Four Keys to Peace from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is a collection of 196 aphorisms, divided into four chapters, that act as a guide on the spiritual journey. It was compiled in the early centuries CE by the Indian sage Patanjali, who synthesised and organised the ancient knowledge of Yoga.

The four chapters discuss the aims and practice of yoga, the development of yogic powers, and finally Liberation. Here we will look at sutra 1.33, which gives us four essential keys to peace of mind.

Whether on a yogic path or not, we all want to have a peaceful mind. Sutra 1.33 brings to light some of the key things that cause stress and anxiety in the mind, and gives us four essential tools to help us remain peaceful.

Sutra 1.33

maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam

”By cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, delight in the virtuous, and neutrality towards those who you perceive to be wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

In this sutra, Patanjali tells us that there are four locks and four keys in the world. Each lock is a human behaviour that can trigger a whirlwind in the mind, and each key is a way to neutralise that whirlwind.

The First Lock & Key

The first lock is friendliness and ease, and the key lies in meeting that friendliness with loving-kindness. Seems simple enough? If a stranger smiles at you in the street, you smile back at them, and harmony is cultivated. But what if it triggers a sense of comparison? You start questioning why they are so happy? And what may be wrong with your life as you are not walking around with a smile? Then the smiling stranger can create agitation in your mind. However, if you trust Patanjali’s suggestions and simply smile back at them without getting stuck in thoughts, your body receives a signal of happiness and your mind becomes calm.

The Second Lock & Key

The second lock is unhappiness or unease, and the key is found in cultivating compassion towards those who are experiencing that sadness. When someone is upset, comfort them. If they need space, let them know you are there for them when they are ready. Try to put yourself in their shoes; most of us have experienced sadness or unease at some point. Know that you don’t have to change or fix anything, let them be vulnerable and just be there for them. This will help you retain a peaceful mind.

The Third Lock & Key

The third lock/key is delight in those who are virtuous. This is simple enough when it comes to your heroes in life; but more challenging when it is closer to home. If you and a friend decide to commit to a 40-day yoga practice, and your friend sticks to it while you don’t; can you show delight towards your friend? A common response to this type of situation is to attack yourself as a looser and your friend as a show-off. Instead of letting your mind be disturbed by jealousy, imagine that your True Nature, that is One with everything and everyone, delights in your friends ability to stick to their commitment. A win for One is a win for All.

The Fourth Lock & Key

The fourth lock/key is equanimity towards those we perceive as being non-virtuous. This one always causes the most discussions in the YTT classroom. When we see someone doing something mean or hurtful, should we just look the other way? In a word, no. But does that mean we should get all up in arms, mind boiling with anger, ready to start a war? No, this is not a productive state of being, and it will not produce the most effective result. If we see someone causing harm, ideally, we speak up while maintaining a calmness of mind. This is a challenging key to find, but it is there and by using it, great changes can arise!

We Love Yoga Philosophy!

During your Yandara YTT, we explore inspiring Yoga Philosophy every day, at both the 200hr and the 300hr level. Enjoy this short video below where Yandara founder and lead trainer, Christopher Perkins, takes you through a short journey from inner Argument to inner Acceptance.

With Love!

Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer

25-Minute Pranayama Practice for a Calm Mind

Pranayama, or breath practice, is a powerful tool with many benefits that is often overlooked in westernised yoga practice. The breath is a bridge between body and mind, and between the autonomic and somatic nervous systems. You don’t have to remind yourself to blink, salivate, dilate or constrict your pupils, keep your heart beating, or breathe, it just happens…it is controlled by your autonomic nervous system and adjusted according to which life situation (stressful or relaxing) you are facing. Yet, the breath can also be controlled by your will. By changing your breath pattern, you can affect the body and mind. At the end of this post, find a 25-Minute guided Pranayama practice for a calm mind.

USE PRANAYAMA TO CALM THE MIND

The autonomic nervous system is always active, either in a sympathetic or parasympathetic mode. The sympathetic mode is activated during a ”fight or flight” situation, when mental stress or physical danger is present. On the flip side, the parasympathetic mode is activated during times of reduced stress, and allows the body to ”rest and digest”.

Our breath changes depending on which part of the autonomic nervous system is active. And, vice versa, we can also affect the autonomic nervous system by changing our breath pattern. Changing the pace and length of inhalation and exhalation and adjusting the pauses between the two, can help calm stress-related disorders, and increase our focus.

Some breath techniques are calming, while others are stimulating. The ancient yogis learned this by intuition and experimentation. They called this practice Pranayama (”techniques to extend our life force”), and Patanjali included it as one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

BENEFITS OF PRANAYAMA

According to yogic belief, Prana (universal vital energy) is the driving force of the universe and all bodily functions. Blockages of this flow is said to cause illness, and being able to balance the flow can give us the power to balance and heal the body. Pranayama is the primary yoga technique to adjust the flow of Prana.

