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Ravi Dykema

Ravi Dykema

Taking yoga home means bringing yoga into your life more potently. Although designing a practice for yourself and finding the discipline to do it is challenging for many people, the rewards are likely to be rich and lasting.

Imagine that you create for yourself a habit of practicing poses, breathing, and relaxation every day (or nearly every day), and that after you start doing this you feel calmer, your occasional back pain is gone, you have more energy, and you are stronger and better at sports. Let’s say that in six months your practice starts to feel routine so you attend a new yoga class and learn lots of new poses and new ways to do old poses. Now imagine that you continue your yoga “habit” for 20 more years! Would the effort to get it all started have been worth it?

The best time to start a solo practice of yoga is when you are taking a class. Your experience in the group with a teacher helps support your discipline at home. Ask your teacher for suggestions about what to include in your practice, or use the guidelines I give below. In the future, when you aren’t in a class, you may find that your home practice gradually disappears. A good way to rejuvenate your yoga habit is to take another class once or twice a week for six to 10 weeks, or longer.

Choose your goals

Is your goal fitness, flexibility, relaxation, more energy, better concentration or even enlightenment? You can more appropriately select practices from among those you know if you have a goal in mind. If your goal is limberness your body will “ask for” the poses that use your full range of motion in your spine, hips, and shoulders. In other words, you will just feel like doing the poses that produce the effect you want. The key: listen to your body. The more you listen to your body—that is, focus on your sensations—while you practice in class, the more “communicative” it will be when you practice at home. The following ideas will also help you to design a series of poses, breathing exercises, and relaxation practices.

Fitness

The salutation to the sun, taught in nearly every yoga lineage, is a great series to start with. Then choose poses that involve sustained effort, such as standing and balancing poses, and poses that deepen your breathing. Move from one pose to the next with no break between, resting as much as you can in each pose. End your poses with a relaxation lying on your back in the corpse pose.

Limberness

Start with the salutation to the sun. Then choose poses that stretch your muscles and use your full range of motion. Include forward bends (flexion), back bends (extensions), twists, and side bends. Sitting and lying-down poses are especially effective. Continue these for at least 30 minutes. End with your choice of breath and/or relaxation practices.

Relaxation

Here are two approaches to reaching a floating, melting, relaxed feeling that lasts for hours: Exercise hard for a while, then do easier movements, and follow that with a long relaxation practice. Or start slowly and easily and continue that way. For this second approach, use poses that start from lying on your back or your stomach. Perform a diaphragmatic breath in the corpse pose as a relaxation.

More energy

Choose poses that involve lots of movement and deep breathing. The salutation to the sun is a good place to start. Pay extra attention to your breath, making sure you exhale completely and inhale deeply. After the poses, do 12 complete breaths in a straight-backed sitting pose. Then relax in the corpse pose.

Better concentration

This can be achieved no matter which poses you choose. The key is to concentrate intently the whole time you practice. Focus on your breath continuously, or focus on your sensations without letting your mind wander. This mental effort is like a muscle that can be strengthened. Follow your asana practice with deep, comfortable breathing, counting your breaths. Do nine or 18 breaths sitting in a straight-backed pose or in a chair. End with a meditation practice, such as watching your automatic breath for 10 to 15 minutes.

Enlightenment

You have probably read that the traditional goal of yoga is enlightenment, which is an effortless abiding in the highest state of awareness that humans can achieve. But before enlightenment we usually experience states I describe as “full awareness, awareness of your true self” and “seeing yourself as you really are.” I also call this goal of yoga “achieving super-happy and super-clear states of mind.” If this is your goal, choose the intermediate goal of better concentration, above. Also establish a meditation practice and commit to it. Work up to 30 to 45 minutes per day of meditation. If, after trying it for at least two months, you don’t like meditation, then do breathing practices followed by relaxation practices for the same amount of time that I recommend for meditation. Enlightenment is a lifetime endeavor, so be patient. A continuous relationship with a master teacher of yoga, who himself or herself has pursued enlightenment, is considered essential within most yoga lineages.

This is adapted from Ravi Dykema’s  college textbook, Yoga for Fitness and Wellness, available atWadsworth.com. (Type “yoga” into the search window.)