Throughout your practice you’ll begin making observations. Days when you are strong or distracted. Days you’re fit and flexible or stiff and sore. In classes with a consistent routine, this will be particularly noticeable. “How come today I can’t touch my toes?” Or, “My lower back is sore in this pose today when it wasn’t before.” are common among new students.
Self-awareness grows alongside continued practice. Relax, associated environmental factors will become more obvious with time. This is when many students begin altering their habits to better improve their practice. When it becomes a lifestyle. Take a moment to reflect on how you feel at the end of each class. You’ve probably had a good sweat, feel light, calm and energized — all at the same time. Allow me to assure you, it continues to get better. Preserving this state as long as possible and removing everything which reduces it, becomes a focus over time. This is getting in touch with your self.
In Exploring Yoga-Dance, Pt. 2/3 I was on a particularly high note and felt an insane urge to dance, express my energy and flow. I’ve never done anything that before, let alone record and share it. However, it was incredible liberating to see where my practice has taken me. You’ll find the same thing happens to you as well.
Anyways, on this wonderful journey, I’ve observed a few actions which elevate my practice. They’re easy to adopt and make an instant impact on your experience. Tap “Read More” and see what they are.
Sun Salutation A • Jason Crandell • Tap photo for source.
Your body is incredibly sensitive to temperature changes. This is why stretching is easier once you’re sweating. It’s also partially why Bikram Yoga is in/famous, the studios are heated to 40°C with very high humidity. While the style is not my cup of kampuchea, I do enjoy yoga in a very hot environment. To prepare my muscles and joints, I visit the beach to lie in the sun (and do a few stretches in the water to practice balance). This makes warming up before class easier, boosts internal temperature (releasing toxins) and increases pranayama.
If you don’t live on a tropical island, drop everything and move there now! Just kidding, sort of (though worth considering). You can also try:
Taking a hot shower before class (either at home, the fitness centre or even some studios)
Sitting in a hot tub (my mom does this at the community rec centre)
Sit in a sauna
Sunbath by a window
Do jumping jacks, run on the spot or do 20 sit-ups (great for building heat fast)
Perform 3-5 moderately paced Sun Salutation A, B, C (A pictured above, search google images for more variations)
What’s your favourite way to warm up before yoga? Leave a comment below.
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Everyone knows hydration is important. How much it’s acted on is another matter. There are dozens of health benefits, from the brain to the blood, learn more in my previous blog post: 4 Free Ways To Improve Your Health, Pt. 4/5.
With most of the body being made of water, it should be obvious to drink more. How much? Each person will need a different amount. My metric is, when I have to pee a lot throughout the day, and each time it’s clear, then I’m doing well. Trust me, you’ll see there’s a direct correlation between hydration and flexibility. The day before yoga, toss back as much water as you can and see what happens in class. Think about it, the body generates electrical signals and water is a fantastic conductor. The more hydrated, the better those signals can spread. You may also want to look into re-mineralizing your water since most industrial bottlers, take everything out, significantly reducing the positive effects it has. Water should be a slightly basic pH, mineralized and drank at room temperature. Change your water, change your life.
What tricks do you have for staying hydrated?
According to the Sutras of Patanjali, The 8 Limb Path outlines the branches of yoga designed to live a disciplined life and eliminate suffering. This approach establishes yoga poses, Asanas, as the third branch, after Yama (1) the five moral codes, and Niyama (2), the five rules of personal behaviour. Each of these can be studied, discussed and practiced extensively. I’ll reference content which covers them in depth later on in the series.
In the West, many are attracted to yoga for fitness reasons. After exploring they become aware of the dietary impacts on their practice. From the traditional perspective, a clean diet will have an individual healthy to start out with, then doing yoga is very easy. A healthy diet is specified by Ahimsa (non-violence), the first Yama, and the first branch, which means a cruelty-free diet.
From a subtle energetic perspective, when animals are slaughtered, that fear is retained in them and the final product. When consumed, the fear collects in the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, causing tension in the hips.
I get it, the diet thing is touchy. So, I’ll gloss over the debate, and share what’s happened in my experience:
I feel lighter
I appreciate all life forms
I phased out meats one by one, over 45 days each
Tension in my hips and lower back disappeared. The few times I have eaten meat since Dec 2017, the tension comes back, I become heavy, sleepy and have to use the toilet a lot
I no longer expect my body to create healthy, living cells from decaying, dead flesh
My sex drive has shifted from physical lust to emotional and spiritual intimacy (also because I reduced sugar intake)
Though I never really drank a lot of alcohol, when I do, it’s clear it doesn’t work well with my body. I’m sluggish the next day, dehydrated, mentally foggy and have noticeable tension in my hamstrings. Not much else to say here. Experiment for yourself. Stop using it, practice, then see what happens when you consume it again (assuming your diet doesn’t change, you sleep at the same time and keep practicing etc.).
When looking at the body, on a basic level, it’s largely a bag of water and electrical signals. The brain, heart, nervous system, senses and more, all require electrical signals to function. Additionally the brain, muscles, skin and blood are made up of mostly water. The rest is largely minerals. Thus it makes sense to consume foods which match this structure.
The foods which maximize hydration and are full of minerals provide a significant improvement to overall health. Try eating only fruits and vegetables while drinking a lot of water for a day or two. Then eat other foods and observe the differences in how you feel and within your practice. The point is experiment with your body, get to know it, adjust your habits, observe and repeat. Make use of that journal I mentioned in part one. If you were a fast food junkie, like I was, this’ll take more than a night of veggies to see noticeable changes.
Are you making any changes to your diet? How is it going?
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First, for safety reasons, you shouldn’t eat for three hours before yoga class as a standard rule. Inversions, and twists especially, can disrupt the digestive process. Furthermore, digestion diverts blood and mental capacity that would otherwise be used to practice. If you eat before you’ll feel heavy, sluggish, less agile, sick (or actually be sick) and you won’t get that yoga high at the end of class. The longer you can go without eating before class, the better. Besides, after class, your senses will be heightened.
There’s a lot of discussion going on about which types of fasting to try, such as intermittent fasting, juice fasting, water fasting, for how long, the benefits, etc. I have a psychologically hard time not eating food when I feel hungry. Even when I’m not hungry, I can always eat. It’s an area of opportunity. I’d like to eat between 12-6, and have a 24 hour fast once every two weeks or so.
However, there was a couple times I did small fasts. The first time was for 32 hours, the second for 18 hours. To help rid myself of hunger pains, I drank a lot of water which made me very hydrated. Surprisingly, I had a crazy amount of energy since my body wasn’t digesting so much food all the time.
When I practiced yoga during these periods, I was blown away at how deep my practice went. Not just physically either. I was psychologically more relaxed, more introspective and felt extremely light.
If you’re interested in being more spiritual, fasting regularly is certainly worth looking into. For health reasons, it’s also a good idea. A 24 hour fast is a great chance for your body to clean out the digestive system and gives your internal organs a rest. It’s a big reason why sleep rejuvenates us. The body is reassigning energy normally used during digestion to work elsewhere. Which, explains why we shouldn’t eat a few hours before bed either.
Have you fasted before? Are you thinking about it? Let me know your experiences in the comments!
To see more of my practice, check out align432YOGA on Instagram.