Modern science is just catching up to the understandings of how using the breath can help calm the mind in a world of constant impressions. Some of the additional benefits of Pranayama include:

  • Decrease stress
  • Improve sleep quality
  • Increase mindfulness
  • Reduce high blood pressure
  • Improve lung function
  • Enhance cognitive performance
  • Reduce addictive cravings, particularly related to smoking

If you haven’t practiced Pranayama before, find a teacher to guide you! Join Yandara founder, Christopher Perkins, in the video below for a calming 25-Minute Pranayama practice.

We teach basic Pranayama techniques in all our 200hr teacher training programs, and in the 300hr advanced program we go deeper into the breath. We also offer an advanced 100hr module called Breath & Meditation a few times a year in Baja and Sweden.

With Love!

Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer

Warming Yandara Chai Recipe

Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer

Leaves are falling outside and autumn days like these call for time curled up in the sofa under a cozy blanket with a warm cup of tea… Masala Chai is a traditional Indian tea, perfect for chilly days. Find our favourite warming chai tea recipe here! Chai simply means ‘tea’ and masala is a mixture of spices. Masala Chai is made by simmering the tea with spices and milk. This creates a rich and creamy warm drink that makes your whole house smell like heaven!

Masala chai is traditionally made with a full bodied black tea, but can also be made without tea leaves for a decaffeinated version.

WARMING MASALA CHAI RECIPE

The spices can be varied according to your preference:

4 cups

  • 2-3 cups Water
  • 3-4 Black tea bags or 2-3 tbsp tea leaves
  • 1 Cinnamon stick
  • 8-10 Cloves
  • 8-10 Green Cardamom pods
  • 4-5 Black Peppercorns
  • 2 Star Anise
  • 1 tsp Fennel seeds
  • 0.5-1 inches Fresh ginger root
  • Sweetener (eg. brown sugar/maple syrup/liquorice root)
  • 2 cups Milk (any milk or milk substitute that you love)

Whole spices are preferred as they can easily be strained out at the end. For a faster version, you can grind the spices and make a masala chai powder.

STEP BY STEP

  1. Place a saucepan with water over high heat. Add the whole spices while the water is coming to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15 min or more. Pause and enjoy the amazing scents that fill your house.
  2. Throw in the tea bags (or leaves) and let simmer for another 5 min.
  3. Add milk and any sweetener. Increase the heat and once it comes to a boil, lower the heat again and allow it to simmer for another 5 minutes or so.
  4. Raise the heat to high and allow it to come to a rolling boil for about a minute.
  5. Pour into cups through a strainer.

If the color is not deep enough or the chai is not strong enough, feel free to add more tea bags/leaves. The color of a nice and strong cup of masala chai looks like approximately like a standard cafe latte.

Like with any drink, have fun and experiment with the recipe to find your perfect cup of Masala Chai.

Chai = Tea

Masala = a mixture of spices.

Masala Chai is made by simmering tea with spices and milk.

If you get tired of the northern autumn weather, please come join us in the bright and sunny Baja desert for a YTT program or retreat.

In Appreciation!

Three Yoga Home Practices for Autumn

Nicolina Sandstedt, Yandara Lead Trainer

In 2022, the fall equinox arrives on September 22. This marks the start of the colourful, cozy fall in the Northern Hemisphere – a perfect time to practice yoga at home. With this post, I would like to offer three simple and nourishing yoga home practices to incorporate into your routine this fall.

On the equinox, day and night are roughly equal in length. After the equinox, days become shorter as the sun continues to rise later and the night falls earlier. This trajectory ends with the winter solstice, after which days start to grow longer once again. With the change in the amount of daylight, the leaves start to shift from green to yellow, orange and red, creating the vibrant sunset of the seasons.

Ayurveda and seasonal balance

This shift has been of importance throughout the ages. In Mexico, the Mayans built a giant pyramid called Chichen Itza and on the equinoxes, it looks as if a snake made of light slithers down the pyramid’s steps. And in England, Stonehenge was built with the equinoxes and solstices in mind. In India, the traditional medicine Ayurveda is built around living in harmony with nature and the seasons. According to Ayurveda, autumn brings with it a predominance of Vata dosha and the air element. It harbors a certain mix of emptiness and movement that can leave us feeling a little lost, but it is also a time filled with possibility—a time when we can return to the quiet essence of being through nourishing yoga and meditation practice.

Balancing the shifting of the seasons with certain lifestyle choices is an Ayurvedic way to support our well-being. Considering the Ayurvedic principle that ‘like increases like and opposites balance’, the airy vata season will be less unsettling if filled with warmth, deep nourishment, time with loved ones, and a sense of stability and routine – such as consistent yoga home practice.

Three Yoga Home Practices

As yoga practitioners, we have many tools to help create stability and balance. Vata is easily aggravated by fast, mobile activities, so let’s consider a gentle, warming, grounding and strengthening yoga home practice to find balance in the fall season. Here follows 3 simple yoga routines to incorporate this season. Warm up slowly, include gentle joint mobility, and aim to keep your breath deep and fluid. *Tip: Draw these routines with stick figures and keep them in your note book.

