I grew up as a dancer, so for a long time, I thought of yoga more like ‘relaxed stretching.’ It felt great for my body, but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the addition of the mind. I’ve been going to a great yoga class every Wednesday called Urban Yoga, and so far I’ve had an amazing experience and have learned a lot. I’ve been trying to use more of the yoga language and get further into the balanced mindset. I’m no expert, but I found myself with some free time the other day and decided to do some on my own.
I will admit that I’m not great at meditation. It’s hard for me to sit still and silence my thoughts completely. Even still, I started out my yoga practice by trying to meditate. I opened up my yoga mat, put a pillow down for under my head, and laid down in savasana (this is just a fancy way to say that I laid on my back with my palms up – see right). I closed my eyes and thought one word: RELAX. I breathed in, breathed out, and told myself to relax.
I had heard a concept from Rosie O’Donnell regarding strengthening your meditation that I tried to follow here. As you meditate, you attempt to remove all thoughts from your brain. Experienced meditaters can accomplish this easily, but for the rest of us, we may clear our brain for a moment, and then something will pop back in: Oh, I need to finish the laundry tonight… Rosie says to recognize that as a thought. You imagine pulling that thought from your brain the same way you would pull a leaf from a tree. You pull your thought, and then you imagine letting that leaf travel into a flowing river. It flows down the river and floats away. And then your mind is clear. And then you get another thought: What am I having for dinner tonight… and you recognize the thought, pull it, release it, and let it float away. The goal is to stay present in the moment.
After about 5 minutes, I sat up and did some light stretching. By beginning with a meditation, I felt like I had warmed up my brain. So next I began to warm up my body. I folded forward to grab my toes and stretch my legs and lower back. I rolled my shoulders and twisted my neck. I rolled my ankles and wrists, and pulled my arms from side to side. Once warmed up, I moved to a tabletop position.
From there I did several rounds of cat-cow, which is great for your back. You start in tabletop (aka on your hands and knees with a flat back) and make sure that your hips and shoulders are stacked over your knees and hands. Begin to drop your navel, arch your back, and look up. Cat. Then you drop your gaze, push into your hands, and slowly invert the spine one vertebrae at a time. Cow. Then you repeat cat-cow-cat-cow, inhaling as your chest opens and exhaling as you contract. I continued with the cat-cow pointer series, where you reach your arm forward and lift your opposite leg. I held each side for 30 seconds, stretching higher for the last 10. Next, I turned this into a small exercise, and drew the lifted arm and leg into my chest to contact, and then extended my limbs back out again. 10 times each side, then I collapsed into child’s pose.
Next was tree pose, one of my favorites. As a Libra, I love balance. I positioned my foot on my thigh and held my palms together at my chest. I first held each side for 30 seconds, but I realized that this was not challenging enough, so I did a second round of a minute each. I felt very grounded and stable, and was proud at the ease of holding this pose for a full minute. There were moments of shaking, but I was able to feel adequate in this pose, which felt good for both my body and my mind.
Finally, sun-salutations. One of the reasons I like this exercise is that it’s basically choreography for a small little yoga routine. The sun-salutation is a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a flow of movement.* You start in mountain pose, and lift your arms above your head, then collapse into forward fold. A quick half lift, then palms are pressed firmly on the ground and feet step back into plank. Release and lift the chest, tilting the head back into cobra. After holding for a moment, I first fold into child’s pose, but you could also lift right into downward dog and hold for a moment again. Walk the feet to the hands to forward fold, and lift back up into mountain pose, and pulling the palms together into the chest. I did two sets on each side, reminding myself to breathe and feel each movement.
All of the above took me about 20 minutes total, and I ended this self-session by getting back into savasana for another quick meditation. I again focused on relaxation as well as cooling down. When I decided that enough time had gone by, I pulled my palms together to my chest one last time. I put the throw pillow back on the couch, rolled up my mat, and stored it back in the corner.
It’s nice to have enough experience at this point to have created a small routine for myself. This was roughly 20-25 minutes long and is filled with the poses and exercises that make me feel good and energized. When I attend Urban Yoga on Wednesdays with an awesome instructor, I am able to engage my mind and spirit as well as the body. This is something that I will have to work on more as I practice on my own time (meditation as well), but I am proud of the level I am at today.
Namaste. Thanks for reading.
The Sun Salutation, or Surya Namaskara, is a series of poses performed in a sequence to create a flow of movement, according to yogaoutlet.com