Is Your Yoga Practice Enough?
What physical activity do you do other than your Ashtanga yoga practice? Some days, 90-minutes on my mat is enough to make me want to take a nap. Other days, it gives me a boost of energy, exactly what I need to get through the day.
Sometimes I wonder and I’m sure many of us do, should I be doing more than just my practice? Should I go to the gym every day? Should I be doing cardio several times a week?
Running and cycling, for example, strengthens and build muscle in the hips, buttocks, and legs, whereas in yoga we want to be more flexible in these areas. Cardio exercise increases your stamina, helps you burn calories, shed pounds and maintain a healthy heart. Weight training or strength training may be beneficial for your practice, allowing you to stabilize your shoulder girdle, increase your core strength and arm strength, and teach you how to engage or activate certain muscles to help you avoid injury. But doesn’t my Ashtanga yoga practice also offer all those benefits?
When I first started practicing yoga I would unconsciously practice outside my practice. I would watch TV sitting in Hanumanasna or in Padmasana. I would stand in Tree Pose while in the kitchen, chopping fruit or veggies. Even today I still do so. It’s become a habit. I remember the first time trying Bakasana during class. I couldn’t do it to save my life, I couldn’t figure how to place my knees on my arms or how to balance with them there. But later that day at home I practiced and practiced until I was able to balance. Turns out it wasn’t that hard. I just needed more time to work on it, and figure out what each part of my body had to do.
I have read—and this probably applies to just about anything you do—that you have to do it 10,000 times before your master it. I’m really not sure it’s an exact number, but you get the idea, you have to practice a lot of times. Ashtanga yoga asks us to practice 6 days a week, for a long time, a lifetime really.
So it’s no surprise then, that when you repeat the same postures every day, 6 times a week, you are bound to advance faster than if you only do them twice a week. And even so, at times many of us become stuck. Stuck on a posture anywhere from a few days to a few years.
So how can I ever master jump-backs and jump-throughs, arm balancing postures or even the splits?
During my yoga practice, I only practice the postures which have been given to me by my teacher. My goal is to keep my focus on my breath, and my mind steady. I have noticed if I start adding extra postures, or stop to work on something during my yoga practice I lose focus and my mind starts to wander. And it’s hard to bring the mind back. My teacher once told me “Keep your practice pure, but if you are working on a posture you may do it up to three times.’
I don't repeat every posture three times, otherwise, I'd be on my mat for twice as long. I don’t go the edge every day, nor do I push myself every day. I don't actively work to get the postures right every time. I don't believe in the perfect posture. Everyone is different and postures will look differently performed on different bodies, and they are all perfect. We all have good days and bad days. Some days I may feel lazy, stiff, have an injury, or just don’t feel like putting in the extra work. Others days I have breakthroughs on my mat and seem to be able to do it all.
What I have found that works best for me are activities that allow me to understand how my body works or help me build strength or flexibility where I'm lacking. Such exercises allow me to enhance my practice so when I am on my mat, I don't have to think about it.
I do a few minutes of strength training before my practice. It may include a core workout or strengthen training for my arms and shoulders. I practice my handstands, jump-backs, and jump-throughs. I like to try postures that are not part of my practice just for fun to see what I am capable of. I enjoy taking part in yoga challenges. At times a Yin practice, a Zumba class or a walk on the beach is what I need. Practicing a different activity other than yoga allows me explore my boundaries, discover other activities, spend time with others, and have some fun.
I don’t care how long it takes me to ‘nail’ a posture. It’s just a practice, a lifetime of practice.
Lots of love,