1. Autumn Sun Salutations

Start with gentle warm up of the spine and joints, such as wrist circles, shoulder rolls, neck rolls, cat/cow, standing pelvic rolls and large, standing arm sweeps with deep breathing.

Consider the soft warm glow of the autumn sun all around you as you transition into practicing sun salutations. Move slower and breathe deeper than you do normally. Ujjayi breath will help create warmth, stability, and rhythm. Practice 6-12 rounds of any sun salutation of your choice (find a sample video of Yandara Teacher, Sarasvati, practicing a Sun Salutation on the Yandara beach here).

End your movement routine with gentle hip openers on the floor, such as ‘eye of the needle’ or ‘bound angle pose’. Finally, take a few minutes of rest in Savasana, inhale a warm glowing light, exhale feel heavier with each breath.

2. Stabilizing Mini-Vinyasa Practice

Start with gentle warm up of wrists, shoulders and neck. Come to all fours for 2 minutes of cat/cow. Then, inhale into ‘cow pose’ and exhale into child’s pose for 2 minutes. Move onto shifting between ‘cow pose’ on the inhalation and ‘downward dog’ on the exhalation, 2 minutes. Then, shift between downward dog (inhale) and plank pose (exhale) for 1 minute, followed by holding plank pose with a stable core for 1 minute. Lay down flat on your belly, hands under the shoulders, press the top of the feet and front of the pelvis into the earth. Inhale into cobra pose by sending the heart forward and up as the shoulders draw back and down, exhale as you lower back down, repeat 10 times. Come to child’s pose. Inhale, stand up on your knees, sweeping the arms to the sky, exhale return to child’s pose, placing the hands onto of the sacrum/back of hips, repeat for 1 minute. Lay on your back, knees bent, feet hip width apart. Inhale, lift the pelvis and sweep the arms over head, exhale lower back down to the floor, 1 minute. Stay in bridge pose with the hands interlaced underneath you, 1 minute. Exhale return to the floor, let the knees fall from side to side for gentle spinal rotations, 1 minute, and then hug the knees to the chest, 2 minutes.

Take a few minutes of rest in Savasana, inhale a warm glowing light, exhale feel the earth beneath you.

3. Grounding Evening Practice

Start with gentle warm up of wrists, ankles, shoulders and neck. Then sit cross legged, one hand on each knee, sit tall, then circle the heart slowly around an imagined golden pillar, clockwise for 1 minute, and then counter-clockwise for 1 minute. Come to lay on your back with the legs up the wall, option to place a cushion or a stack of blankets under the hips, stay for 5 minutes.

Slowly make your way to a comfortable seated position to begin Nadi Shodhana/Alternate Nostril Breathing. Start by taking a few rounds of deep, conscious breaths. Fold the tips of the peace fingers into the palm (Vishnu mudra). Alternately use the right thumb to close the right nostril, and the right ring finger to close the left nostril. Keeping the right nostril closed, inhale through the left nostril, deep into the belly. As you inhale, feel or see the breath traveling upward, filling the left side of the body. Pause briefly at the crown of the head. Exhale through the right nostril, feeling the breath emptying the right side of the body. Pause gently at the bottom of the exhalation, focusing the lower belly. Inhale once again through the right nostril, and exhale through the left. Continue the same pattern, pausing gently between the two parts of the breath, for 5-15 minutes. Nadi shodhana clears and purifies our subtle channels, while bringing balance to the mind-body system as a whole. When you are ready to close your practice, complete the final round of nadi shodhana with an exhalation through the left nostril. Relax the hands in your lap and take several rounds of deep, conscious breaths. Then, allow the breath to return to normal and quietly observe the effects of the practice.

“Nadi Shodhana clears and purifies our subtle channels, while bringing balance to the mind-body system as a whole.”

If you are looking to find confidence in practicing yoga at home, our 200hr YTT programs also focus on the importance of a yoga self-practice. And if you are a teacher and interested in deepening your practice, we have many advanced 300hr-level programs to support you on your path.

What is your favourite practice this season? Please share below.

With Love!

A Philosophy and Guide for the Intuitive Yoga Teacher

An excerpt from the book by Craig Perkins and Amiee Hughes

Welcome to the Path.

Teachers of yoga are intuitively tapping into something mysterious and profound.

A transformational life force.

One that’s present within each and every one of us.

When we practice yoga, we gain access to a wondrous system of physical movement that transforms us in infinite ways. Yoga changes our bodies. It changes our minds. It even touches our souls.

The exciting thing is this: all the tools of yoga are at your disposal and ready for the taking.

With a deep respect for the yoga tradition, and a heartfelt intention for your work, you can bring real health and happiness to your students. You can inspire. You can change lives. You can be this teacher. In fact, you will. Because…

The path is graciously unfolding before you.

While most of us are aware of the transformative effects of yoga, do we really understand the why and how of its inner workings? New yoga teachers typically become inspired by a gifted mentor or teacher. They proceed to emulate their teacher’s style in some way, in hopes of providing a similar experience for their own students.

