We all love that feeling after a yoga class. That blissful floating feeling that has your soul singing, but getting to a regular class or having a regular practice can be difficult. Even in my teacher training, a lot of us recognised that our practices at times waned.
Here are my tips to creating a regular practice.
Set your intention.
Just like we do at the start of our practice, setting an intention to practice is just as important. Take some time to think about it and really delve into why you want to practice so, when motivation is low you can remind yourself of why it is important to you. I like to remind myself that my practice draws me closer to my higher self, my best self, the person who I know that I am inside so I can draw from that well to manifest it in our world. I also remind myself what a privilege it is to be able to practice. The physical and health benefits are just a bonus.
Yoga is a householder’s practice (particularly asana and pranayama). It is intended to be practised around all the responsibilities we have. We can’t just give up our day job and practice yoga all day (even if that is the dream – one day!) We have responsibilities to family, our community and our workplace.
So, by looking at when we like to practice; in the morning, evening or during the day. Consider what days we are likely to be able to practice and how often and if we want to attend a studio, what is the class schedule. From there we can form a plan to practice.
Once you have a plan – schedule it! Set timers and reminders; put it in your diary. Make it part of that day.
Find a teacher you connect with.
If you are attending a class or one online, find a teacher that you like. If you go to a studio to practice, go a bit earlier or stay a bit later and have a brief chat to the teacher. Talk to them about what you’d like to work towards, what you like about the class or ask them a yoga question. Don’t be shy, we all were beginners and are still learning so we can understand how daunting yoga can be.
We yoga teachers love to talk about yoga and getting to know our students so we can help them – that is why we teach! Building a rapport between yoga teacher and student is rewarding for both.
Bring a friend or make a friend at the class.
Making a commitment to meet a friend at a class can help when we lack motivation. It’s a two way street – you can motivate them when they aren’t feeling it too! You can then catch up for a chat and a chai after the class.
30 day yoga challenge
You Tube has some great yoga instructors who offer 14 day or 30 day yoga classes. Some studios offer similar courses. Signing up to a course can really help kick start your practice.
A set sequence.
Whilst practising the same sequence of asana like Ashtanga, might not be for everyone, it does have a few really great benefits.
One of the benefits is being able to see your progress in your poses. Another benefit of practising a set sequence is that when motivation or time is low you don’t have to think about what asana to practice you just get on your mat anywhere, any time and go for it.
Put on your yoga clothes and unfurl your mat.
If all else fails… put on your yoga clothes, unfurl your mat.
That is half the battle won right there.
Then, start connecting with your breath. Express gratitude for being able to practice.
If you still don’t have the motivation to do sun salutations or any dynamic asana, you can do cat cow curls, happy baby, just move and stretch in any way that feels good to you.
If that is still not going to work for you… you can do a pranayama or a meditation. Yoga is more than asana.
Lastly, if it just isn’t going to happen for you today, lie down in savasana and cut yourself some slack – there’s always tomorrow.
A yoga practice is just that…a practice. Not perfection, it recognises that we are spiritual beings having a human experience in all it’s busy, complicated beauty and by doing the practice we are able to recognise it in ourselves…sometimes it just takes practice…
I recently visited my son’s class to share with them some of my techniques for calming and meditation.
Sitting still and meditating can be hard for adults so it’s understandable that it can seem nearly impossible for kids.
They are such sensory beings, while it is a natural part of their development, it poses a challenge when the task of meditation is to withdraw from the senses to go inwardly and still the mind.
The mind is the mind and it will try to reach out to sensory stimulus if it isn’t given something higher to focus on.
It goes into primal mode, linked to what we needed to survive – the smells, touch, taste, sounds, like listening to be aware of a predator or prey, the smell or taste of something toxic or nourishing. When we meditate we are moving to a higher state, away from our primal, reactive state to become aware and conscious.
Being mindful that these kids are just starting out on their journey, we can give them the tools to have a fulfilling meditation practice later in life, without the expectation that they will be engaged for long periods of time. The key is to make it play based, to give them something to sit still for and focus on.
