SOLITUDE AND YOGA: DISCOVERING THE VALUE OF A HOME PRACTICE
Many people say yoga has changed their lives, myself included. I started practicing in New York City, a place that has the potential be a yogi’s dream. There are expensive studios with a view, free yoga in the park, donation based studios, and celebrity instructors. You can find Kundalini, Bikram, [Ashtanga]/style/ashtanga-yoga}, power yoga, etc. You name it and New York probably has it. It’s something of a phenomenon there, often marketed as the preferred method of escape from the crazed city lifestyle.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy my time in the fancy studios. I did. I looked forward to drinking my eight dollar green juice while heading to the studio that I paid an exorbitant amount of money to every month. The lululemon was on, toenails painted, and hair in a proper ponytail. In class I would try my hardest to nail that handstand, to remain in crow for longer than five seconds, and to ensure my stomach was constantly sucked in. At times I pushed my body passed where it was ready to go. While I knew this was a result of my vanity and my own issues, and not the fault of the studio, I was missing the most important aspect of yoga. I lacked the connection to self, the willingness to let go and just be and observe. While I knew there were people in my class who were able to block the outside world out (and I salute them for that), I also knew there were others who had experienced, and continued to feel the same fears and discomfort, that I felt.
HOW I DISCOVERED MY HOME PRACTICE
About six months ago I moved to China to teach English. I had no interest in inhaling pollution while running outside or in joining the rather unsanitary gym in my neighborhood, so I started looking into home fitness programs. This is what led me to discover online yoga videos. My home practice was the turning point for me in yoga. Almost everyday after work I turned off the lights, lit some candles, chose a video, unrolled my mat, and lost myself in my practice.
There was something simultaneously comforting and liberating about moving through the asanas in complete solitude. Nobody could see what I was wearing or what my hair was doing, and most importantly I wasn’t competing. I was completely in tune with my body, flowing through asanas the way it wanted; I was open and humble. My brain was turned off and my heart was speaking.On days I felt homesick, this process cured it all. Loneliness doesn’t exist when there is a strong connection to self.
If you’re totally in love with your group practice I’m certainly not suggesting you stop going, but adding a home practice once or twice a week may give you a different kind of connection to yoga, and to yourself. For me, I think it was the lack of outside stimuli that forced me to notice every bend of the knee, every transition and breath, the feeling of each vertebrae rolling onto the floor, the beauty of spinal twists. I stopped caring about how many people were still in crow. I was able to let go and ultimately improve my posture and asanas more than I ever had.
It’s important to mention that safety is the most important part of yoga. If you’re a beginner, it may be best to take a class with a professional instructor to ensure proper alignment, and to assist with any knee, back or shoulder issues you may have. There are also wonderful benefits to practicing with others, particularly the positive energy in the room and the sense of community.
Yoga, like life, is a journey. There is a lesson to be learned from every feeling and experience, good or bad. Group classes forced me to examine why I was turning yoga into something superficial. Nobody cared what I was wearing or how long I held a pose. That was all me. Ironically, I wasn’t able to figure that out until I practiced alone. Both solo and group practices have something incredible to offer each individual. If one scares you, all the more reason to try it. You’ll most likely discover something about yourself you didn’t know before.
5 Core Strengthening Yoga Poses
Yoga has taught me a lot about my body. It’s made me realize I had muscles I didn’t even know existed, has given me better flexibility, eased some back issues I was having and made me understand the importance of building a strong core.
Your core region consists of your obliques, pelvic region, hip muscles and those that support your spine. Vaguely speaking, they are responsible for keeping your torso upright.
A lot of people don’t understand the importance of strengthening all of these muscles, but they are missing out on some great benefits.
A strong core can help you improve sport performance. Sports, like tennis that require dynamic movements between your upper and lower body, can seriously benefit from a stable core.
Did you know that your risk of injury reduces significantly when you take care of your entire midsection? Many injuries are caused from a lack of balance and excess strain on the lower back. Core strengthening exercises build your back muscles so you can protect it from unnecessary strain.
Other benefits include better posture, improved ability to complete everyday activities, and of course, flatter abs.
If you’re interested in reaping all these rewards, here are my five favorite yoga poses for a strong, lean core!
- Boat Pose – The boat pose can be a real abdominal killer. To do this sit on your mat, lift your knees so they are parallel to the ground and stay balanced by leaning back on your sit bones. It’s important to keep your back straight while doing this pose.
If you can, straighten your legs. If your back starts to curve, bring your knees back into a bent position. Hold this pose for five complete breaths then release. This pose always makes my midsection quiver, but makes me feel oh so strong afterwards.
- Side Plank – Remember when I mentioned the importance of obliques? This is a great exercise for targeting that muscle group.
Start in downward dog then step both feet together so your big toes are touching. Move your right hand over to the left so it’s centered with the top middle of your mat. Roll over to the left and plant your left heel down. The key here is to balance on your outer left, flexed foot. Reach your arm straight up above you and take five full breathes. Release and repeat the movements on the other side.
- Crow – This one looks tough, but I assure you it’s not so bad. Begin in a wide squat with your hands firmly planted on the ground with your fingers spread wide. Slightly straighten your legs and place your knees as high on your triceps as possible. Shifting your weight forward, balance on your arms and slowly begin to lift each foot off the floor. Again, remain here for five breaths.
- Four-Limbed Staff/ Chaturanga Dandasana – This position is frequently used when doing Sun Salutations. When held for longer it is a great core strengthener.
Come into a Standing Forward Bend with your palms flat on the floor. As you inhale, jump both feet back so your shoulders are above your wrists and your body is straight. Exhale and bend your elbows as you lower your torso towards the ground. Once your elbows are parallel with your back, stop and hold for five deep breaths.
- Plank – I like to call this the old faithful because it’s simple, yet effective.
From Downward Facing Dog, draw your torso forward until your shoulders are above your wrists. You want your body to be in one straight line. Pressing your hands firmly on the ground, press back through your heels. Keep your neck in line with your spine, broaden your shoulder blades and hold for 60 seconds. Don’t forget to breathe!
If you add these five core savvy yoga exercises into your daily routine you will have a slender and strong core in no time at all. Namaste.