However, without understanding how and why these results are achieved, they often miss the subtle influences that create the beneficial experience of a yoga class. These writings will explain in western terms how yoga works, because we need to understand all aspects of yoga in order to be the best teachers we can possibly be. We are endeavoring to achieve the balance of body wisdom, awareness and sensitivity with classic alignment and queuing. We have developed this based on years of observing what is most effective in terms of safety and moving people effectively into poses that will be most beneficial for them.

Practice What You Teach: Keeping Teaching Real through the Evolution of Your Personal Practice

Practice What You Teach: Keeping Teaching Real through the Evolution of Your Personal Practice

-By Sam Jacobs

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
~ Anton Chekov

In 2015, after teaching part-time for three years, I decided to make the leap and become a full-time yoga teacher. While I loved the shift in focus of my life, by the end of that year, I was disenchanted with teaching and found myself robotically, mindlessly, offering sequences and intentions for practices that felt more like doing what I had to do to make ends meet instead of laboring with passion and love. I dropped back to part-time teaching, aiming to develop my own practice and uncover more pieces of myself that might expand the horizon of what I could offer my students. It worked. I typically did yoga five days a week, at a wide array of studios and for myself at home. I took bigger breaths. I read more about yogic philosophy. I travelled. Teaching began to feel like a privilege again. Now, I find myself with an incredible opportunity to teach-full time once more, and as I begin down this familiar road, I am trying to learn from my past mistakes.

As a full-time teacher, one of my biggest challenges is keeping things on the mat fresh and interesting not just for my students, but also for myself. Despite a principle that I (and most teachers I know) embrace: yoga is a lifestyle that embodies growth and self-care, when I lead ten to twenty classes a week, the first thing that goes out the window is taking the time to concentrate my own practice. With a packed teaching day ahead, I’ll glance at my mat rolled in the corner with a sense of reluctance; I’ll start to envy my students’ opportunities to practice and lament the circumstances that are keeping me from my own. In short, I can easily stumble into behavior that runs counter to asteya, or non-stealing. I take from myself: time and opportunity to let my passion thrive, and in turn, take from my students because the practices I lead can often become speckled with my own jealousy and desires. In order to confidently make the transition back to full-time teaching, here are some concrete strategies I have implemented, and I hope they will be of use to both part-time and full- time teachers who might resonate with challenges I have faced.

Part of My 40-Hour Work Week Includes My Own Practice 

As most of us have heard in one training or another, you can only teach as far as you yourself have journeyed. I hope to lead dynamic, inspiring classes, that aspiration is realized most fully when my own practice is growing. For me, this means giving myself permission to carve time to practice. Part of my schedule now includes time to do yoga; I look at is as part of my job (and I am very lucky to teach at a studio that also considers the development of my personal practice a vital component to my teaching). The more diverse the set of practices and teachers, the better, and returning to a studio “home” that is not a place I am a teacher has been immensely beneficial. When I practice at a studio where no one knows me as a teacher, I experiment more. I don’t worry about leading by example. I have the space to find my yoga with a pure and burning curiosity. When scheduling does not permit, I practice at the studio where I teach. While I do see students alongside me on the mat who know me as a teacher, it revs up my own mental practice to stay in the moment, in my own head and my own body. And, when a day is simply too booked to take a studio class, I am finding the disciple to unfurl my mat in my apartment and hop on. Even if only for fifteen minutes first thing when I wake for a few Sun As & Bs. Because there are lessons my body and breath teach me every time that can help me to find nuggets of inspiration for the teaching day ahead.

I Honor a Day of Rest

At least one day a week, I do not practice, nor do I lead a practice. While the yoga happens every day now that it has become part of my life, taking space away from the physical practice is a cornerstone of my self-care. I find within this window of twenty-four hours, my body has time to integrate the lessons of the week and my mind has time to clear to make room for new ideas and inspiration for the next set of classes. I used to worry that if yoga was not a constant, daily fixture, I would somehow lose it. Now, I focus on aparigraha, or non-grasping. Rather than pressuring myself to find yoga every day through asana, I am starting to let it wash over and through me. To believe that it is in me. Like any healthy relationship, space is essential. Rather than holding on to it so tightly, like sand slipping through a tightly clenched fist, I give myself a little more room to breathe.
I Am Learning To Be Honest With Myself and My Students When I Encounter Burn-Out
Lastly, rather than pretending I am some kind of mutant super-human, I am trying to integrate more satya, honesty, into my teaching. When I can admit to my students that I am frazzled, tired, or I have been teaching a few more classes than is ideal for me and feeling the reverberations of my own practice slipping, I find it invites conversations after class about self- care for all of us. I am trusting that the lessons I offer are beneficial when they are not just about my strengths, but also my struggles. Although I have set goals for myself about how I want to teach and take care of myself, I don’t meet them every day or every week. I fall into old patterns. I still push myself harder than I should. I don’t always see myself clearly. Saying these things aloud, owning them, and teaching from where I am gives me and my students permission to dismantle the pressure of perfection. When I openly bring my fully-flawed, constantly evolving self to the mat, I take on the dual roles of student and teacher. Occupying both spaces at once is the most certain path I have found towards a sustainable teaching career.

