable and ungrounded freedom where we can then make a different choice.  As we repeat this process day after day, we create new, positive, intentional habits.  This appears to me to be the missing link in all the self-help lessons I have learned and practiced before.  If this is true,  recognizing what habits are not serving you is not nearly enough. Nor is it much more productive to focus on your intended, or more positive choices and habits. We need to “let go” of the need to justify, to blame, to rationalize, to equalize, to control or, engage with even the thought of the behavior and, then experience what that detachment feels like.  Too often we feel the need to take a firm hold in something we believe in thinking that this will provide the footing we need to take the leap into what we truly want to happen.  Chodron’s theory is quite different.  I believe she is saying that if we grasp too strongly to any belief (positive or negative), we may be a little too comfortable there to make a solid leap for change.  But if we allow ourselves to just experience what it feels like to be a “hooked” human being with an overactive brain and conflicting desires we will be free to move, change and evolve without constraint and without the holds that bring us back time and time again.

So, as you look up into the sky, and see the full moon rising this weekend, acknowledge what no longer serves you and, then, label all the reasons you feel it it isn’t right for you and all the reasons it is still comfortable for you and all the barriers you have to changing your behavior.  Finally, choose to let go of all of these thoughts and prepare yourself to be drawn in by the moon’s gradual waning into a positive state of groundlessness and, subsequently, a gradual return to the power of fullness.

A Good Retreat

A good retreat is better than a bad stand”        ~Irish proverb

As I was preparing to leave for my Yoga Retreat at Aldermarsh in the Pacific Northwest, my 8-year-old daughter asked “What does retreat mean?”  Admittedly, I wasn’t exactly sure how to reply.  The answer on the top of my head was “it means Mommy gets to go away to a place where no there are no kids and nobody she needs to take care of but herself – it is awesome!”  Luckily, my 10-year old son chimed in first.  “It means to turn back in a battle…strange that they call it that!”

Continue reading A Good Retreat

Restorative Retreat

In need of a mini-retreat but no vacation in sight?  Take 40 minutes out of your day to try the following restorative sequence for a guided practice of intention, acceptance and gratitude. You will emerge refreshed and battle-ready.  Continue reading Restorative Retreat