Getting on my Mat
I’ve had a lot of conversations this month about the challenges of establishing and maintaining a personal daily
asana practice. I thought it might be helpful to share some ideas about why it is important and ways to facilitate
our daily yoga practice.
My intention is not to infer that asana/posture is “all of yoga”! Patanjali describes eight limbs of yoga practice
(the path of Ashtanga Yoga) in the Yoga Sutras, of which asana is only one.
8 Limbs of Practice
1. Yama – path to harmonious connection with people and the world
2. Niyama – path to inner harmony
3. Asana – to sit with; what we know as the limb of posture practice
4. Pranayama – expansion of the vital life force
5. Pratyahara – withdrawal from the outer world, connection to our inner world
6. Dharana – concentration; the ability to sustain our attention on one point
7. Dhyana – meditation; the cultivation of relaxed alertness with appreciation
8. Samadhi – wholeness, absorption with the universal flow
When we practice asana it connects us to many of the other limbs…
Getting on my mat daily, whether it is my preference or not, really stokes the inner fire of discipline and
transformation (2. niyama). Moving through an asana practice, I become very breath aware (4. pranayama) as
each movement is guided by the breath. As I continue to bring my mind back to the sensations and positioning
and movement of my body and breath (5. pratyahara), my concentration develops (6. dharana). This continued
concentration leads to a meditative state (7. dhyana).
Ideally our practices honor who we are and where we are at, which connects us with the facets of non-harming,
truthfulness, generosity, moderation, and letting go of desired outcomes (1. yama). Letting the entire practice go
at the end while I rest calm and feeling into my own expansive nature can give us glimpses of our oneness with
the universe (8. samadhi). When my practice is complete, I feel good about choosing nourishment (body-mind
& spirit), contented, connected to myself and my world (2. niyama).
Although posture practice is only part of the picture, we can see how it sets the foundation to understand and
embody a full yoga practice.
Getting on the mat
Over years of practice, it has not always been easy to get on my mat. Sometimes I’m tired, sad, busy, agitated,
judgmental, or forgetful. However, as Denise <3 once said “I never regret coming to class, I only regret not doing it”. Here are some thoughts on how to facilitate getting on the mat: 1. Quality not Quantity: Ideally we would have time daily for a 90-minute practice, however it is not about the length of time we practice. A practice does not need to be long to be fruitful. It is more beneficial to practice daily for 5 to 30 minutes, then it is to do 2 or 3 hours once per week. The benefits and effects of the practice are cumulative. Although sometimes we really are very busy or out of sorts, if we make 5 minutes for ourselves to practice (standing in tadasana is practice!), it is time well spent. 2. Book Yourself In: Schedule time everyday to stand or even just sit on your mat. If asana happens, great. If not, at least you were on your mat establishing the habit of presence and consistency. You may not realize it yet, however you are worth every minute you invest into yourself. Investing in your personal practice is a dedication to your highest Self. You are worth it. 3. Tools for home practice: Some of these are to remind us to practice, some are to get us into the habit of getting on our mats at home despite the potential distractions. • There’s a spot in the living room where our yoga mat lives. It is always out, waiting for some company. Having a regular spot to practice where you can have your yoga things (like your mat and a candle) can simplify the process of getting on your mat. • I like to have some props near by: A blanket or two (you can roll them to make bolsters), a block or thick book like a dictionary, a footstool, a pillow (throw pillows off the couch work great!) and a mat. When I see the tools for practice, it reminds me to practice. • Invest in a few good yoga DVDs. I really like Sarah Powers “Insight Yoga”, Paul Grilley’s “Yin Yoga” and Shiva Rea’s “Yoga Shakti”. Glenn really likes Jason Crandell’s “Morning, Noon, and Night”. • I also have a few lovely Yoga Practice CDs from the Kripalu Center – it’s nice to listen and practice without having to look. Sudha Carolyn Lundeen has a wonderful Vata pacifying practice, and Micah Mortali has a great “pratyahara” practice with fun pranayama. • Subscribe to an online practice resource like yogaglo.com or myyogaonline.com • If you are easily distracted, you might need to turn off your phone. I know when I meditate my cell goes into airplane mode 🙂 4. Accountability: Sometimes what we need is someone to help us get on our mat. Having a “practice buddy” – someone you can get together with and you each do your personal practice – can be really helpful. Or, perhaps someone to call/text/email you daily and ask what you did for practice today. Knowing you have to answer to someone can be the motivator you need to establish the habit of regular practice. 5. Simplicity: There are so many practice possibilities that it can be overwhelming. Setting my sequences is something I started a few years ago, and have been doing ever since as it works really well for me. I create a 20 – 25 minute sequence, and that’s what I practice until its time to change it. Over the years I’ve created practices in many different styles (hatha, restorative, yin, vinyasa, …). Now, when it’s practice time there is less to figure out – all I need to know what type of practice my body-mind is craving, then I get on my mat and do it. I also have friends who have chosen to dedicate to a set sequence practice like Sivananda, Ashtanga or Bikrams. Once you know what you are going to do when you get on your mat, it makes it a lot easier to simply step up and practice. Remember that establishing new habits, even important ones like a daily personal practice, takes time. As best you can, let go of guilt, shame or anger if it does not unfold perfectly (hint: it likely won’t) and simply get back on your mat as soon as you realize you’ve fallen off. Falling out of our practices happens all the time, the key is to simply get back on and let the rest go. If you are teaching yoga it’s not about “wanting to” practice, you NEED to practice. If you are not practicing, what are you teaching your students? And ultimately, if you are not getting on your mat you need to ask yourself some questions: What is the obstacle to getting on your mat? Why aren't I practicing? What is really going on? Is there something you don’t want to hear/see/feel? What do I need to get on my mat? Enjoy the practice! Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love), m xo Mona L. Warner, ERYT500 Janati Yoga, RYS500