It’s All in the Hips, Or Is It?

It’s All in the Hips,
Or Is It?
By Samantha Jacobs

I won’t rehash all the unfortunate phrases said during yoga classes that lend credibility to the troupe of yoga (as practiced in Western countries) as emotionally overwrought and scientifically unsupported; a little too much heart and not enough head (if you want a primer and a laugh, find them here: https://www.doyouyoga.com/8-phrases- that-yoga- teachers-can- stop-using-now- 15627/). Hearing that I was supposed to breathe into the deliciousness of a pose and release my inner toxins kept me from coming back to the mat for what must have amounted to a thousand days. I remember enough from my pre-med undergraduate courses to know that when I go upside-down, I am not “reversing the blood flow” in my body. So, what of this emotional release that is said over and over to come from hip openers? 

Before I get too analytical, a disclaimer: I believe that there are intangible, immeasurable, and simply mystic elements to an honest and authentic yoga practice. Part of yoga is faith. There’s no set of data I need to prove to me the how real it is when my mind becomes still after I’ve spent over an hour paying attention to my breath, trying with my whole heart, and releasing any attachment to the results of my efforts (yes, that’s roughly Sutra 1.12).

Now, back to the hips and that time you found yourself bawling in Sleeping Pigeon Pose after ten minutes. Okay. The hips are home to the largest ball and socket joints in the body which interact with seventeen to twenty-five different muscles depending on who you ask. Sitting for long periods of time (as many of us are want to do these days) shortens the hip-flexor muscles including the psoas, rectus femoris, and sartorius as well as the hip-rotators including the piriformis, and gemellus and obturator muscle groups. Muscles that originate from the hips attach at the pelvis, lumbar spine, sacrum, and all the way down to the femur. Tight or underdeveloped muscles can cause chronic pain, spasms, and knots, and reduce blood flow and oxygenation. Make no mistake, tightness in the hips can destabilize the spine and negatively affect core strength. From a simple mechanical perspective, regularly stretching the hips has indisputable benefits whether you are trying to maintain basic mobility or training as an elite athlete.

Now the emotional release? Western medicine is slowly wising up to the reality that the body and the mind are inextricably linked, and that manifestations in the body correlate to emotional and mental well-being. This makes sense. At their most basic level, emotions are chemical reactions that take place across the entire body, not just in the brain; an emotional experience is followed by an almost-instantaneous physical response. Existing studies on the matter do support that feelings of negativity activate muscles in the jaw and around the eyes, and people who have experienced chronic stress have shortened neck and shoulder muscles.

People also tend to understand their emotions as taking place within the physical body. When asked, research subjects associated the neck and shoulders with pride, anger, and shame. The entire body was linked with happiness and love, but unsurprisingly, the chest area near the heart was considered the most highly activated. The chest was also the repository for anxiety and fear. Like love, depression and sadness were envisioned to spread throughout the entire body, but with emphasis in the arms and legs. And the hips? There is little scientific research that correlates the storage of negative emotions and the hips. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/urban-survival/201505/5- ways-stress- hurts-your-body-and- what-do- about-it.

Indeed, most of the observations regarding hip openings and emotional release originate from the yoga community. See https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/emotions-in- motion. If you have experienced a breakthrough or particularly charged episode after an extensive session working into the muscles of the hips, no one is here to tell you that you are incorrectly associating the physical and mental release. The hips are large and complicated structures central to how we move. 

Yoga is about the yoke that forms the connection among mind, body, and breath. Once you start diving into yourself, there is no limit to the realizations you might have and the very real emotional responses that occur. The hips as an emotional storage site is a fairly uncontroversial premise within the yoga community, but I wonder how many teachers repeat what they have been told without their own research, and how many students feel pressure to seek emotion in a space in the body where it just might not exist for them. As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I try to honor not just my own experiences, but to be as educated as possible about the experiences that may or may not be evoked in others. Not everyone’s experience with hip opening need be deeply emotional. Sometimes, it’s just really, really uncomfortable in the moment, and that perspective also needs to have room in a practice space to be enough.

I get uncomfortable when yoga teachers describe feelings and sensations that stray into the outer stratosphere of the reality of human physiology. I will not breathe through my left pinky toe, thank you. Some students love this approach and many teachers thrive on creative metaphors to make people see and feel themselves with a little more clarity and a little more heart. That’s the beauty of yoga. There is room enough to come at it from as many different angles as there are people who practice it. But the next time you are in a class, teaching or taking, perhaps give a thought to the idea that stretching the muscles of the hips might evoke an emotional response, and it might not. The science is still out. Your experience is your experience. How can you invite exploration without being prescriptive about out ever-evolving understanding of how the mind and the body work together?

