When starting a Yoga Asana practice, it is essential to understand the dynamics of it –
- What are the essentials for it to work?
- What goes a long way?
- And what can prove to be a hindrance
Certain basics, if not take care of, can either totally nullify the hard work you put in your Yoga Practice or can make it very difficult.
Likewise, the knowledge of certain essentials like how a Yoga Asana Practice should begin and end can amplify the results multiple times.
Therefore, it is of great importance for every Yoga Practitioner to take care of certain Dos and Don’ts while starting a new Yoga Practice or maintaining a regular one.
Here are the Top 20 of them, from seemingly small to very technical – each of them equally profound for great results.
Not to mention looking at your phone, talking, or going through the lunch menu in your mind while practicing – those do not even make it to the list.
DOS OF A YOGA PRACTICE
1. The first rule of Yoga – Accept yourself
Approach your Asana practice from a point of complete acceptance of your body – strengths, and limitations. We all have them. Work with them and not against them.
Be mindful of your body type, injuries, or any other conditions.
Be gentle and patient with yourself. The goal of Yoga is to know yourself, and if you cannot develop a sense of acceptance, knowing cannot happen.
This doesn’t mean you should not start Yoga if you think you are not flexible, but start it because you are not. Work closely with yourself and through it, you might find other treasures and maybe even become more flexible.
2. Food goes a long way
I have done handstands on a full stomach, and I can tell you it is not a nice feeling!
I realize that is extreme, but you do not want to be feeling heavy, dull, or uncomfortable while in an Asana Practice.
If you are practicing Asanas in the morning, eat at least 2-3 hours before sleeping. Preferably, a meal that is easily digestible and vegetarian. Both the quantity and quality of food go a long way in the results of your practice.
For example, eating Proteins at nights can result in stiff joints the next morning, and eating too much Carbohydrate may bloat you – making you unfit for a Yoga Practice.
3. Time of the day
One of the most common questions people ask is whether they can do Yoga in the evening.
The answer is yes.
However, the most dynamic time to do Asanas is in the morning between 6-10.
This is because the earth element is active at this time of the day and any kind of movement will give great results, for all kinds of practitioners.
Evening 6-10 is also the time for the Earth element, however, certain Asanas ignite energies in your body of a certain level and can keep you awake beyond bed-time.
However, if you can only make time in the evening, do not go for very dynamic practice.
4. Space matters, a lot.
The ancient text of ‘Hatha Yoga Pradipika’ mentions that a Yogi lives an aloof life so he can practice away from the din of the city.
For people like us, who still love this world and its din (no judgment at all!), having an aloof space itself can go, a long way. If possible, with natural sunlight but not too windy as that is not conducive to the practice.
So if you are doing Yoga at home, it can be an east-facing room or the lawn or the terrace. In case of being in a group studio class, maintain body and breath awareness and be with yourself. Advanced practitioners can close their eyes as well.
5. Every step of the way is equally important
The process of moving into an Asana is ‘Poorvang’ and coming out of it, ‘Uttarang’. Both hold great importance.
Use your body and breath correctly going into a posture, and you can achieve it easily. Likewise, respect your body while coming out of the posture and you can keep doing it. Because you must have heard of people jumping out of Asanas hurting themselves and not wanting to try Yoga ever again.
Also, always be aware of the coming-out breath and follow up postures. The whole process makes a posture complete and effective.
6. Listen to what your breath is telling you
The body has its ways of telling you what is going on inside and whether you should continue it.
Pain, for example, is one of those blessings.
If not for pain, human beings would not know where to stop, not just in an Asana, but also in life.
Breath is another way the body speaks to you.
Be aware of your breath and you will see how your body is coping up with a certain Asana. It even gives you hints of how you can modify your posture to improve the breath.
Be aware of it and see it transforming as you further in your Yoga Practice.
7. Complicated does not mean more accomplished
This is my favorite example and I cannot quote it enough.
The spiritual teacher Max Strom quotes in his book ‘Life worth Breathing’ – ‘If practicing postures until we are super strong and flexible were enough to make us into masters of life, then people would be flocking to the athletes in Cirque du Soleil to seek spiritual advice’.
This is not to under-estimate the power of Yoga Asanas, but to avoid falling into the pit of thinking that accomplishing complicated Asanas alone will make you a great Yogi.
A simple shred of ego can shake your accomplishments in a second.
Simple looking postures can work on your energy centers way more than hand-stands.
Go with a proper sequence, and do not be obsessed with one thing only.
8. Another reason, why morning is the best time
Basic things in life make all the difference. The same is with Yoga.
Practice Yoga after you have emptied your bowels in the morning completely, and you will see your forward and backward bends and twists – all are deeper than if you have not.
If you practice Yoga in the evenings, because of normally warmer temperatures, the bends may still be good without evacuation, however, the energy moves better in the mornings as the channels are clear.
This can be another reason you would like to stick to a morning practice.
9. Regularity in practice makes all the difference
I cannot emphasize the importance of practice enough.
To quote one of my favorites – ‘I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times’ – Bruce Lee.
Only regularity in practice fine-tunes you to a certain level that nothing else can.
From my own experience, a regular Yoga practice not only transforms your body but your whole personality.
On the other hand, an irregular practice leaves you in the middle of nowhere. And trust me you don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere, its not a nice feeling.
