I most often take or lead classes choreographed by others. So it was refreshing to learn more about building my own home yoga practice from teacher Lena Wilson, an alum who came to Michigan Tech University this month for a series of workshops.
The first time I took class with Lena, I chuckled at her dirty feet, which she noticed halfway through the class and apologized for. It didn’t bother me. I knew I was in the hands of a Bohemian spirit attuned to nature. And I’m all about yoga to go.
I have apps, Pinterest and YouTube playlists galore. But when it comes to spontaneous Yoga, I could use more playfulness and creativity. Sun salutes are grand. But sometimes body and spirit crave something different. And you should vary your sequence for maximum benefits. The strong, skillful, willowy Lena, flowy, smiling, kind to herself and others offers a framework we can use to create our own practice. And her attitude, to do what feels good for you on that day, even if all you can manage is a headstand and savasana, reinforces yoga truth: even 10 minutes a day is good.
A Basic Daily Yoga Practice
– Your ritual can be as simple and as short as you like. But it always involves setting an intention. What do you want from your practice? Don’t overthink. First thought best thought. No right or wrong. “I want to stretch my body so I move easily today.”
– Other set-up depends on the kind of yoga you do. Lena’s teacher favored tongue-scraping and other ayurvedic self care and drinking some water before (not during) the practice. He also sweeps the practice area clean before putting down the mats.
“Have your own thing,” Lena says. I like to lay out crystals at the top of the mat and spritz myself and the mat with lavender spray. Then I sink into an inward-turning pose like child or reclined pigeon and breathe deeply to tune out the world and tune in to this time on the mat.
– Start with little things, like wrists and ankle rolls. Move systematically through the body in whatever top-to-bottom-bottom-to-top sequence that feels good. Not sure what to do? You can’t go wrong with circles. They’re motion lotion that secretes synovial fluid, lubricating joints.
If you only have a few minutes for yoga in your day, a left-right-left-right series of Sun Salutations, taking the first very slowly and gradually increasing the flow, will warm you up— or can serve as an entire practice.
– Move gently. Don’t pop into squats or other vigorous poses. Avoid jerky movements that jar the body. Remember there’s more than easy pose or lotus. You can sit on your heels with knees open or apart. Or in a chair. You can pad with blankets and use blocks and other props as needed. Lena suggests staring practice in a wide-legged stance and ending in forward folds with legs together.
Sequence your routine
– The regular components of a yoga practice include in this order:
There are several possible poses in each category. Play, experiment, make up your own. For example, in the backbend family, try camel, bridge, locust or sphinx pose variations. As long as you’re breathing, not forcing moves and mindful of alignment, there’s no wrong way to do yoga.
Space each pose type with a neutralizer, a centering place in between each section so you’re able to stop and assess “what it means in your body,” says Lena. Breathe and take time to feel the effects and let them settle. Simple-but-powerful mountain pose, standing with the four corners of the feet rooted into the ground, opens hips, shoulders, chest, and heart.
Training the Trainer
The truth is I need someone to “make” me hold those extended asanas or kryias that feel so good —when you’re done! Lena advises focusing on a number of breaths, or counting reps, or a specific body area and what it is experiencing. If keeping track of the count is distracting, set a timer. I use songs on my YouTube playlist as a timer. Counting saps my endurance. I can do yoga sit-ups for an entire song. Counting? Maybe 50.
Many practices build to a peak pose. If that’s what you have in mind for one practice or to work up to over the year, warm up thoroughly and choose standing, backbend, forward bend, twist and inversion poses that help prepare you for it, says Lena. “Pick five and go from there.”
During the second class I took with Lena she put an extra savasana in the middle of the practice instead of just having one at the end. Corpse pose now? Whaaat? It was a refreshing reminder that you can always incorporate more relaxation into your practice whenever you desire. Savasana, or corpse pose, is where we integrate the work we’ve done, absorbing the medicine that is yoga.
Teaching the Teacher
Refining my home yoga practice reignited my fire to earn Yoga Alliance certification. I’ve started twice down a road ran that ran through a Florida Ashram (or two). I sought total immersion and was literally answered with a flood. When the student is ready the teacher appears. I wait. I learn. I practice. I lead free classes every Saturday morning it is above 68 degrees at Houghton County Marina. The Kashi and Yogi Hari schools as well as White Lotus are still high on my list. And the Chopra Center.
Where did you get your teacher training? How do you compose your home yoga practice?