Day or Night? Body and Mind Considerations for Scheduling Your Yoga Practice

Day or Night?
Body and Mind Considerations for Scheduling Your Yoga Practice
By Sam Jacobs
Once you have answered the question: to yoga or not to yoga in the affirmative, the next consideration is when. Busy lives, hectic schedules, and the knocking of the unexpected on the door of your carefully cultivated calendar should tell you anytime you can make it to the mat is the right time. Your body and mind will reap the benefits of a practice no matter when you do it. That said, morning practices have different benefits than evening practices both physiologically and mentally. This doesn’t mean you can only choose one. Perhaps your schedule is varied. Consistency is the key to sustainability, however. According to one study, it takes about two months of repeated behavior for action to root in the body as habit. So, reach towards your ideal schedule, let life happen, and stay flexible. When you are considering when to practice, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:
Morning Practice
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good Morning.
~Maya Angelou

Benefits of yoga and exercise in the morning are consistently proven through empirical and anecdotal evidence. If you are concerned about exercise for purely health-related benefits, studies have shown that up to 20% more calories are burned first thing in the morning, that the metabolism is boosted for the duration of the day, and appetite is tempered or even reduced. Morning exercise has also been found to lower blood pressure, a metric associated with the prevention of heart disease and diabetes. There is also tradition. Ashtanga yogis are often seen rising before the sun to practice at 6:30 in the morning, six days a week. The rigor and consistency of doing yoga at dawn are thought to encourage discipline (tapas) and deeper engagement with the physical and mental aspects of the practice. The world is still, the mind is still, and the yogi has a blank canvas upon which to craft the hours of his or her day. Practically, the morning might be time of day least likely visited by the unexpected, and where the fewest justifications (other than the snooze button) exist for skipping a session. Starting the day with yoga can encourage calm, mindfulness, and attention to the breath for all the waking hours that follow. Not to mention, sleep benefits have been associated with early morning exercise regimes.

Afternoon Practice
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay

Studies suggest that most bodies living in the western world are at their most alert, and within peak performance states from approximately 2pm-6pm. This window is when flexibility, endurance, and strength are naturally at their highest capacities. There is less risk of injury and the body is primed to explore challenging postures or transitions. Yoga over the lunch hour or into the late afternoon and early evening might be just the infusion of endorphins needed to make it through the rest of the work day. If you have the flexibility at your workplace, schedule yourself “unavailable” during a favorite afternoon class a couple of times a week to minimize the chance of circumstance keeping you from the mat. Stash an extra set of yoga clothes at the office so there are no excuses. Prioritize yoga over happy hour. Make choices to make it to the mat if that is where you want to be.

Evening Practice
All day I’ve built 
a lifetime and now 
the sun sinks to 
undo it. 
The horizon bleeds 
and sucks its thumb. 
The little red thumb 
goes out of sight. 
And I wonder about 
this lifetime with myself, 
this dream I’m living.
~Anne Sexton

After a long day, sometimes there is nothing sweeter than an evening decompression session to let it wash away. Yoga in the evening can help eliminate the stress that built up throughout the day as well as encourage corrective strengthening and stretching to undo the ergonomically unsound situations the body experienced prior to making it to the mat. A word of caution regarding a vigorous evening practice: know yourself. While some studies suggest that rigorous exercise to the point of exhaustion may disrupt sleep cycles, this is not true of every body. Furthermore, savasana and/or meditation prior to sleep may actually encourage restfulness in a way that other forms of exercise do not. Later evening practices at many studios are choreographed with the end-of- day crowd in mind. Late night, consider a restorative, yin, or therapeutics class. Furthermore, many studios are less crowded in the evenings which might mean the venue you seek for practice is less chaotic.

Yoga before bed can be a satisfying way to reclaim and reprioritize yourself no matter what might have come before. The take away? Unique schedules and wonderfully diverse lifestyles make it impossible to be intelligently prescriptive about when the “best time” to do yoga might be. Any time can be the right time for yoga. Like any good practice: listen, meet yourself where you are, do it with honesty and integrity. Morning, noon, or night.

This Yoga Love Affair (Part Two): Making it Last a Lifetime

This Yoga Love Affair (Part Two):
Making it Last a Lifetime

When I first started practicing yoga, I treated it like an all-or- nothing physical experience and approached it the same way I approached ballet and running: I had not satisfied my purpose until I was beat up, exhausted, drenched in sweat, my feet literally bleeding through my shoes. Being barefoot on the mat, making unfamiliar shapes slowed me down, but yoga was another physical, exercise-oriented activity. I did not conceive of yoga as a counterpoint to my rigorous routines; it was an additional source of passionate heat to add to my athletic fire. 