Here are a few of the ways I do kids calming and meditation:
Firstly, I always start a meditation session with a breath exercise. The deep breathing exercises trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. This system is responsible for the "rest and digest" activities of the body. It is especially required when the children have been particularly active or stimulated when their bodies will be triggered by the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight actions)
When doing the breath exercises, the exercise has to be sensory. They need to see it move something, hear it or feel it move in their bodies.
Make their breath move something; feathers, bubbles, a toy on their bellies that moves up and down with their breath or link it in with a movement so they can feel it move in their bodies. They can make a shhhhh sound when they breathe out or cover their ears and listen to their breath.
Breathing exercise Balloon arms and breath.
Have the children sit and make arm movements with their breath. Inhaling raising their arms like a balloon (try to make the breath in at least 4 seconds long) Hold their breath (again 4 seconds) then slowly exhale whilst lowering their arms (about 6 seconds). You can, as they get better at breathing, extend the time taken to inhale, hold and exhale longer. Remind them to make their bellies fill up like a balloon and let go of all the air when they breathe out.
Belly breathing exercises the diaphragm and allows a full breath and therefore facilitates the exchange of more oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from the body. Holding the breath for a short amount of time also helps this exchange.
By taking a deep belly breath the diaphragm descends and releases the pull on the pericardium (the fascia that surrounds the heart and is connected to the diaphragm). This pull is associated with anxiety and often is the cause of the tight chest feeling in anxiety attacks.
The one time it's okay for the children to shrug their shoulders. As they inhale get them to draw their shoulders towards their ears and squeeze and hold. Then exhaling drop their shoulders back down. Do this several times. You can also roll the shoulders forward and backwards in sync with their breath or alternate between shoulders, raising one up then dropping it down then the other.
Rolling our shoulders backwards triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and releases a endorphins making us feel relaxed and calm.
Singing Bowl - Meditation
Have the children lie down and place the singing bowl on their stomachs one by one. Striking the bowl and engaging the children to listen till they can no longer hear the ring and asking them to signal when they can't hear it any longer. Remind them that, if they fidget or talk, they won't be able to hear it ring. Change up the strike so that from time to time it will ring softer or louder. If you don’t have a singing bowl, a bell or other chime that fades will work just as well.
This is a form of mindfulness, fostering attention solely at the task at hand.
Placing the small stone or glass bead at the child's third-eye centre, inviting them to stay still otherwise it will fall off and the "magic" will be broken.
Fun in this game - Get the kids to close their eyes before you place the stone, then invite them to look through their third-eye to see what colour it is, reminding them that they shouldn't touch the stone or open their eyes to see it.
Alternatively, you can place a stone on the child's third-eye centre and gently press it before secretly removing the stone. The child will feel as if the stone is still there. (This can be good to use if there aren't enough stones for everyone or the children and too fidgety to lie still and keep the stone on.)
Using a scarf, tissue or other light fabric or paper, invite the children to make the material move with their breath. Engaging them to fill their bellies up with air and then slowly let the air out and blow the material.
Extra fidgety kids
Placing a blanket or some other weight on extra fidgety kids can help soothe and comfort them. Occupational Therapy supply stores have purpose fidget blankets that are weighted.
For those extra, extra fidgety kids - a gentle foot massage or stroking their hair or even just placing a hand on their shoulder whilst reading the guided meditation works wonders. I find giving them passive attention stops them seeking it out in other ways (like talking through the guided meditation or moving or disturbing other children.)
I always come away from a yoga session with kids feeling so joyful. They are so beautifully complex and individual. Celebrating those differences and letting go of any idea of how the practice should be is something we can grow in their practice as well as our own.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, who at this time of year feels overwhelmed with the overabundance the season brings. I look at my children’s toy room and see so many gifts from previous years, knowing full well that in a few weeks there will be more. It’s hard to balance the joy of Christmas giving without feeling like the Grinch who says no to family gifting to my children.
