So I've just finished my home Yoga practice for the day which consisted of forward bends (really ace ones), inversions, forward bends, inversions and then I finished with the splits and a couple of restorative forward bends.
What? I did the same practice yesterday? No no no. I mean, sure there were some forward bends, but they were standing ones yesterday. It's because of my insanely flexible hamstrings. I can do all the advanced stuff. They feel good. Okay okay ... it's because I'm good at them and it feeds my ego to only do the things I'm good at!!!
Does this sound familiar?
I actually force myself to go to classes because I know that if I only did my personal home practice, I would just be doing all the things I'm good at and leaving out twists and backbends.
I've now realised this way of practicing has actually hindered my Yoga practice. I'm certainly not stilling the mind. Yoga is about taming the ego and not feeding it right? Then there's the physical downsides, I have tight shoulders and no thoracic awareness, tight hip flexors, quads and an anterior pelvic tilt, so constantly doing poses that only open the back of my body are just making my 'pose obstacles' even larger and my anterior tilt more exaggerated!
So why is this self satisfaction so important? I think we've latched on to the idea that Yoga practice is like gymnastics, sport, dance, or athletics. All of these activities do require practice and discipline, but also require a certain level of skill in order for us to feel we're 'good enough'. Many of us resort to the fact that we 'suck' at it and move on. Yoga is different. It's not something anyone will ever suck at! Ever! Recognising our physical obstacles is just another part of Yoga.
There should be no self criticism or praise whilst practicing asana. I've heard a senior Yoga teacher once say that his daily asana practice was part of his morning routine, much like brushing his teeth. He just does it, then he goes about with the rest of his day.
How do we learn this self discipline? If we're serious about taking our Yoga practice to a deeper level, we can start by studying and practicing the Yoga Sutras. We can apply the Yoga sutras not only to our daily asana practice but to the way we think, feel and act.
Svadyaya is a sanskrit term for 'one's own lesson'. It's one of the Niyamas in Patanjali's '8 limbs of Yoga' (Niyama being the 2nd Limb and meaning 'observances') and simply means to polish the mirror and take a look at yourself.
Who do you see?
I see someone who's about to dedicate a personal practice to backbends and twists :)
The Australian department of health and ageing tells us we need to exercise at least 30 minutes per day. Does a daily asana class count as daily exercise? Is Yoga enough or should your weekly Yoga practice be separate to your weekly fitness regime?
The objective of Yoga is to realize the union between our mind, body and spirit and to realize ourselves as individual beings intimately connected to the whole of creation. Deep stuff! The foundations of this practice was documented in The Yoga Sutras which described '8 Limbs of Yoga' that form the structural framework for most Yoga practice today. Upon practicing all limbs, we believe one is able to control the minds restlessness which then brings us closer to that union. This practice takes a huge amount of discipline and dedication.
So, the physical activity part (which is what most of us practice in the west) is called 'Asana' and is the 3rd Limb of Yoga. I'm well aware that the essence of Yoga is not in a downward facing dog and I'm well aware that the bulk of my class is based on the 3rd Limb (although I do try like many instructors to teach other limbs too). I'm also aware that some of my students are not interested in the '8 Limbs' or 'Yamas and Niyamas' or 'Oms' or 'Swami Sivananda'. They are there in my class 3 times a week to exercise, sweat, strengthen, tone and stretch. So, if this was all the physical activity they were doing in their week, is it enough?
Long Island University (2007) have studied and tested 20 intermediate / advanced Yoga practitioners to answer this question. Is Yoga enough? The study concluded that a basic Hatha Yoga class in fact did not meet the recommendations for levels of physical activity for improving or maintaining health or cardiovascular fitness (my guess is they weren't practicing Ashtanga Yoga in this experiment!). They did add that a sun salutation sequence that exceeded 10 minutes may improve cardio-respiratory fitness in unfit or sedentary individuals.
My personal experience
A few months ago I decided that I didn't feel as fit as I desired. My week looked a little something like this: I went to Ashtanga Yoga once or twice per week, I went to one Yin Yoga class per week, I did my own Yoga practice at home, taught 9 or so classes per week and also taught a class called Rock Aerobics which despite the name, is more of a dance style class rather than fitness class. I hadn't really done much cardio training in the past. I also just turned 40 so this could have had something to do with my crazy decision which was ...
A 60 minute class 5 mornings a week at 6am. Not Yoga bootcamp, but real bootcamp with burpees, running, medicine ball thingys, more burpees ....urgh!
I discovered I wasn't fit at all! In fact, I felt like I was going to vomit. Every muscle in my body was sore each day for the first week, then every 2nd day for the second week. By the third week I started to get into it and in the 4th week (on the second to last day) I actually wanted to go to bootcamp and exercise when my alarm went off in the morning. Yep, that's right ... wanted to!
Here's the link to Bootcamp Buddy which is what I attend every morning. https://www.facebook.com/BootcampBuddy?fref=ts
I'm in my 5th week now and i'm feeling good. It's still hard work, but I enjoy it AND It's helped me tremendously with my Yoga practice. My chaturanga is feeling stronger and 5 sun salute A's and B's are a walk in the park! I personally feel that my Yoga practice is separate to my fitness regime. My Yoga practice is WAY more important and personal as it's about stilling my mind and my ego. I need to exercise. I choose to practice Yoga (all limbs). And they compliment each other.
What do you think?
Hagins, M., Moore, W., & Rundle, A. (2007). Does practicing hath a yoga satisfy recommendations for intensity of physical activity which improves and maintains health and cardiovascular fitness? BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 7(40). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-7-40
The Yoga Social Team