After a couple of years of practice, one teacher training, and some major life transitions in my relationships, my habits, and my career, I lost the joy of making it to the mat. I kept up with yoga because I felt guilty for not doing my “good” exercise to balance all of my chaos. If I had not fallen out of love with yoga, we were certainly in a chilly, distant place. I practiced before or after I taught, but did little to cultivate any creativity in my own movements or meditations. Then, another late night at the office kept me from taking a class, and I found myself on my mat, alone in my living room, not quite sure where to begin. It was in that meandering solo practice, where I moved without being directed, where I listened to my body asking me to slow it down, that my love affair with yoga was reenergized. Yoga became a conversation. I did not get to dictate all of the answers, and in releasing that fierce control and desire to reach a hot, rigorous practice every time, I started to listen to the seasons of my body.

Turns out, yoga, like any relationship of length and depth, goes through cycles that echo the lives of its practitioners. Keeping committed over a lifetime means honoring the gentle moments of familiarity as well those blissfully spicy moments of discovery. In this companion piece to the December post, I asked the same yogis who spoke about making it past the one year mark to talk about their commitment to yoga for the long haul. Here’s what they shared:

See Yoga in Your Life Beyond the Dedicated Time of the Physical Practice

I used to force myself to practice asana every day and I hate to say it but it actually did create some gaps in other areas of my life. Avoiding things that needed to be done in exchange for some time to sweat.  I have since learned that the practice is so much more than being on my mat so I designed other yoga practices. I have a daily ritual of Saucha every morning, created a warm and inviting meditation area in my home to draw me into meditation, I observe my thoughts and realize when I am choosing judgement over acceptance and attachment over non-attachment.These days I simply trust that yoga is not a PART of me rather than something I DO. You don’t wake up every day and say, today I will be a woman, you simply are.  That is my new yoga practice.

~Lindsey Kaalberg, Founder and CEO Ritual Hot Yoga, San Francisco CA

Know What Yoga Does for You

The primary reason that I have been able to have a sustainable practice for 10 years is routine. The regularity of Ashtanga allows the practice to exist independently of the weather, time of day, season, personal and world events, things which throw most people off. I don’t rely on creativity to keep myself engaged in the practice, nor do I need to constantly re-invent what I’m doing on the mat; I simply show up and go with the flow. The fact that the routine is established doesn’t mean that I can’t deviate to accommodate curiosity or different levels of personal energy, and I’m not so fanatical that I can’t take a break for even weeks at a time without feeling guilty. Yoga is not a lifestyle or an identity for me, but simply one powerful tool that I have to keep my cool in a world that is constantly insisting on me losing it.

~Steve Pyka, Founder, Asta Yoga, San Francisco, CA



Recognize the Long-Term Benefits of Your Commitment

Seeing the benefits of health & well being (physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually) that a consistent yoga practice provides, especially in an older body, is very motivating! Prior to taking my first yoga class, I was very physically active on a year-round basis with running, hiking, bicycling and cross country skiing.  Now, almost 40 years later, I give credit to a regular asana practice as a big reason I am still able to enjoy all these other lifetime “sports.”

~Michael Robold, Co-Founder Yoga for Health Education, Traverse City, MI

Trust the Process

Yoga heightens awareness and nudges us to keep “waking up.”  Yoga opens us to deeper layers of the body mind.  As I have grown in my knowledge through studies and experience, yoga has just become a way of life for me and self-sustains.

~Libby Robold, Co-Founder Yoga for Health Education, Traverse City MI



Honor the Roots of Tradition and Seasons of Change

Once upon a time, in a land far far away a daily practice meant going to a studio and unrolling my mat every day. After becoming an instructor, my practice became a combination of self-practice and faithfully attending my favorite teachers’ classes. In the past few years, life has changed tremendously and has shown me a whole new realm of light, color and faith (opening a studio, marriage, opening a second location, pregnancy). In this time, my ideas of self-care, self-love and self-acceptance have become more refined; and now my practice has rooted itself in space contained within the 8-Limbed Path.

~ Adesina Cash, Founder, Hot Spot Yoga, Oakland, CA

The practice will look different in every body, and the path of its unfolding will be as unique as you are. And that’s the thing about love. You can only see it for what it truly is from the inside out, as a participant in the heartbreak and passion, the lulls and the torrents. What makes yoga work for you will not be what makes yoga work for me, but we can learn from each other. We can learn from the wisdom of those yogis who have made their practices sustainable through all the seasons of their lives. We can be inspired by the sparks they feel and the challenges they have faced. We can explore within, with open honest eyes, and choose to commit (or not) to a lifetime of this yoga love affair.

This Yoga Love Affair: A Collage of Views on How to Keep Your Yoga Practice Sustainable Over One Year

This Yoga Love Affair:
A Collage of Views on How to Keep Your Yoga Practice Sustainable Over One Year
(Part 1 of 2)

By Samantha Jacobs

As the chill of December ushers in the close of another year, it is a fitting time to reflect on habits, routines, resolutions, and aspirations. Where did your yoga practice take you this year? What were the elements that kept you coming back to the mat? If you are just beginning to explore yoga, what have you found that makes you curious about cultivating a regular practice? Even after seven years of practicing and teaching, my relationship with yoga runs hot and cold. I know that I love it, that because of yoga I see my life through lenses that were previously unavailable to me, and that I would not be the same person without it, but I still resist my mat. There are times when I want space from my practice in the same way I crave space from a lover: Baby, I want you, but I just don’t want to play today. I don’t have it in me to work this hard right now. I am still exploring what it means to keep this practice sustainable – for one year, and yes, for a lifetime. 