The practice of Yoga teaches us gratitude. Western science has noted the benefits of expressing gratitude, having observed that when people express gratitude they have more positive emotions, the ability to relish good experiences, improvements in physical health, the ability to build strong relationships, deal with adversity and build resilience, be more hopeful and even sleep better, the list is infinite.
Recognising our abundance and being grateful for it seems to quench the thirst for wanting more. When you are happy for simply having what you already have, when what you have is enough there is no need to want for anything else. Enough is enough.
A regular asana practice has its fluctuations, some days it all works, some days it doesn’t work like it did yesterday or just not at all. Being content with however it is and not over reaching is a reminder that we are enough, our practice is enough in whatever shape it takes today, with gratitude that we are able to practice at all.
Patanjali lists Santosha (contentment) as one of the niyamas (observances).
Contentment is the absence of desire, and in sutra II.42 he states “From contentment results in unsurpassed joy.” When we desire something and eventually have what we desire, the joy is short lived and we are then back to desiring something else.
To be content takes us off that merry-go-round of desire. We can tap into what is eternal and not fleeting and experience true lasting joy.
My yoga practice has taught me so much, healed me in ways that I don’t have an empty space inside that I feel like I need to fill with stuff.
I think the best gift I have ever been given by my practice is the knowledge that what is inside me is divine, perfect in its imperfections, immortal and immutable.
A divine expression existing with the purpose to experience this life and not the material things our society focuses on that are impermanent and transient and unsustainable.
I am reminded of this every time I step onto my mat...
There is a famous Sri K. Pattabhi Jois quote “Do your practice and all is coming.” I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg of what he meant.
When walking into a kids and family yoga class it might strike you as to how different it is to a adult yoga class. From the placement of the mats, to the props and toys even the way the poses are practised, there is a lot that is different. Primarily, the reason for those differences is a kids and family yoga class is about connection. Not just connection with oneself (as it can be in an adult class) but with each other as a family and then, also as a community.
In our family and kids yoga classes we practice yoga mostly in a circle. It is the basis of our Mandala (sacred circle). It offers support for wobbly poses, as we press palms together with our neighbour's in tree pose and aeroplane pose. Openness to positive and appropriate touch through a massage circle. Oneness as there is no hierarchy in a circle. Everyone can see each other in the circle and be seen.
Kids and Family yoga props are fun as well as functional. They range from feathers, to face paint, to scarves and magic hats, bells and whistles and cards and books; the list is endless and my props case is a bit like Mary Poppin's Carpet Bag.
Feathers, Balls and Scarves are used in breath games. A "magic "hat can transform us into magicians who can turn our friends into any yoga pose or yoga animal we wish (and of course, back again.) With yoga cards we play matching games, memory games. We feel the Tibetan singing bowl’s vibrations and enjoy its ring helping us to stay in a peaceful meditative state longer. With props, we are only limited by our imaginations. They foster liberation and playfulness, breaks down the walls we put up and promotes connection.
Kids have active involvement in the class' content. When kids pick up their imaginary binoculars to spy what animal they want to pose as in our Yoga journeys, they co create the class. They can even create poses! Our classes foster creativity and spontaneity.
Participation in the class is optional - Yes, that's right! There are a number of reasons why children might not want to join in with the class. As a cornerstone of yoga philosophy, children are encouraged to respect and pay attention to their bodies, making sure each pose feels good, coming into and out of shapes when they feel ready. The same goes for the class, if they are listening to their bodies telling them they don't want to join in, then we honour that.
It is also surprising how much they can take in by just observing - I have been told by parents whose child hadn't felt like participating in the class that day that later that week they were doing poses that we did in the class at home or showing them to friends.
Our poses are based on the same poses in an adult class however delivery is quite different. Through simplifying the poses, playing yoga games, using props, and talking their language and to their age level we deliver yoga to kids in a fun and receptive way. As they grow and their practice grows, focus can then be more on the asana postures and yoga philosophy and eventually will flow onto an adult practice.
Although kids and family yoga might have some differences it is an engaging way to introduce kids to a yoga practice and all it’s benefits. With so many fun and positive ways to connect with your family and children, it's worth seeking out a class.