10. Never under-estimate Shavasana
One of the most difficult Yoga poses of all? Shavasana, The Corpse Pose.
It took me years to develop the kind of awareness where I can feel how even a small part of my body was still tense in Shavasana. Sometimes it was my left shoulder, sometimes neck, and sometimes lower back.
It is not easy to let go.
Shavasana develops your body awareness immensely.
Also, always end your practice with Shavasana to practice the art of relaxing your body consciously.
DON’TS OF A YOGA PRACTICE
1. The Key is to Calm Down, not Stir Up
Yoga is a deeper science where we access our body and minds from a place of stillness.
Therefore, do not warm up with jerky or fast movements before you start your Yoga Practice, it’s a bad idea.
In fact, most respected Yoga schools start their sessions with Shavasana – simply relaxing in The Corpse Pose.
Similarly, once the practice finishes, it is of immense importance to minimize any movements. The whole point of Asana Practice is to make the body fit for sitting still and that is exactly what you should be doing too.
Finish your practice by sitting still in a steady cross-legged posture like Sukhasana or Padmasana and observing the breath.
2. Who you are while you practice Yoga – matters
Are you that person who feels ashamed because she is stiff?
Or are you the one who must do it better than anyone else?
Even worse, are you the one who goes for a headstand variation instead of a simple one, just to flaunt her skills.
Your practice is exclusively yours – it is for you and through you. Do not make it about other people. Do not make it about a certain idea.
Remain centered and with yourself.
3. Let the Prana flow freely
There have been a lot of changes in the traditional way of practicing Yoga.
While some of them are workable, others can really stop you from deriving the maximum benefits.
An example is synthetic clothing.
Organic clothing is the best to keep the Prana (energy) flow optimum while practicing Yoga. Together with maintaining the right kind of energy required for Yoga practice.
Ideally it must be un-stitched, as are the traditional Indian wear – Men’s Dhotis and Women’s Sarees. However, for all practical purposes you can go for comfortably breathable fit made of pure cotton.
If thinking on a higher budget, raw silk is great. For colder regions, pure wool is an option too.
4. Avoid conflict in energy
A yoga practice done the right way and with right intentions stimulates certain internal energies.
Wearing metals or even energy stones like crystals without proper prescription, can give rise to conflicting energies while you practice Yoga.
Wearing any jewelry or metal on high energy places in the body like the navel, which is where all the energy centers meet, is a definite no.
Dormant energy centers like ear-lobes are OK.
Personally, I wouldn’t take a chance, as I would want to explore my highest potential.
5. Great results are a work of patience
Trying to achieve wheel pose in one day? Think twice.
Injuries are common in Yoga because people tend to over-do themselves in a group setting. To the extent that even the best of practitioners lose themselves in a moment of ego.
Do not exert yourself in a Yoga Practice, you are not supposed to that.
Yoga is about enhancing your energy, not wasting it.
Be patient with your body and your practice. Go slow and with regular practice you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve. Accept it with grace.
6. Remember the principle of enhancing the energy
I repeat the goal of yoga is to enhance the energy – to a certain level. And boy is that a level!
So, performing Asanas while sick will not help you instead do the opposite.
It may so happen that the instance of sickness becomes very rare in your life because of a regular practice. But if you do fall sick, do not practice Asanas or even any intensive breathwork.
7. Charity begins at home, detachment too
Oh the guilt of not practicing, my whole day gets ruined sometimes.
Thing is I am not alone.
A lot of people in our tribe develop a special attachment – to their practice.
I am sure it’s the same for people who work out, run, lift weights, etc. You know what I mean.
The purpose in Yoga, however, is to let go. So, let it go if sometimes you are not able to practice to your heart’s content. If you are visiting family or your work takes precedence and you practice 1 hour instead of 2, it’s OK to compromise sometimes.
8. Keep it Cozy
The Asana practice finishes and you are ready to jump in for a shower…
Give it a break.
You just mobilized your whole body, externally and internally, with deep stretches and spinal bends, creating a certain level of warmth.
Do not vanquish the fire suddenly putting water on it.
Not just showering, but also avoid cold food and drinks after Yoga Practice.
It can cause conflicting Prakritis and may turn out bad for health.
9. Leave your books out of your practice
I have had my share of students who read so many books that even in the middle of Asanas, they could not resist asking questions.
‘In my book, this Asana is given like that’, or ‘In my book, this Asana should not be followed by the Asana you just told’.
And while it is a complete pleasure for me to try to resolve all the queries a practitioner has; I did not feel right.
Because Asanas are places where you should be going inside yourself, trying to listen to your body. While being technical is good, being in the moment is of utmost importance.
Do not let the knowledge you have acquired to become the dictator of your practice.
10. Do your practice a favor
I shall not use the word ‘Do Not’ in this case, because I ‘Do not’ want to spawn extreme emotions.
However, there is a certain quality every substance brings with itself.
In Yoga, we call them ‘Gunas’.
Through Yoga, we are trying to raise the level of our ‘Sattva’ quality – the quality of purity, stability, and harmony.
Simply put, drugs and alcohol have the exact opposite qualities. They dull the faculties of your mind.
Avoid them if you are or want to become a Yoga practitioner. It won’t be difficult for you to spot the difference.
The Essence of all doing and not doing
The one thing I ask of you when you step out of your next Yoga practice session is to tell yourself, ‘I shall take the calm of my practice with me throughout the day.’
You are good to go.