To help offer some strategies for the rest of us, I asked several amazing yogis who make the practice their livelihood how they keep faithfully coming back to the mat in the 365-day cycle of a year: 

Trust your Inspiration: Teachers, Communities, and Whatever Else Moves You 

The call to practice comes from my physical body, yearning for harmony. The call from my mental/emotional body craves the centering engagement of yoga which cultivates a calm state of mind. The truth is… my practice is not confined to the mat. It is sustained by the call to pay attention to my interactions, choices, responses, and my words. Some days my practice is just being present with those around me and learning to honor all beings whatever their perspective. Other days, the call is to help others, or to be present in discomfort of body or mind, or simply, to live in the mystery. I try to remember that when I keep my consciousness elevated that I help to elevate the consciousness of all beings at some level.

~Libby Robold, co- Founder, Yoga for Health Education, Traverse City MI

I make it a priority to make it to my teacher’s class as often as possible. I’d love to go once a week, but sometimes it’s less than that. But practicing regularly with one teacher has helped me keep my practice sustainable and she also helps me to feel inspired.

~ Torrey Mansur, RYT 500, Berkeley/Bay Area

Over the course of the year, my practice is sustained by being in community with strong people who show up no matter what. I started practicing at It’s Yoga with Larry Schultz in 2008, which was the first time I had been turned on to a regular practice, and what I found most captivating was the complete lack of what I would call “yoga bullshit”, which needs little explanation. It was completely practice-oriented and the effects of regular practice were evident all around me in the regular members of the community. When It’s Yoga was winding down their presence in SF, I knew Rocket Yoga and the community which emerges from it formed such a lifeline that we would have to re-create it ourselves.

~Steve Pyka, co-Founder Asta Yoga, San Francisco CA

Allow Yourself and Your Practice to Change

I give myself permission to have a practice that doesn’t look the same every day. At one point in my life, I was very attached to doing a vigorous asana practice that needed to be a certain amount of time to “count” as a practice. Now I feel great when I can do whatever practice nourishes me that day. I do different practices depending on my menstrual cycle, which is much more sustainable to me than having an active asana practice daily. Also, I just had a baby, so my practice these days has mostly been a seated meditation for 1-5 minutes, a simple pranayama practice and restorative yoga. This type of practice really supports me right now, making it very sustainable.

~ Torrey Mansur

Meet Yourself Where You Are

I take it easy on myself to be quite honest. On days I am called to my mat, I practice; on days I am not, I do not. I take time to observe patterns and do a bit of inquiry as I know when I am in my optimal state I am called to the mat. When it has been more than 3 days, I attempt just rolling out my mat and stepping onto it. If I am there for 5 minutes fabulous, 55 minutes fabulous.

~ Lindsey Kaalberg, co-Founder and CEO Ritual Hot Yoga, San Francisco CA

I am attempting to let go of my attachment to progress in my practice, and I am enjoying the process of sitting and centering every day. I am enjoying the discipline and regularity of a daily practice more than advancing in a certain direction. Progress does happen, and I enjoy that, but I am trying not to be so attached to it.

~Torrey Mansur

Ask Yourself to Make It Happen

Self Discipline is key, of course.  At the heart of Self Discipline is an underlying attitude of “I am responsible for my health & welfare and, I am worth the effort for I am here to be of service to others, especially those I love.”  Naturally, it helps to have at least one other person who offers their support and encouragement to stay the course. And, teaching classes at a yoga studio mandates, from my perspective, a requirement to sustain an ongoing practice.

~ Michael Robold, co-Founder Yoga for Health Education, Traverse City MI

My practice could be a good sit in my bedroom before I start the day, sometimes my practice is unrolling my mat alone in the studio and just moving my body, sometimes it’s a 6:30AM Primary Series at my local Mysore studio, sometimes it’s slapping down my mat and taking class with one of the amazing instructors at my studio. I say this to my students all the time, the practice will always meet you where you are. You just have to show up. In order for me to maintain an honest commitment and connection to my practice I just have to show up, sit down and listen.

~Adesina Cash, Founder, Hot Spot Yoga, Oakland CA

To participate in a practice of mindfulness means there is a constant shifting of perspective, the invocation of empathy, and the demand for honest examination of the body and the mind. And, damn, it’s hard work. It can be as overwhelming and frustrating as it can be beautiful. It’s messy. There’s not one answer. There’s not even a correct answer. For now, I take solace in the journeys of the folks who have been walking this path with sage wisdom for years, and find hope in those whose eyes gleam with the fresh excitement of a new romance. I am inspired by everyone brave enough to try. The journey is not going to be perfect, not even close. It is gloriously human in all its individual facets. I believe that this love is worth fighting for. I believe that, sometimes, love in all its mystery has to be enough.

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